Bringing Along the Second Generation
Most conversations at any annual meeting generally wind up being about the lack of people coming into our industry. We are usually talking about the apprentice and journeyman-level personnel, but when you stop and think about it we are also faced with the lack of quality contractor owners entering the trade.
The four men I just mentioned are somewhat of a novelty - second-generation HVAC people who intend to carry on the family name. I know each one of them, and I can assure you that they have what it takes. I guess we can give the credit to their dads (I can say this since I am Ray's dad).
The air conditioning and plumbing trades are great industries. I don't know of another industry that offers the opportunities to young men and women that our trade does. I started out 43 years ago working as a plumber's helper during high school, went to an apprentice school, received my journeymen plumber's license, went into the contracting business 25 years ago - and the rest is history.
This great trade of ours afforded me the opportunity to work hard, learn a trade and to earn a good living for my family. Today our firm provides opportunities for approximately 185 people.
FOCUSING ON THE RIGHT KIDSOur educational institutions spend 80 to 90 percent of their efforts on the top 10 percent of our high school graduates, getting them ready for their college experience. Institutions spend the other 10 to 20 percent of their efforts on the bottom 90 percent of the graduating class. It is time that our society realizes that the backbone of America and the majority of the tax base come from the lower 90 percent of the high school graduating class.
These young people deserve the opportunity to receive the training required to give them the skills needed to earn a good living. We all need to work with the high school and middle school counselors and make them aware of the career opportunities that the construction industry has to offer. The contractors in our industry must offer to put the new entry-level people into an apprentice program so that they can receive the proper training.
Now let me talk about funding all of the training I just mentioned. Our industry prices its services too low. We must price our services at a fair rate remembering to include the cost of adequate wages, proper benefits, and training as part of our cost of doing business. We will never recruit the caliber of people that our industry needs unless we provide the opportunity to earn good wages, good benefits and ongoing training for these prospective employees.
I have been a member of PHCC since 1988. PHCC provides the tools that we need to train our employees by providing apprentice curricula in HVAC and plumbing. PHCC also provides management training for project managers, estimators, and job foremen. We all need to learn to take advantage of the countless number of training opportunities available to us.
IMPORTANCE OF SECOND GENERATIONWhy are second-generation companies so important to our industry? If the founder of a construction company does his job well and trains the proper management team to continue on after he has retired, it raises the bar for our industry (and raises prices, too). Therefore, we are more likely to have a little bit more money in our industry - and money is what it takes to provide the wages, benefits and training required to attract talented people.
The life cycle of a typical HVAC or plumbing company is as follows: The owner will go into business and work day and night for the first 10 years trying to get it going. During the first 10 years, he is not likely to build a large net worth. The second 10 years he will probably start earning some pretty good money. But when he reaches the 25-year point, he generally starts to slow down, his health starts to fail, or God calls him home.
So at this point, instead of having a well-managed company moving into the 25-year plus area and still earning a good return for everyone, several new start-up companies begin the 25-year cycle all over again.
We must be willing to train the second-generation employees and contractors and to do this we must be willing to invest in their futures. We must be willing to let go and let them do what we have prepared them to do.
I am very fortunate. I have two great sons, and a wonderful management team that I have been investing in. And they all know that when I reach my 60th birthday (when my company will be 27 years old), I will be part time. Our company can't be managed by a part-time manager; it deserves and mandates full-time, highly trained, very focused management, and I have provided for that.
I wish a lot of other contractors would do the same thing.
Bill Jones is owner of Raven Mechanical, LP in Houston. Visit the company's Website at www.ravenmechanical.com.
Publication date: 03/20/2006