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If you train them, they will stay

July 18, 2000
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In this day and age, it’s hard to believe that some contractors hesitate to train their technicians. The excuses they come up with for not offering training and/or certification generally sound like this:

  • It’s too expensive.

  • Technicians learn more working on the job.

  • We don’t have time. And my personal favorite,

  • After we train them, they just leave.

We’ve all heard the reply to this: What if you don’t train them and they stay? In fact, we’ve heard it so many times nobody really pays attention to it anymore. It’s time to look at it from another angle.

Dysfunctional family ties

Many, many good contractors (and a few not-so-good contractors) like to say that they think of their employees as family. When you hear some of their attitudes about technician training/certification, it makes you wonder what their homes are like.

Son: “Say dad, I’ve been working on our family car for a while, and I’d like to take some auto-repair classes. I think I could even make a career out of it. Do you think you could help me with the tuition? I’d pay you back.”

Dad: “Sorry son, it’s too expensive. Just keep fixing the car for your mother and me.”

Son: “I could still work on the car, dad. I would just take evening classes.”

Dad: “Sorry son, but what if we need the car worked on at night?”

Son: “Well, I guess. But what if I took a couple of classes? I’d make fewer mistakes on your car.”

Dad: “No ‘what ifs!’ First it’s school, then you’ll leave for good. We can’t have that, can we son . . . son? Where are you?”

Of course it sounds ridiculous. When you look at it this way, you can see the absurdity of this attitude. When contractors offer their technicians opportunities for training and certification, it’s not an open door to leave the company. On the contrary, it binds the technician even closer to the company. It’s a benefit; it makes technicians feel better about themselves, and it helps them feel that their job is truly a career.

It’s sheer folly to think that ignorance is a viable method of technician retention. It’s almost the same as thinking that keeping your wife barefoot and pregnant will keep her from running away.

How will your company pay for it? Through reduced callbacks, increased revenues that result from more efficient troubleshooting, and even fewer warranty snares because the equipment was actually installed correctly.

Just keep this in mind: If you pay for it, it’s one more link in the chain that binds a good technician to your company.

More madness

Technician certification also comes in for its fair share of criticism among certain contractors. Some have even called the current NATE-ACE offerings “a joke.”

Some joke. Maybe it can’t test hands-on skills, but it does measure a level of knowledge about the science of hvacr technology. That’s worth something. At the very least, it can pinpoint areas in which technicians need to increase their knowledge.

Then you get some contractors who argue that you can get a tech certified who knows all the book knowledge, but he can’t apply it. There may be some techs like this around, but it seems to me that in this industry, the opposite is generally true.

And so what if a “mechanically challenged” tech scores high on the certification test? Just put him to work in an area where he uses his mind more than his hands. Need a good dispatcher? Want to set up a customer help line to prescreen service calls? This guy’s your candidate!

The joke may be on those who decide against getting their techs certified. As reported in our page-1 article, Sears is looking seriously into getting its installers and servicers certified, possibly through the North American Technician Excellence program.

Even if Sears doesn’t go with NATE to certify its technicians, you can bet your top dollar that this retail giant, with its finger on the pulse of consumer fears, is going to have something on its consumer literature someday soon to the effect that “Our installers are fully certified in heating-cooling system installation, service, and repair work.”

To scam-weary homeowners, even the patch on the technician’s sleeve will be reassuring.

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