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Let's weed the horseshoe pits and paint the stakes

April 28, 2000
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It would be nice to tell your new hires that they will be working an 8-hr shift, Monday through Friday, with rotating weekends for emergency service, guaranteed for 52 weeks.

But let’s get real. Are all of your installers installing year-round and your service techs servicing year-round? I bet your salespeople and office staff have enough on their plates to keep busy year-round. But what about your field workers?

I’ve spoken with many contractors who proudly admit that they have enough work to keep their field mechanics busy year-round. In fact, thanks to the famed shortage of qualified field workers in our trade, contractors could keep many more workers busy — if only they had them.

It’s tough to compete for workers when college graduates can work for Fortune 500 companies, put in five 9-to-5 days, and go golfing, fishing, and hang-gliding on the weekend. Heck, with casual dress the norm in the office workplace, a young worker can dress comfortably — just like a service tech — and probably get paid a few more bucks per hour.

Maybe it’s time to look at what we can do to overcome slow times and make the positions desirable for our apprentices and students.

Some contractors use slow times wisely with some of the following chores:

  • Clean up the shop area.
  • Service and/or wash the vehicles.
  • Inventory the trucks and fill up every parts bin.
  • Paint the lunchroom.
  • Haul away used equipment that’s been gathering dust.
  • Offer some free products/ services to low-income families.

One contractor I spoke to recently said he likes all of his workers to maintain a 90% ratio of chargeable work to the particular job they are assigned to. The other 10% could be charged to some other project or could be used for doing chores.

When so many contractors depend on the weather to keep their techs busy, one would have to believe that each business owner has a plan when temperatures rarely drop below freezing or climb above 70°F. After all, we’ve experienced some mild winters and summers lately.

While I wait for some real answers from our readers, I’d like to provide a list of chores we all can engage in when the time is right:

  • Replace the boards around the horseshoe pits and put in some fresh dirt.
  • Replace the basketball net that got worn and frayed from the winter weather.
  • Return all of the cans and bottles for cash (in some states), or haul them down to the local recycler.
  • Clean out the refrigerator in the lunchroom, especially the things in containers that no longer resemble anything from this planet.
  • Remove unwanted bumper stickers and car flags from company vehicles, despite the fact that the hometown team won the world championship.
  • Open up that jammed file cabinet and see if the missing files from 1987 are in there (or any of D.B. Cooper’s stash — remember him?).
  • Throw out the mound of 3-by-5 index cards your company used before computers came into vogue.
  • Throw away or store anything that you haven’t used in over a year. Chances are, you won’t be needing it again.

How about some more real suggestions? Why not plant a tree or flowers in front of the building? Donate some fans to a local nursing home? Fix up the neighborhood baseball diamond? If you can perform goodwill, “feel good” services in your slow time, you may pick up a few customers along the way.

Do you think a new hire would like to give something back to the community during his or her slow time? I’m sort of an idealist, so my answer would be yes.

But enough about me; what about your ideas?

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