As HVAC contractors move ahead in 2014, many see positive signs of momentum for their businesses and are planning to hire more employees this year. While the reasons behind their plans to hire are varied, some common themes are being echoed across the country. One of the top reasons reiterated by many contractors is that their workloads are increasing, and they need to hire more employees to be able to meet the needs of their customers. Many also noted that their hiring plans are a continuation of how they were operating in 2013.

Dan Jape, CEO and owner of Reliable Heating & Air, Atlanta, said, he’s considering adding as many as 60 or more employees to his staff of 220 individuals simply because there is “more work than we can handle. My only concern is finding the right people to handle our customers.”

In Atlanta, the economy is doing well. Jape noted that his business grew from $18 million to $28 million in 2013. “And this year is shaping up to be better yet,” he said.

“We just had a record December and we haven’t slowed down yet.”

Increasing Workload

According to Dave Yates, president, F.W. Behler Inc., York, Pa., his workload is steadily increasing.

As a result, he plans to add to his nine-person firm and hire “two for HVAC and plumbing.”

Yates is optimistic about 2014 because he said customers have done a great job of saving money. “They now have a higher degree of discretionary spending capacity,” he said.

Gregg Swenson, co-owner, Swenson Heating & Air Conditioning Inc., Princeton, Minn., also expects to see an increased workload in 2014.

“We are very optimistic about 2014,” he said. “It is shaping up to be an excellent year in comparison to the last seven or eight years. I don’t expect to see the workload we had prior to that, but do expect to have a substantial growth in the next two years.”

Swenson plans to add two full-time technicians to his seven-person company in the spring.

He added, “We will be watching the residential market very closely so as not to overextend our growth too quickly.”

Stacey Kiaunis, business development manager, Modern Air Solutions LLC, Panama City Beach, Fla., said her company plans to hire four new employees by April 1 to keep up with its pending workload.

She noted that the company is currently seeking one new worker for the service department and three for installation. “This is our second year in business, and, as business grows, we are prepared to grow,” Kiaunis said. “We do not have any exact plans to continue hiring throughout the year, but may consider adding staff in July or August.”

John Owens, president and CEO of Owens Cos., Bloomington, Minn., is also planning to hire this year as a result of his company’s growth. He noted that a stronger economy and optimistic consumers are two reasons for positive projections. Owens plans to hire technicians along with clerical, human resource, operational, and sales staff.

Bobby Ring, president, Meyer & Depew Co., Kenilworth, N.J., said he intends to hire six to 10 employees — mostly service and installation techs.

“We grew 32 percent in 2013 and we expect to continue growing in 2014,” he said.

Mike Tucker, owner of Tuckers Air Conditioning & Heating, Gaithersburg, Md., said he intends to hire this year as part of his strategy to grow his market share.

“Our goal is to increase the hiring by one or two more than we did in 2013. As long as we are achieving our business growth goals, the employees will follow,” he said.

Tucker further explained, “We are transitioning toward a more formal corporate structure. Three months ago, we added a plumbing division. Our goal is to grow our production staff to improve the ratio to our administrative staff. We plan on adding five to seven field personnel.”

Commercial Market Growth

In the commercial market, Dennis Atieh, director of operations, MAKO Heating & Air Conditioning Inc., Denville, N.J., said his company is seeing an increase in business mostly on the controls side.

He said he plans to hire two technicians and a part-time office assistant this year, and added that another reason behind his need to hire is an aging workforce with at least one worker considering retirement.

Jim Miller, president and CEO of Murphy & Miller Inc., Chicago, is also planning to hire this year. He explained he needs more technicians for additional service customers. He also said his need is being driven by the expansion of his primary target markets — health care and retail.

Hank Bloom, president of ECS (Mentor, Ohio), also plans to hire four service technicians, and possibly two installers.

“Many more customers are reaching out for great service and design-build HVAC projects in our area,” he said.

Ken Misiewicz, president and CEO, Pleune Service Co., Grand Rapids, Mich., also plans to hire in response to his service department’s growth.

“We did hire last year, but it was replacing existing roles, so our net gain in headcount was zero,” he said. For 2014, he plans to hire around 10 new employees, including service technicians, field foremen, apprentices, information technology (IT) specialists, and dispatchers.

New Construction Picking Up

Another significant reason behind contractors’ plans to hire is that new construction is picking up nationwide. In Florida, Kiaunis said, “We are seeing a lot of new home and business construction in our area. 2014 is looking to be a great year for growth in the economy and HVAC industry.”

Swenson also noted that his plans to hire are related to the increase in new construction.

And the uptick in new construction is even good news for folks who aren’t interested in it, according to Martin Hoover, president of Empire Heating and Air, Decatur, Ga.

“New construction is finally picking up here, and even though that is not my market, the guys who specialize in that will finally get out of my service and replacement market,” he said.

Empire Heating and Air currently has 22 employees. Hoover intends to add four or five personnel, which would include one office employee, two for service, and two for installation.

Steady Growth

For some contractors, the trend to hire in 2014 is simply a continuation of how they were operating in 2013.

Russell Gunther, copresident of Gunthers Comfort Air, American Fork, Utah, noted that he intends to hire at least seven new employees this year, adding, “We hired many in 2013, too.”

According to Matt Marsiglio, operations manager, Flame Heating, Cooling, Plumbing & Electrical, Warren, Mich., his company is looking to hire three or four people, which is the same as last year. However, he noted, “These are additional individuals, not replacements. We will add one plumber, two commercial technicians, and two residential technicians.”

Pat Rucker, president, Entech Sales & Service, Dallas, noted that the economy is humming in Texas, but his hiring plans for 2014 are not noticeably different from last year.

“We always have spots to fill and have been growing steadily for years, but we have no plans for a mass hiring,” Rucker said.

Entech currently employs 350 people, and there is one type of employee that Rucker said he is always hoping to find.

“Our most urgent needs are for building automation sales engineers,” he said.

Of course, some contractors plan to hire in 2014 simply to replace retiring staff members.

Robert Wilkos, business leader, Roussos Air Conditioning, Panama City, Fla., noted that his company intends to fill three open positions on its staff. He noted that Roussos needs a service coordinator, service technician, and lead installer.

Good People Still Hard to Find

While many contractors hope to add to their teams this year, they know it won’t be easy. For years, HVAC contractors have constantly complained that finding quality employees — especially technicians — has been next to impossible.

As Ring put it, “We still find it very difficult to find the right people.”

Gunther agreed, stating, “This is still true and will become one of the largest hurdles for the industry in the next 10 years.”

He added, “I hope our industry can do more to attract good, skilled workers in the coming years. For now, we have to train most of our people in-house.”

Mary Flake, service manager and commercial solutions specialist, Canady’s Precision Heating and Air, Richmond Hill, Ga., said, “Finding well-qualified and well-trained service technicians has been challenging.”

She continued, “This is why our company has adopted the ‘hire for character and train for skill’ mentality. We have had far greater success at hiring inexperienced technicians who are mechanically adept and then training them our way.

“We combine our company culture training with various technical school and program training. We have found that by doing this they only know our way of doing things, and we don’t have to spend energy breaking years of bad habits and bad attitudes.”

Bloom noted that while this continues to be a struggle, “Word-of-mouth, reputation, quality of equipment, training, top pay, and working with local trade schools have helped us attract good prospects. We have also had success hiring residential techs and teaching them the commercial market. ‘Home-grown’ techs, we call it.”

According to Wilkos, good technicians are available. But, he said, you have to be patient and diligent in hiring.

“If a good technician is not available to fill an immediate need, then we opt to hire for attitude and train for skills,” he said.

Publication date: 2/24/2014 

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