Training employees is an important part of every successful small business owner’s agenda.
Training helps employees perfect their craft. In HVAC contracting terms, this means better installations, more comprehensive service, and more thorough maintenance, which results in a more successful business.
With the entire industry suffering through a technician shortage, contractors are challenged with maintaining their current employees’ knowledge levels while attempting to keep up with technological and government-created changes.
The amount of hours technicians are trained, the types of training required, and the trainings technicians attend are all fluid elements HVAC contractors must navigate on a case-by-case basis. Here’s some insight from a few contractors from across the nation on the ever-changing HVAC training process.
Once a technician is hired in, most contractors approach training based on that individual’s resume and experience.
“The number of hours technicians spend in training depends on each individual’s experience. Seasoned technicians typically receive around 80 hours proving what they know, going through process training, and receiving culture training. Guys that lack experience — the more entry-level guys — undergo a minimum of 160 hours to 300 or more hours, depending on their schooling, if any, and their capacity to understand the job,” said Matt Bergstrom, owner, Thornton & Grooms Heating Cooling, and Plumbing, Farmington Hills, Michigan.
The common theme among technicians was an average of 100 hours when a new, entry-level technician enters the team and 50 hours for seasoned technicians. However, not everyone bases the amount of training on an hourly scale.
“We do not have training requirements in this regard, but rely on years of experience when hiring. All new hires are required to ride with an experienced technician for two weeks. The experienced technician reports his or her assessment of the new hire’s capabilities,” said Ann Kahn, owner of Kahn Mechanical Contractors in Dallas.
But not all contractors guarantee that technicians are ready to move right into the field after they’ve completed their allotted training.
“After the first three weeks, each team member is evaluated and either moves on to the new hire qualification interview or receives additional training hours,” said Todd Kletz, owner, Classic Air’s One Hour Heating and Air Conditioning, Virginia Beach, Virginia.
TYPES OF TRAINING
While the amount of time a technician is trained is important, the exact training they receive is critical.
With each brand comes different components and approaches, and more and more contractors are ensuring their technicians are trained on each individual brand and proprietary equipment they offer.
Being trained by the manufacturers themselves allows technicians an in-depth take on the equipment they are selling from the people who know the equipment better than anybody. Manufacturer training provides a detailed education for technicians and gives them a leg up on the competition.
In addition to manufacturer training, many contractors conduct their own in-house training. These training approaches vary with each company.
“We do our own training, which is apprentice to junior technician, junior technician one to junior technician two, junior technician two to senior technician one, senior technician one to senior technician two, and senior technician two to field supervisor. Also, through all these positions, they are attending an apprenticeship program that is a four-year course to get their journeyman’s license, which is a total of 612 hours of class work and 8,000 hours of on-the-job training,” said Rob Minnick, owner of Minnick’s Inc. in Laurel, Maryland.
In-house training varies and is not just centered on HVAC training. Training spans numerous areas so that employees are well-informed and well-rounded.
“We train on customer service, experience, and the importance of maintenance. Then, we give light business training so that installers understand what the company goes through, as well,” said Travis Smith, owner of Sky Heating and Cooling in Portland, Oregon.
Furthermore, contractors like to seek out third-party companies for training.
“We use service system training from the Nexstar Network,” Bergstrom said. “It’s a great common language for taking care of customers and making sure they get everything they need in terms of options.”
A member-owned organization, Nexstar provides business networking opportunities through business training classes and leadership events. Member dues stay in the organization to build new and enhanced education, training, and business solutions.
“We minimize operating expenses and channel virtually all remaining funds to research and development, programs, materials, and member services that are supported by a professional staff,” said Jack Tester, president and CEO, Nexstar Network.
Similarly, Classic Air’s One Hour Heating and Air Conditioning uses a third-party service, Success Academy, which provides sales, management, and dispatching training for people within the plumbing, electrical, HVAC, and roofing industries.
CHANGING OVER TIME
Times are changing. People are able and apt to conduct their own research, so customers are now more educated than ever. As a result, it’s important that contractors are going above and beyond, so their technicians are on their A-games when they step into customers’ homes. While training may not have been so extensive in years past, it certainly is now.
“Products are changing and advancing so quickly it’s hard to stay on top of everything,” Bergstrom said. “Products are so quick to market, it seems like the field testing is being performed by us rather than manufacturers. Equipment’s getting more sophisticated, for sure. Our customers are more educated and expectant, too, so this creates a different set of soft skills training. The good thing about this, and what we always try not to forget, is that we, as contractors, are in this together. These changes are not just happening to me; they’re impacting all of us.”
While HVAC technical training has always been integral, incorporating other training topics has been a big change, as well.
“We have always offered skill training. For many years now, we have also offered ‘lifestyle’ classes on topics, such as improving personal financial management and developing healthier eating and exercise habits,” said Kahn.
To keep everyone on board, many contractors are now requiring all technicians attend ongoing training, no matter their level of expertise.
“Our policy used to be that if a technician wanted to go to training, they could go on their own time, and we would pay for the course,” Smith said. “We rarely did any in-house training or ongoing training. Now, we ensure people go regardless of skill to ensure all employees have as much knowledge as possible. Training pays dividends long term, so we want the best trained people in the industry.”
Some contractors have changed over time with their in-house training, developing new training classes unique to their companies.
“In 2012, we created a new training program that offers those with little to no experience an opportunity to learn the trade and build careers here at One Hour,” Kletz said. “We continue to utilize the expertise of our tenured management team and senior field technicians to help a number of eager applicants find their places in the industry.”
HVAC training will continue to evolve over time, but one thing is clear: If you want to retain employees, you’ve got to train employees.
Publication date: 3/6/2017
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