Are you having a difficult time filling positions in your HVACR contracting business?
The question seems rhetorical as the need for qualified help continues to escalate while the number of young prospects entering the trades continues to diminish.
While finding new talent is becoming increasingly difficult, it can be done, as evidenced by a couple of contractors we interviewed for this article.
While classified ads in newspapers and supermarket job postings once served as the primary source for employers and applicants, that isn’t the case anymore. Today, the internet holds the recruiting monopoly.
LinkedIn, Indeed.com, and Glassdoor are a few of the sites available for those seeking and offering employment. On Indeed.com, for example, employers can post open positions and view perspective employees’ work histories and cover letters. In turn, job seekers are alerted when someone views their profiles.
“American Residential Services (ARS) has noticed a shift in recruiting methods,” said Dave Slott, president and COO, ARS. “Agencies, like Glassdoor and Shaker Recruitment, have become increasingly popular portals. We’ve had success participating in online recruiting and are constantly adapting to the evolving needs of hiring best-fit employees.”
ARS is also utilizing newly formed partnerships to its advantages.
“Our new partnership with Nest Labs’ Learning Thermostat shows up-and-coming industry employees that ARS is on the cutting-edge of technology,” said Slott.
In addition to online websites, social media and other mobile applications are attracting more prospects and employers.
“Job boards, referrals, career fairs, LinkedIn, etc. all play a role,” said Tom Jackson, CEO, Jackson Systems LLC. “However, authenticity is rooted in every job post, recruiting call, and InMail message. Don’t waste time with lip service. Top-performing candidates want transparency from day one.”
Beyond the online job boards, social media posts, and other online platforms, other forms of recruiting are still being utilized to conquer the tech shortage.
“While the internet has essentially replaced the newspaper, ultimately they are the same,” said Todd Kletz, owner, Classic Air’s One Hour Heating and Cooling, Virginia Beach, Virginia. “With the challenge of fewer skilled laborers available for hire, we discarded the traditional means for finding quality help. We find them through a variety of ways, such as word of mouth, referrals, hiring events, and technical schools in addition to a number of various web platforms.”
Jackson said his company recruits in what he calls “nonconventional-conventional” ways.
“Don’t be generic,” he said. “If you send a LinkedIn message, make it personal to the recipient’s profile. If you get amazing service somewhere, tell the staff there about your company, and give them your card. Flip sales calls into recruiting opportunities. Create an incentive program for employee referrals. Lastly, if you meet a great candidate, but they aren’t a good fit for your company, ask them if they know anyone who would be good for the job. It’s all about fostering connections.”
Kletz agrees that recruiting should be continuous, and he is actively pursuing it at all times, not just when he needs someone to fill a position.
“Regardless of how you recruit, we suggest having a continuous presence in the market opposed to looking at a seasonal pool of recruits,” he said. “We are always on the lookout for good people. It’s our job to show eligible candidates how we can change their lives if they will commit to being on our team and delivering our standard of service.
“All of the recruiting avenues, such as relationships with associations and having apprentices, has afforded us new teammates,” continued Kletz.
When it comes to recruiting, Rob Minnick, CEO and president of Minnick’s Inc. in Laurel, Maryland, relies on his local “headhunter.”
“He knows what we want and goes through the first part before I get involved,” Minnick said. “Also, we use an HVAC agent and employee referrals. I seem to find results through each of these, as I have not found a one-stop shop for recruiting.”
Apprenticeships and association relationships are recruiting methods many contractors are utilizing to train and hire.
“We have a very good Sheet Metal Air Rail Transportation [SMART] apprentice program here,” said Butch Welsch, owner, Welsch Heating & Cooling Co., St. Louis. “We review candidates’ skills, and they are drug tested. They have a physical to make sure they can handle the rigors of our work. They also have an interview with representatives from both Local No. 36 and our Sheet Metal Contractors Association. From the tests and the interviews, candidates are ranked, and we call for an apprentice we can be virtually assured is someone who is ready to go to work in the trades.
“We have a residential specialist category in our contract, where we place previously non-union contractors for several weeks until we can evaluate them and determine where they properly fit — whether that be as an apprentice or, if fully qualified, a journeyman,” Welsch continued.
In 2016, per the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), 20.9 million men and women were veterans, which accounted for about 9 percent of the civilian non-institutional population age 18 and over.
One nonprofit HVAC organization, Troops to Trades, a program of the Nexstar Legacy Foundation, provides scholarships and career contacts within the plumbing, HVAC, and electrical residential services industries. It works with small to mid-sized businesses across the U.S. to help them locate potential employees, especially technical service employees.
“The men and women who’ve seen combat in Afghanistan and Iraq are among the most disciplined, hard-working, respectful, and physically fit people in this country,” said Keith Mercurio, director of training, Nexstar Network Inc., on the group’s website. “Yet, their service has excluded them from getting the education and training they need in order to get the very jobs in which they can be extremely successful. I am partnering with the Nexstar Legacy Foundation to help this nation’s veterans achieve their dreams.”
Programs like these help veterans start careers in civilian life while also helping HVAC owners find fresh talent. Hiring veterans is something contractors are capitalizing on, as they are hard workers eager to start new careers outside of the military.
“We proudly hire veterans,” said Slott. “ARS/Rescue Rooter understands the importance of both employing and honoring active and retired military personnel. It is truly an honor to employ the men and women who have fought for our freedom. Our employees who are veterans already know the value of teamwork, communication, and organization.”
Jackson said many veterans work at Jackson Systems.
“I think veterans are just like any other candidates,” Jackson said. “It depends on the type of candidate you need or what the job demands.”
Kletz has also hired his fair share of veterans.
“Representative of the area we serve, it’s extremely important that we can provide post-service employment to those formerly of our armed forces,” he said. “Albeit on a smaller scale, they have a true desire to provide service. This goes back to our philosophy of hiring good people. If they have a desire to serve our customers, teammates, and communities, then we have a place for them. It’s an honor to find careers for those men and women who have served our country.”
SUCCESSFUL OR NOT
While many have struggled attaining, training, and retaining talent, that isn’t the case for every HVAC contractor.
“We haven’t had any difficulty hiring,” said Kletz. “We’ve experienced consistent success in bringing on new teammates. Typically one out of every 33 applicants is hired.”
Minnick said he hasn’t had any difficulty either.
“I have a few people standing by at this time, which is awesome,” said Minnick. “I have people available and ready to go at any time.”
Jackson said he, too, has had a fair amount of luck hiring recently.
“We hired two people in our operations department in the last 60 days,” he said. “We received approximately 270 applications via Indeed.com and employee referrals. A good job description goes a long way. It also helps that we won ‘Indiana’s Best Places to Work’ in 2017, and we tag all of that in our job posts.”
While these three companies have had success hiring, a lack of qualified candidates have left many short-handed.
“Overall, we haven’t had a great deal of difficulty finding good candidates; however, we are concerned about the work-ethic mentality of many of the younger people coming into the workforce,” said Welsch. “We anticipate it will be more difficult to obtain willing workers in the future. We are concerned that the overall pool of young people willing to work in the trades is shrinking. I believe large numbers of young people are attending colleges, but when they finish, they find that they would have been much better off pursuing a job where they work with their hands.”
Publication date: 8/28/2017