An Expert’s Tips on Recruiting and Retaining Quality HVAC Labor
Aaron Schuh discusses what employees are looking for
Aaron Schuh is the owner/president of Recruit4Business, a labor recruitment and HR consulting firm specializing in the trades industry. His company recruits and fills over 1,200 positions a year. He is also a certified trainer for Business Development Resources, a training and coaching services company serving the HVAC industry.
Schuh spoke with The ACHR NEWS about how contractors can recruit and retain quality employees.
ACHR NEWS: How Can HVAC Companies Recruit the Best Talent?
Schuh: It’s really about what's important to employees in each position. An experienced technician is looking for different things than an apprentice/entry-level person, salesperson, or administrative person.
Experienced technicians/installers want a combination of a good working environment, compensation, and quality of life factors. For example, will they be driving a truck in great condition? Does the company provide tools? How often will they be on call each month? Their years of industry experience provide them with the knowledge and ability to view a company and its processes with a critical eye because they know how companies work.
Entry level or apprentice employees want proper compensation, but it’s also equally important to them to learn new skills and gain experience to advance in the company and their careers. So, they're looking for a company offering solid training, mentoring, and career advancement opportunities.
Our strategy at Recruit4Business involves looking at specific positions based on what functions they serve in the company. We then break these functions into different silos like experienced technical positions (experienced installers and technicians), entry level positions/apprentices, salespeople, and administrative staff positions and use specific recruitment tactics and strategies to fill these positions.
I can tell you from our statistics at Recruit4Business, it takes 160 days on average to fill an open position for an experienced technician. This is why it is so important for owners to continually interview and hire qualified employees and not wait until the busy season. Waiting until the hot or cold weather arrives to hire a key position is not realistic and too late.
ACHR NEWS: How Do You Showcase Your Company Culture and Training Opportunities in an Hour Interview?
Schuh: The experienced technicians already know you and your company because it’s a small industry. In fact, the well-known companies or employers of choice don't have to advertise because they already have people lined up waiting to come work for them.
Experienced technicians/installers want a combination of a good working environment, compensation, and quality of life factors.
However, if a company is not at that level, the best marketing is your truck fleet. Brand new trucks on the road with nice graphics and clean wraps advertising a simple "Career Opportunities Available" message is proven to work. When technicians see brand new trucks, they know the company has money, is profitable, pays well and won't lay them off.
And, anytime owners run job ads they must also focus on the company. List of all the great reasons to work for you, not your competitors. A good job ad clearly communicates all that the company offers, not just the wage.
ACHR NEWS: When You Hire Great Employees How Do You Keep Them?
Schuh: Employees look at company culture. That's why people stay. For example, how are employees treated within the company and does leadership take care of problems? Those things create culture and are started by leadership. Employees may come to you for money, but they'll want to stay at a company with a positive and committed culture.
Often when a client has high turnover rates, it’s usually an internal cultural problem. If employees aren’t cared for, they can easily go and take another job. People will leave for money, that is true. But normally when people job hunt for money, it’s because they're already underpaid. If they're paid competitively but still job hopping, it's usually something inside the company.
ACHR NEWS: How Do You Shape Culture as the Owner? How Do You Ensure It Trickles Down to Managers and Employees?
Schuh: It comes back to leadership. How do you develop a service manager to be a great leader? How do you teach or mentor them to manage correctly? It starts at the ownership level and how the owner interacts with employees. Are they celebrating with employees and sharing positive feedback often or is the focus always negative? Comments like — "What a great job you did today — that customer loves the work you did” or “Thank you for taking such great care of our customers" goes a really long way. Employees want to be in a culture where they feel valued, supported, mentored and taken care of. That must come from the actions and words of leadership.
ACHR NEWS: How Do You Feel About Seniority-Based Promotions?
Schuh: It depends on the position and the promotion. If a standard tech is being promoted to a lead tech, that's different than promoting from a technician to manager.
For example, in the car sales industry it’s common practice to promote the top salesperson to sales manager. The problem is the traits they used to succeed in sales are not the same traits that will make them a good sales manager. So, often they will fail in management because that's not their skill set.
Good managers should have a reasonable stress level tolerance and the ability to make decisions quickly and decisively. All of those become more important in a management role versus being able to diagnose and repair a heat pump. It’s important to be careful with internal promotions to make sure you’re promoting for the right reason. You may have a technician with a lot of skill in leadership and management which is great. Promote them. We advocate promoting internally when it’s the right fit and experience matches up with the position too.
You also need a balance of internal versus external input. Bring in a certain amount of outside knowledge by hiring managers from other industries to grow and learn from their experience. Too much tenure really stifles the youth. It’s difficult for a young person to feel motivated and excited knowing it’s three or four years before they can be promoted. We need to make this industry exciting for young people by showing opportunities. In other words, show a 19-year-old starting in HVAC industry how they could easily be a lead technician by age 24. Younger work force candidates want to develop the skill set and technical knowledge through training so they can rise to the leadership team. That's what's going to get this younger crowd to come into our industry.
ACHR NEWS: How Do You Increase Career Development for Younger Employees?
Schuh: Owners can provide career development at positional level. For example, you can lay out an installer/technician career path and set advancement criteria such as certifications in order to gain more responsibility or move up within the company. This creates incremental increases for their career path. But at a grander level, to really get a true advancement opportunity your company must grow which means you have to be profitable.
ACHR NEWS: Any Final Thoughts?
Schuh: Most contractors we work with rush through the process of hiring out of urgency. This urgency is driven by high call volumes and booked installs. The problem is when rash hires occur, it means owners are not following a good process to make correct hiring decisions. It’s much better to go back, raise prices, and wait until the correct candidate comes along. The damage of hiring a bad or wrong candidate is lasting, perhaps for months or years. It’s always better to wait for the correct candidate, even if it slows down a little bit of work capacity. During this time of waiting, you can still be highly profitable, make great money and take care of employees.