Hiring HVAC Employees After the COVID-19 Crisis
Large pool of applicants means opportunity to narrow the labor gap
As many states reopen in the United States and the busy season hits, contractors will need to navigate hiring, taking advantages of opportunities and overcoming challenges. Some contractors have needed to lay off technicians as a result of the economic distresses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, while others find themselves in a place where they can hire.
Hiring Quality Technicians
Matt Akins, ACCA’s manager of HVACR education, said that contractors who are able to hire may need to wade through a mountain of applicants until they find the right match for their business.
“Top-performing technicians and installers are the last options to be laid off if at all possible,” he said. “That means the technicians and installers that get laid off are generally not the crème de la crème.”
He explained that contractors should take the time to vet the technicians seeking employment, since technicians producing high revenue (with little to no callbacks and high customer service reviews) will likely not be let go.
“Take the time to ensure you are not hiring someone else's problem.”
However, he added that some contractors legitimately may need to lay everybody off, including top performers.
“The challenge is finding the best match for your business, and that is a challenge that contractors face all the time, not just during a pandemic,” he said. “If you find an excellent technician that was in the minority that got laid off because of more significant business issues, show them the value in your company.”
Akins explained that a quality company will offer uniforms, a professional take-home service vehicle, paid commissions on add-on items, excellent benefits, paid time off, and a work-life balance.
Once a technician is hired, Akins acknowledged that there is no silver bullet to guarantee a technician will stay, but if a contractor takes care of their technicians, those feelings will likely be returned.
If a contractor does find themselves needing to let go of a quality technician, Akins said that the best way of increasing the chances of getting the technician back is to give the technician something in writing guaranteeing their employment once business resumes as usual.
“However, if a company is making decisions to lay off technicians, they will likely keep their top performers,” he said.
Opportunities in the Hiring Market
Matt Michel, president of Service Nation Inc., said that the shortage of skilled labor has always been an issue, but the recent crisis has opened up opportunities to hire people who would otherwise have a stable job.
“Fortunately, this is the best hiring market in 20 years,” he said. “There are some good techs who were sent home by contractors who bought into the fear and shut down or pulled way back. The challenge is to find them.”
He recommended social media, which has increased engagement as a result of state shutdowns. He said that creating recruiting videos on YouTube and sharing them on social media, especially Facebook and LinkedIn (which allow precise targeting), can be very beneficial. Contractors should also share everything that makes their company a good place to work for.
“Do you feature new trucks or beat up ones?” he said. “Is your pay at the top of the market? Do you offer generous benefits? What is your training like? Is there a career path and advancement opportunities? Is your brand reputation strong enough that people are proud to work for your company? Ads and promotions can also build on this by sharing a company’s culture and vision, speaking with pride about the business’ role in helping people stay safe and comfortable.”
The hiring process itself is affected too, he said.
“You can do some interviewing by video calls, but most contractors want a face-to-face interaction before hiring someone who will represent their companies before customers,” he said. “A six foot separation makes interviewing more challenging, so you have to adjust and adapt.”
In addition to this, he added that onboarding presents challenges, too, since it is much harder in the current environment to bring someone in and immerse them into company culture and teach them business processes when interaction is limited.
“I would discourage contractors from letting people go who will be needed in the future,” he said. “However, if you must, act with a servant’s heart. Be generous. Be compassionate. Stay in touch. Keep them updated on the condition of your business and your plans to return to work. Ask them to talk with you before taking another offer.”
Staffing Agencies and Looking Outside the Industry
Lanny Huffman, president of Hickory Sheet Metal Co. Inc. in Hickory, North Carolina, spoke highly of his company working with a staffing agency.
STAFFING AGENCIES: Lanny Huffman said his company has had great success hiring from staffing agencies.
“They do a lot of our HR work,” he said. “They'll do the background checks, the drug checks, their skill check. Then the individual will come here and we'll interview them.”
If everything goes well, the candidate will work with the company, although they will be on the staffing agency’s payroll for 60 days. Then, if everything looks good, the company will hire them.
“This eliminates a lot of the individuals that come running in and then running out,” he said. “It costs money to put people on the payroll. And going through the staffing agency has helped us.”
The staffing agency does a large amount of the HR work, running background checks, ensuring a valid driver’s license, and confirming that a certain skill set has been established. The trial period, Huffman said, is to make sure that personalities don’t clash and that the hire will be a good fit.
Steve Miles, vice president and CEO of Jerry Kelly Heating & Air Conditioning Inc. in St. Peters, Missouri, said that hiring in this time has a bounty of opportunities, especially when contractors are willing to embrace people from outside of the industry.
“Opportunities will be plentiful,” he said. “And that's going to be from the total pool of workers that have been displaced by companies shut down. After this is over, they may seek out a job that makes them more essential, where they can take care of their family.”
Miles said that there is a large opportunity for contractors ready to take those from outside of the industry and train them safely and properly. He recommended social media as an ideal venue for letting people know about the opportunities in the HVAC industry.
“And I think HVAC would be that opportunity for the contractors that are ready to embrace people from outside the industry and get them up to speed and trained to do it safely and properly,” he said.