Hiring and retaining workers remain the greatest challenge for HVAC contractors. Several speakers at the recent Service World Expo virtual event discussed strategies for finding and keeping the best people. These included different ways to compensate staff, how to handle recruiting events, and expanding the pool of applicants.

Louis Hobaica is president of Hobaica Services Inc., a Phoenix home services firm his father started in 1952. Hobaica said finding good employees was a challenge then, just like it is now.

“No different than today, he could not find skilled labor or individuals that were honest and ethical that he could count on to do what he wanted,” he said.

Hobaica said his main criteria for hiring isn’t skills with tools or outstanding salesmanship. He looks for nice people. And he looks for them all the time.

“When you’re always hiring, you find people that you like,” Hobaica said.

All Hobaica Services team members carry a card to recruit people. They hand it out when they find someone they think is a good match. They also give these cards to their customers.

“They know who we are, so they know what would be a good fit,” Hobaica said.

Ryan Kohler, CEO of ApplicantPro, said HVAC contractors need to list what they offer applicants in a job ad, rather than what they want. One reason HVAC contractors struggle to find employees is they do a poor job of listing openings. They post a job for a dispatcher, which to most people means a 911 operator. It’s better to advertise for a customer service representative.


Competing For Employees Just Like Customers

David Heimer, senior vice president and co-founder of Service Nation, said HVAC contractors need to advertise they are hiring as much as they advertise their services. Heimer recommends even putting it on all of a firm’s trucks. He said HVAC contractors should include a QR code that takes a potential employee to an online application.

“You’re competing for employees just like you’re competing for customers,” Heimer said.

Heimer also recommends hosting hiring events. Hobaica hosts just such an event every third Thursday of every month at his office. He meets with applicants and goes over who they are, how they started, and how they want to be remembered. He then tells them about Hobaica Services. Each interview lasts two or three minutes. Hobaica said some of these hiring events draw as many as 40 people.

Hobaica doesn’t look for trained technicians. They often don’t fit into his company culture and sometimes bring bad habits with them. Instead, they have offered an apprentice program since 1996. It includes cross training with all the trades Hobaica Services offers.

“It’s much better to build your own,” Hobaica said.

Some HVAC contractors want those veteran technicians. If that’s the case, Heimer said, they need to do whatever it takes to bring them into the shop. This could include paying someone’s relocation costs.


Keeping The Best Requires Culture, Compensation

Of course, other HVAC contractors want those same outstanding employees, so retention becomes a challenge. The most obvious way to keep good employees is paying them well. Hobaica said he tries to pay better than competition. He offers hourly pay plus performance-based bonuses that are easy to understand.

That last part proves crucial. Hobaica said he developed a payment plan that he thought was perfect. The problem was that the installation techs didn’t understand it. So he had to revamp it.

Listening to employees and showing them they are valued is another form of compensation. Hobaica said he tries to center all his decisions on employees. He wants make them feel like they’re part of something bigger.

“Our employees can have a job anywhere,” he said. “Give them a place to have a sense of purpose.”

Hobaica continually challenges his team. During team meetings, he has each one state an area they want to improve. He also uses those moments to acknowledge peer-to-peer recognition.

The team at Hobaica Services also has a lot of fun. They celebrate holidays, which Hobaica considers very important, and they also enjoy everyday perks. Each Friday, Hobaica barbeques for the staff. He also gives out Hobaica Bucks for participation and positive reviews. They can be used to purchase tools, uniforms, or gift cards.

Hobaica also rewards them with money toward a vacation. Today’s employees place a high value on time, and perks in this area carry a lot of weight with them. Kohler said offering paid time off is the biggest single way to attract more applicants. He also said paying for services that save employees’ time is a good idea. He pays for a housekeeping service for his employees.

One of the main reasons good technicians leave is to start their own businesses. Chris Hunter, founder of Hunter Super Techs, said HVAC contractors should works on ways to help their techs start that business within the existing company. This benefits both parties by driving growth.

“If you want to grow, you have to have a team,” Hunter said. “I like going into new areas and serve like they’ve never been served before.”


Hire Ruthlessly, Fire Quickly

Of course, there are times when it’s best not to keep an employee. Most people, including HVAC contractors, are uncomfortable with the firing process. Heimer said employers are doing employees a favor when letting them go if they don’t fit in the business.

“It’s better to let them go be successful for somewhere else,” he said.

The best way to avoid these unpleasant situations is better hiring. Hunter recommends using personality tests to screen applicants. He said one is available for every position. He said unorthodox screening methods, such as having someone sing during an interview, also work. Hunter also recommends having women involved in the hiring process for all applicants. HVAC techs often deal with women on their service calls, so they need to pass what he called the “creep test.”

“You should be ruthless in selecting people for your company,” Hunter said.

This makes drawing applicants to a business essential. Recruiting, retention, and marketing become a virtuous cycle. Recruiting pieces describe what type of people work at a firm, and consumers consider who they let in their homes when selecting an HVAC contractor, Heimer said

“However you treat your team, they are going to treat your customers exactly like you treat them,” he said.

Earning awards, such as local and national Best Places to Work contests, helps with both recruiting and marketing, Heimer said. On the other side, potential employees want to work somewhere they recognize and that has a good reputation.

“Your brand helps you with recruiting just like it does with marketing,” Heimer said.