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Live events are back in full swing after taking off most of 2020 and cautiously returning in 2021. Synergy Solution Group recently hosted its Service Operations Forum in Charlotte, North Carolina, on January 23-26. The event drew 65 HVAC professionals.

The peer-to-peer network returned to in-person gatherings in March of last year. That was a scaled-down version of this event, said Jim Bartolotta, Synergy’s managing partner. The group also conducted technical training and an executive board meeting in the past year.

“Our members were craving it,” Bartolotta said. “We did it safely, but they had had enough of Zoom. In our industry, we didn’t really shut down much because of COVID. Our group became used to working safely and being at in-person meetings, even if they were smaller.”

The forum opened with a presentation by Alex Willis, a nationally recognized speaker on increasing diversity on the trades. Bartolotta said everyone is trying to recruit more employees, especially in this time of labor shortages in all industries. The problem is everyone often chases after the same applicants.

“We’ve kind of drained the pool of available applicants,” said Allison Rodgers, Synergy’s sales and marketing director. “Maybe we can look a little outside of what we typically might do.”


Adding and Keeping Employees

Attendees shared their best practices for recruiting. One HVAC contractor said he had 25 applicants for his apprenticeship program. Another does really well with referrals, Bartolotta said.

Bartolotta did some role playing in front of the audience as potential hire. They asked him to describe a time he made a mistake, how he handled it, and how his supervisor handled it. The audience then shared their best interview questions, and the facilitators created a top 10 list of questions. These questions were geared toward the values of the firms rather than the technical needs.

“We heard over and over again that we’ll hire for character and train for skills,” Bartolotta said.

Recruiting more employees is only half of the battle. Keeping them is just as important. That’s why another segment focused on team-building ideas and how to create a career path for new hires.

“People aren’t going to leave for a dollar more an hour if they love the people they are working with,” Bartolotta said.


Meeting the Challenge

The second day ended with the Synergy Challenge. Nine of the attendees set out a goal to improve their bottom line, such as how to add new clients. Then the other attendees broke up into teams and created a name for each team. The names were pretty creative, including the PM Posse and Goldilocks and the Three Bald Bears.

The winning team of the Synergy challenge.

WINNERS: The winning team of the Synergy challenge show off their prizes — brand-new caps. The team discussed its struggles with staying on top of inspections. (Courtesy of Synergy Solution Group)

“One of our core values is fun, so we interjected some fun throughout this session,” Bartolotta said.

The teams presented on their topics the next day. The attendees got pretty into it, Bartolotta said, with three creating PowerPoint presentations overnight. Attendees voted on the best presentation, which focused staying on top of inspections and limiting overtime.

“I think they won because so many members struggle with that,” said Kathy Gaussselin, Synergy’s member support specialist.

The goal of the exercise was to find solutions. So in three months, Synergy staff will do a conference call with members of the winning team to see how they implemented the ideas generated at the seminar. They’ll talk about what worked and what didn’t.

The live event gave Synergy staff a chance to check in with HVAC contractors and get a read on the state of the business. Bartolotta said few struggle with getting enough business these days. On the commercial side, some clients are cutting back on in-house maintenance staff, creating an opportunity for more work. Other clients are looking for a one-stop shop that provides HVAC, plumbing, and electrical services.

Customers want a lot more information these days, Bartolotta said. They want it quickly, too. This means adapting new communication tools to stay in touch.

Synergy’s next event will focus on service coordinators and dispatchers. It takes place March 20-22 in Houston.