It’s been said that a good hvacr service technician is a “special breed of cat” — one that likes the thrill of troubleshooting a system in distress, enjoys working independently, and above all, takes pride in his/her work.

The Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) has been surveying hvacr technicians to further determine what it is that makes a tech’s career worthwhile, asking, “How do you feel about your job? Do you get paid well? Do you view what you’re doing as a life-long career?”

The purpose of the survey is to help contractor-owners improve benefits and recruit more highly qualified technicians to the industry. Responses collected from technicians around the country will examine how technicians feel about their salaries, work environments, and growth opportunities.

“With this survey, we hope to raise contractors’ awareness about how to keep good, qualified staff,” said Dick Shaw, the association’s technical education consultant.

Early results

Although the survey has not been tabulated (ACCA says it is still accepting responses), executive vice president and ceo Roger Jask noticed a couple of strong results from the 200 or so that have come in.

“It’s not so much about money,” he said of tech career satisfaction; “it’s more of how they’re treated, and the flexibility they’re given.”

That ranges from flexible hours to help avoid tech burnout and accommodate family needs, to the latitude to make job decisions and set schedules.

In a recent article on tech retention (The News, Jan. 10, page 1), Jim Olsztynski notes a survey that found that more techs leave due to interpersonal relationships gone sour, than due to wages. Many hvacr contractors already seem to be aware of this, judging by entries received for our “Best Contractor to Work for” contest.

Several noted that they try to create a family atmosphere, complete with picnics, parties, awards, and yes, summer vacations. They also hold regular meetings where techs can participate in a give-and-take informative atmosphere, have ample training, and offer many variations of flex scheduling.

What it boils down to, says Jask, is having respect for technicians. It could be the single biggest factor in job satisfaction.

Pride of ownership

“I’ve spoken at a lot of chapter meetings,” said Jask. “It’s a pride thing for some contractors to bring their [top] techs. Of course, some contractors don’t bring their techs if they’ve got something to say that they don’t want the techs to hear.”

For those who do bring a few techs, “They consider it a learning experience,” said Jask. Bringing them to local meetings helps get them in touch with the broader picture of their hvacr market, as well as with national issues.

“Some techs take a great deal of pride in being a technician,” said Jask. Even though they’re working for someone else, inside they seem to feel that “It’s my business; it’s my customer.”

And what do techs enjoy most about their jobs? According to early returns to the ACCA survey, it’s troubleshooting and problem solving.

This is another distinct trait of the technical “cat”: the ability to take theoretical knowledge and apply it to a variety of situations. It is a blend of the technical and the creative that can be taught to a certain degree, but more often than not is inbred.

It is a highly desirable trait.

Care and feeding

From the manager’s perspective, if you’ve got such a cat, make sure you appreciate him. The feeding (pay) is one aspect of appreciation. But the care (overall respect) is more important.

The respect and appreciation of technicians needs to come from top management, Jask said. “I’ve spoken with technicians who say, ‘I was offered more money to work for another contractor, but I’m staying where I am,’” said Jask. “So it’s not so much about the money, as whether or not they’re respected.”

If technicians are respected by management, this adds to their feeling of self-respect. And without self-respect, not all the money in the world could keep these cats happy.