"Staffing and working with employees is one of our No. 1 challenges," Levi said. "You are a hostage at your own company until you learn how to recruit, hire, and train your employees."
At several points during the session, Levi divided his audience into four groups, asking attendees to get out of their own comfort zones and to interact with each other - a departure from the standard procedure at most seminars. He did it to emphasize a point.
"If owners and managers can't handle change, how can you expect your employees to?" he asked. Coping with change involves communicating effectively with employees. Levi joked, "It is bad enough that we have to pay them, we actually have to talk to them!"
In the first breakout session, Levi asked members of each group to list five of their biggest challenges in working with employees. Some of the answers included:
Attitude Is ImportantLevi used an example of his own background in the business, saying that his dad told him that in order to move up past being a technician, he would have to be-come a "chief" - and the only way to get to become a chief was by "making a lot of new Indians."
"We need to recruit people who are willing to learn, as opposed to people with the right skills," he said.
In another breakout session, Levi asked each group to come up with some ideas to aid in recruitment. Suggestions included establishing job guidelines and detailed job descriptions.
Levi said that one way to get job recruits out of their comfort zone and to show their willingness to learn is by making them sing during the interview process. He also suggested that business owners issue a comprehensive written exam based on what they need to know about each applicant and put a time limit on the exam.
He asked the next breakout groups to suggest items to stress in help wanted ads for technicians. Attendees said a good help wanted ad should emphasize that the job involves doing several different tasks and include details on a company vehicle, profit sharing, bonuses, and ongoing training.
Key QuestionsLevi asked attendees to come up with qualifying questions for use during the interview process. Suggestions included:
Levi suggested that owners and managers interview each other in order to practice and to establish a standard process.
Finally, he asked each group to discuss the best ways to indoctrinate new employees to the business. Methods used by seminar attendees included conducting a tour of the facility, introducing new employees to all staff members, and having new hires ride along with an experienced tech.
Attendees emphasized the importance of discussing policies and procedures, with some suggesting that new employees should sign off on an indoctrination checklist.
"Start small and put everything in writing," Levi stated. "Don't give a new employee a 500-page company policy book. They won't read it."
Sidebar: Taking Technology On The RoadHERSHEY, Pa. - John Kila has become a fixture at National Association of Oil Heating Service Managers (NAOHSM) meetings. The most recent gathering was no exception.
Kila describes himself as a "troubleshooting service tech" for Newmac Manufacturing Inc., Woodstock, Ontario. Newmac manufactures oil-fired and forced air furnaces and boilers. Kila talks to meeting attendees from the perch of his unique display - a converted travel trailer anchored in the parking lot of the Hershey Lodge.
"I've been to 15 of these shows, showing up while people were still using tents," Kila said. "This old trailer is showing its age, and this might be its last show."
The trailer holds equipment samples and information about Newmac furnaces and boilers. Kila hooks it to the back of his truck and makes the journey to NAOHSM meetings, which feature a lot of outdoor exhibits. But the trailer wasn't always open to the outdoors.
Kila used to ask people to come into the trailer and view the products but he "eventually got tired of staring at the four walls" and so he cut out one wall, which now swings down to reveal an open-air display.
- John R. Hall
Publication date: 06/20/2005