Peter Powell

Contractors who are on the lookout for qualified service technicians know that getting them is only one-third of the equation. The next two steps involve training and keeping them. There are many dynamics in those last two and their relation to each other. It is a topic that has been covered over and over again inThe NEWS.

And sometimes, the topic leads to interesting feedback. “If we train them too good, they will just leave,” is one popular argument from those who don’t want to do one part of the formula - the training. But comments like that are brushed aside in short order these days.

What is happening now is the realization that those hiring technicians have to make every effort to find good ones, take on most of the training needed to allow the technician to do a good job, and to provide incentives to keep them.

An interesting gathering of those that hire technicians assembled for a session on technician shortages during the most recent FMI Energy & Technical Services Conference in Orlando, Fla. John Lollar, president of Richmond Refrigeration, and Dan Steffan, vice president of AAA Refrigeration Services, were joined by Jonathan Perry, director of energy and maintenance for Farm Fresh, the supermarket chain.

Sometimes supermarket chains do their own hiring rather than rely on local independent contractors. So to have two contractors on stage with a supermarket chain official and have them all be on the same page concerning the need to hire, train, and retain was quite a coup.

And it was interesting to listen to the ideas of all three, especially as they presented their thoughts from a refrigeration perspective.

We atThe NEWSwere especially interested to hear Perry include “advertisements in trade magazines” as one place to let “the best technicians know that a retailer is a good place to work.” He offered that along with word of mouth at supply houses, online advertising, and trade organizations.

The training involves continuous education including partnerships with schools, weekly training/safety meetings, seminars through manufacturers, membership in organizations like the Refrigeration Service Engineers Society, and (get ready for this), “encouraging magazine subscriptions” in which he specifically mentionedThe NEWSas one of those magazines.

In addition to the various monetary incentives, he encouraged companies that do hiring “to be innovative because technicians enjoy new challenges.”

Steffan of AAA Refrigeration, located in the Bronx, said hiring is based on finding “technicians as opposed to mechanics” and stressing a family atmosphere. “AAA is truly a family business consisting of multiple second and third generations. AAA treats all of their people the same.”

Recruiting is successful through testimonials, industry, trade associations, and … well … nepotism. “It’s a good thing if you do it right,” said Steffan of the latter. “After 72 years and by investing in education, we have managed to retain good people and employ second and third generations of family members.”

As a union shop, much of the ongoing training comes through apprentice educational programs, he said, and continuing education. This includes two Saturdays a month for nine months of training along with a summer curriculum. He said if education is the No. 1 priority, it will equal retention. He added, “Teach people properly and give them the proper tools, and they will stay.”

Lollar of Richmond Refrigeration focused on his employees as providing good leads for prospective technicians, including finder fees that go up the longer a new technician stays with the company. For the technician, there are incentives for passing various industry exams.

There are also intangibles, he said. Such as, “respect, respect, respect. Our employees are treated with dignity. We do not yell, scream or abuse them in any way. We are all part of a team, so everyone is treated the same way.”

The hour session was filled with ideas. In effect, competitors of sorts were on stage sharing those ideas with other competitors. But there was a “we are all in this together” mind set.

Getting everybody to help each other out in regards to the technician shortage issue is one step in the right direction.

Publication date:11/03/2008