We here atThe NEWSdo our fair share of articles about the HVAC workforce needs in both the short and long term. The cover story of this issue discusses the growing skills gap and how people in the industry can combat that.

The reasons for the skills gap are numerous. Today’s contractors will point at high school guidance counselors, ill-informed parents, and the lack of positive industry PR as obstacles they face in hiring top-notch talent to become technicians. Those are all solid arguments but as Matt Foley used to say, “That and a quarter will get you a piping hot cup of jack squat!”

Take Control of the Situation

So instead of complaining about the items that you really have no control over, contractors need to roll up their sleeves and overcome those obstacles. That is what the superior contractors are doing. Following two basic steps can be greatly helpful.

First, beef up the interview process. I hope you have an established interview process that weeds out the losers and shines light on the winners.

Some very profitable contractors are already doing this. One example is Brian Leech of Service Legends in Iowa. His hiring process would impress the FBI. Once a week they call in 30 applicants and give them a group introduction to the company. There is also the introductory individual interview, the second interview which is an hour-and-a-half in front of a three-person panel, the reference checks, an additional strength/nonstrength assessment, two drugs test, an offer meeting that will include the spouse, and a trip to a psychic.

OK, I made up that final one, but you get the point. Service Legends has raised the bar on the interviewing process and it is paying off big time. By putting some more time on the front end of the process, Service Legends is getting high quality employees and saving time on the back end … and making that time more profitable.

Second Step

The second step is to raise the bar on expectations for the new employees. This is especially true with younger employees. There seems to be a school of thought that the younger generation today does not have the same work ethic as those that came before them. This actually sparked a debate on The NEWS’ LinkedIn page after a trade school teacher we talked with spoke of the changing work ethic of the younger generation and how that presents challenges.

I agree that, in general, the twenty-something crowd does not have the work ethic of the fifty-something crowd. But in the interest of full disclosure, I have a much higher work ethic now than I did in my early twenties. Maturation happens and priorities change that allow us to grow into more productive employees and people.

The key as a contractor is to grease that learning curve. That means setting expectations high so these new technicians will meet them. This involves people skills, work ethic, and showing up on time in addition to the technical aspects of the job.

LinkedIn NEWS network member Dale Rossi had a great point about motivating an employee. “I cannot tell you how to motivate or incentivize some undefined individual. I know that people work hard at jobs they like, they think are important, or cannot afford lose. People work harder when they feel appreciated and when they care about the outcome or the people that are counting on them,” Rossi said.

It is the contractor’s job to motivate and inspire the next generation. Is it tougher to motivate the 21-year-old right out of trade school that is more interested in hitting the bar on Thursday night than being in top shape to do his job Friday morning? Of course it is. But if all the items were easy to accomplish, then everyone in this world would be the owner of a highly profitable HVAC business.

Now imagine trying to work up a bid in that world.

Publication date: 10/10/2011