Not too long ago, I entered the wonderful world of homeownership. When my husband and I purchased the house, we did so with the knowledge that we would eventually have to replace the HVAC system since it is fairly old. And like most homeowners, we have been planning ahead for said future replacement — in another year or two. But, like the saying goes, “Man plans, and God laughs.”

I came home from work one Friday night — right before the first heat wave of the year — to a dreadfully hot house. When I went to check, I discovered a frozen line coming out of the back of our condensing unit. Not a good sign! After turning off the system, I headed to my trusty Google app to search for local HVAC companies. I made a list of a couple of prospects and began calling companies.

Now, I realize this was a weekend and also the first hot spell of the year, but every company I talked to would not be able to get someone out to even look at my air conditioner until the end of the next week. One company didn’t have any availability for two weeks. I can only assume that the growing labor shortage is forcing contractors to increase wait times for new customers. Unfortunately, many prospective customers hear they can’t get an appointment immediately and will hang up the phone.

However, many contractors are combatting the shortage by getting creative in their recruitment strategies. Some contracting companies are finding success in recruiting mechanically inclined persons and growing their own technicians through either internal training programs or industry association or manufacturer programs — however, that way takes time.

“We’ve got enough apprentices — actually, we’ve got kind of a kid farm over here,” said Jeff Nusz, president of Reitmeier HVAC Services in Tualatin, Oregon. “I’ve got a dedicated education director, a nationally registered curriculum, and I’m taking kids right out of high school. And in two years, they are starting to become productive. After another two years, they’re licensed. I’m looking 10 to 20 years down the line.”

HVAC companies are also getting creative in the benefits they offer, such as sign-on bonuses, one week’s paid vacation upon hire or within 90 days of hire, better medical and dental, and more. Reitmeier recently made changes to its schedule, splitting its service crew into two groups, so they each work four 10-hour shifts and get three-day weekends.

“The four 10s are a big selling point,” said Robyn Benedetti, vice president of operations, Reitmeier. “It’s brought a lot of people here. It was a hard thing for the service manager and our president to come up with and get around. We also have Reitmeier University — a two-year, in-house, paid education. That also seems to be a big deal. A lot of it is just word of mouth to other technicians. It’s the way we do business, which is different than our competitors. We pay 100 percent of our employees’ benefits, including deductibles. And, we pay 80 percent of a spouse’s insurance as well. All of these things set us apart.”

So keep in mind: It’s not always the almighty dollar that attracts prospective employees. It’s about the culture of the company and whether or not that company takes care of its employees and their families. Is your company attractive in this competitive job market? You may want to take a good, hard look at your company’s recruitment strategies and benefits packages. Don’t wait until you’re shortstaffed, or your customers may suffer. Now is the time to get creative.

Publication date: 7/23/2018

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