Every HVAC contractor I speak with talks about the labor shortage facing the industry. There just aren’t enough skilled tradespeople to go around. And the problem isn’t limited to this industry. Plumbers, auto repair shops, manufacturers — they all grapple with the same issue. And often the same young people go into the various vocational fields. So everyone is essentially competing for the same limited pool of talent.

There’s a lot of talk about how to attract more people to the field. That’s good in general. But for individual contractors, it’s just as important to keep the technicians they already have. This creates fewer vacancies to fill. It also means that when there is an opening, the HVAC contractor has an easier time recruiting employees because the good working conditions attract them.

That’s why honors such as being named one of the Best Contractors to Work For should matter just as much as awards from customers or manufacturers. This year’s four winners all understand that happy technicians make for happy customers — and that investing in employees provide substantial returns for any business.

Abe Zarou, owner of AllTech Services Inc. in Sterling, Virginia, and our East region winner, said he’ll walk away from work rather than cause problems for his employees. AllTech only offers afterhours service for its comfort members. Air Comfort Heating & Cooling in Fremont, Nebraska, does offer 24-hour service, but takes steps to ease the burden on technicians. After 8 p.m. on weekdays and 6 p.m. on weekends, emergency calls roll to management, and they work to best decide who to handle the problem.

There are times when HVAC contractors can’t avoid putting extra stress on their technicians, especially in the summer. But there are steps contractors can take in this area as well. Joe Mascetti, the Best Contractor to Work For in the South, operates HVAC businesses in the Carolinas, where summers are hot and humid. Mascetti knows the workload can prove exhausting. That’s why he keeps the refrigerators well stocked with cold water and ice cream treats. During slower times, Mascetti finds work for his technicians, ranging from data entry to organizing the warehouse, so they can count on a steady paycheck.

The most important way HVAC contractors can create a positive workplace is by making each of their employees feel like a valued member of the team. MacDonald-Miller Facility Solutions in Seattle, Washington, the Best Contractor to Work for in the West, employs almost 1,300 working out of 10 offices. Despite its size, there is an emphasis on collaboration at this commercial contractor.

“There isn’t a wall between the leadership of the company and the rest of the employees, which I think is awesome,” said Rory Olson, MacDonald-Miller’s vice president of service.

Putting their employees first. Easing their workloads. Making employees feel like their voices are being heard. These are some of the ways that the Best Contractors to Work For earn that title. Money matters, of course, along with other forms of compensation. But at the end of the day, acknowledgement creates its own value.

There are numerous ways to acknowledge employees. The basics start with taking time to listening to them on a regular basis. Another step is providing small perks on a regular basis. Many award-winning contractors have said one of the best ways to keep employees happy is by keeping them well-fed.

Then there are special recognitions for individuals. This may be as simple as posting a birthday or work anniversary on social media. Sharing reviews boosts a firm’s reputation, but it also creates a source of pride for technicians and other staff. Some contractors present awards to employees on a regular basis.

May I suggest another way? We have a regular featured called Tech of the Month. A contractor submits the name of an employee, along with some other information, and we then conduct a short interview with that person. We write up a profile and publish it. I can tell you from years of experience, everyone likes to get his or her picture in the paper. If you’re interested, visit www.achrnews.com/submit-hvac-tech-of-the-month.