We are living in the era of big data. The digital transformation that has rapidly occurred over the last decade has provided great resources for every business, including HVAC contractors.

When I thought of big data and the HVAC contractor, my mind always went to marketing — meaning the ability for company owners to see exactly how successful each marketing program was to help them decide where to put their investments in the future.

But a trip to Los Angeles recently had me broadening my thought process. That is where I attended Pantheon, a conference put on by ServiceTitan that welcomed 2,500 contractors from the home services industry. What they unveiled in a session was data that could predict when and why an HVAC service technician will leave a company.

Finding quality technicians has been an issue for HVAC contractors for years. However, it seems the problem is currently worse than ever.

A recent report by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, released late last year, showed that 91% of contractors said they had either moderate of high levels of difficulty finding skilled labor. Personally, I would love to talk with the other 9% and see what secret sauce they have developed. Regardless, that was an increase of three points from the same survey taken in the summer.

But the department saw an even bigger jump when 62% of contractors reported high levels of difficulty finding service technicians. That number was 55% during the summer and 42% the year prior.

“Let's be real,” said former HVAC contractor turned ServiceTitan director of customer relations Chris Hunter. “In today's job world, techs can have their pick of the litter. They can knock on any door, I guarantee you, and find a job. So when things hit a little rough spot, or maybe one of these other factors come in, then all of a sudden it just makes it way too easy for them to be tempted to leave.”

So why are technicians leaving? According to the ServiceTitan report, it can be pinpointed to three items. 

1. Booking: The ServiceTitan data shows that techs who are either overbooked or under booked are more likely to leave for greener pastures.

Installers who have fewer than 50 jobs in two months are 16% more likely to leave, and maintenance techs who have between 50 and 110 jobs in two months are 27% more likely to leave. The data took into account all trades, with HVAC and plumbing accounting for 84% of the responses.

Under booking is probably only happening in the shoulder season, so HVAC contractors need to come up with a proactive plan to handle that. Undoubtedly that includes a push to sell maintenance agreements. The overbooking is a big issue when the phones are ringing off the hook. But before you book every call, you need to ask yourself whether it is worth squeezing an extra couple calls out of your techs if that increases their probability to leave by over 25%.

2. Drive time: How much time a technician spends in their truck also affects whether they will stay with a specific HVAC contractor or not. The ServiceTitan data showed that technicians who drive more than 50 minutes for more than 20% of their jobs are 27% more likely to leave that company.

The highest commute times were found in five states: California, New York, New Jersey, Texas, and Georgia. 

“If you’re not strategic about it, it’s easy to pile up drive-time minutes, and it weighs on people,” Hunter said. 

3. Weekend work: Servicing customers outside the normal five day work week is common occurrence for HVAC contractors. But at what cost?

ServiceTitan data showed that technicians with more than 15% of their jobs falling on the weekend are 24% more likely to go find another job.

“A couple of things stand out,” Hunter said. “If a tech has 15% or more of their total jobs on the weekend, that means one of two things. One, its overtime. I'm on call. Or it's my time to have to be kind of forced to work a weekend shift, which is never the most fun. But if you have a family or whatever and they’re off, if your spouse and your family is off on the weekend and you’re having to work, that gets old in a hurry.”

This is not to say your techs should only be working weekdays and traveling less than 20 minutes to a job. We all know that is not feasible. But in the era of big data, have all the information on hand so you can decide how much stress you want to put on your technicians by knowing how likely that is to make them your former technicians.