It was very interesting to read the recentNewsfeatures on the "Best Contractor To Work For" contest winners. Besides being interesting reading, the articles are a great source of new ideas on ways to run our operation. I was interested to note that nearly all of the winners indicated that finding and keeping good technicians was their biggest challenge.

I thought it was interesting, because if "The Best Contractors To Work For" are having trouble finding and retaining their technicians, then where does that leave the rest of us? Contractor surveys for years have indicated that finding qualified technicians is the biggest concern that they have in running their businesses.

We all need to be taking steps to encourage young people to enter this industry and then find ways to treat them well enough that they will want to stay in the industry. Unfortunately, right now, other employer groups are doing a better job of selling themselves to the potential work force than we are. Yet there are thousands of young people out there who would be excellent candidates for the HVAC industry.

Attracting Quality Employees

We should be selling ourselves better by doing a better job of telling them the positives about being an HVAC technician. Let the world know what a great service industry we are, and that being involved can be very rewarding, both financially and personally. We have to compete with the high-tech industries that sell a glamorous picture of their work.

We need to be telling youngsters - in ways in which they can relate - about what an ideal industry we have for someone who wants to work with his/her hands, likes to be around people, is a self-motivated individual, etc. There are young people out there who don't believe sitting behind a desk in an office every day is very interesting or challenging.

We need to open our ranks to all portions of the population, including those that have not traditionally made up our work forces.

We need to consider minorities and females. Certainly there have been some successful female and minority technicians, but the rank and file of the industry has not been encouraging to these groups to join the industry. We have to change this archaic thinking. We need to look outside of our traditional way of thinking if we are going to solve this shortage.

Once we have improved our recruiting efforts and are encouraging larger numbers to sample the HVAC field, we need to treat those recruits like we intend for them to be a permanent part of the industry.

1. We need to train them so they have all of the technical skills possible.

2. We need to train them so they have all of the people skills possible.

3. We need to continue to train them on a regular basis because the skills required in our industry are changing rapidly.

4. We need to pay our people appropriately for the time and effort we expect for them to expend. I believe that few service technicians entered our field specifically because it was the highest paying field they examined. Yes, they want to make a good living, but they could probably find an occupation that paid at least a similar amount of money but with fewer hours.

Still, those other jobs don't necessarily include the satisfaction of knowing that the service they are providing customers really benefits those customers. We need to continually reinforce these positive features and let our service technicians know how much our customers and we appreciate the service they provide. We need to let youngsters see that we are as dedicated as we want them to be in serving our customers.

If the contest winners are having trouble finding and keeping good service technicians, then I believe that sends a message to all of the rest of us that we all better roll up our sleeves and make sure we are doing everything we can to keep up a supply of talented, dedicated techs.

Guest columnist Butch Welsch operates Welsch Heating & Cooling in St. Louis. He can be reached by e-mail at

Publication date: 04/19/2004