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Originally published: 07.01.11 by Doug Mitchell

How contractors are using social media to find great employees.

Predictions paint a brighter revenue picture for HVACR contracting businesses in the near future (See “HVACR Contractors Help Drive Remodeling Rebound,” March, 2011, at www.hvacrbusiness.com), but a dark cloud is looming: Just as leaders in many other industries, HVACR contractors are having a hard time finding qualified employees to support increasing sales.

The U.S. government reports that by next year, the country’s workforce will fall short of filling 3 million skilled-worker positions. While the retirement of Baby Boomers is partly to blame, higher certification standards and more technical products and processes have raised the basic qualifications for many traditionally blue-collar jobs such as assembly workers, machine operators, healthcare assistants, and residential and commercial service technicians. Competition is fierce — and will become fiercer — for job seekers with math and information-technology knowledge alongside sector-specific skills. The result: HVACR contractors will be competing with each other and other industries for good employees.

“Seventy-eight million Baby Boomers are retiring. There are only 40 million Generation Xers nationwide to take their place,” Jerry Weiss, Executive Director of training and certification provider HVAC Excellence said recently. “If we don’t get our share

in this industry, labor shortages will cause significant challenges.”

Social Media’s Powerful Reach

Leading contractors are using online tools to get an edge in the search for qualified employees, and this includes social media tools. Type the words “HVAC jobs” into the search field on Twitter, and your screen will pop with scores of open positions from employers, recruiters, job boards — each of them in hot pursuit of today’s talent.

If you’re asking yourself, “Why aren’t we on Twitter?” — you’re not alone. A January 2011 survey conducted by jobsite123 of 20,000 commercial construction companies determined that nearly 70% were likely to post employment opportunities online this year. If, on the other hand, you’re asking yourself “What is Twitter?” — you may have a larger problem.

That’s because Twitter — along with its social media counterparts LinkedIn, Facebook, and YouTube — are today’s classifieds, especially for younger jobseekers. According to the Kelly Workforce Global Index, nearly a quarter of surveyed jobseekers are using social media sites to find work.

Many contractors find it hard to believe that an HVAC technician would be on YouTube looking for work. But, in fact, they are. Since Google bought YouTube a few years back, an increasing number of search results lead to online videos.  

One mechanical firm using a YouTube recruiting strategy is ColonialWebb Contractors. With a less-than-four-minute video that links from YouTube to its employment opportunities page on colonialwebb.com, the company gives jobseekers a visual introduction of working for the largest commercial mechanical contractor in Virginia.

The video shows actual employees on the job and explains ColonialWebb’s philosophy for maintaining a satisfied team. Most importantly, it gives viewers a decisive call to action by closing out the video with directions on how to apply immediately online.

My company, BirdDog, which specializes in helping mechanical contracting employers acquire talent and manage the entire recruitment process, is assisting another company with a full suite of social tools. Air Care, a Bermuda-based HVAC firm is recruiting with a mix of social media and digital video.

“Over the last few years, we’ve noticed a major shift by applicants away from the ‘traditional’ recruitment methods and toward social media, in particular LinkedIn and Twitter,” said Craig A. Stevenson, Air Care business development and sales manager. “Not surprisingly, the job seekers under 35 who have grown up with both find LinkedIn and Twitter the normal recruitment medium, with older job seekers relying on job boards or placed advertisements. We expect this trend to continue, and companies will be forced to embrace social media to attract younger talent or risk losing that talent to companies that are riding the social media wave.”

Having a strong “careers” section on your company’s website is still important. As many savvy hiring managers know, where to advertise open positions is only part of the equation. Most employers have no trouble bringing in applicants; attracting qualified applicants is where they struggle.

This is where a smart social recruiting strategy meets an equally smart online recruiting strategy. It’s not just the number of eyeballs that view your ad, but where you send those Tweeple, Facebook friends, and YouTube viewers next that really counts.

Every good LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter post links back to a website or web page with more information, and hopefully, a fully automated way for an interested jobseeker to submit his application immediately. As such, your website and company career page are often responsible for the first impression a potential employee will have of your firm.

Benefits of ‘Always On’ Recruiting

Air Care takes an “always on” approach to recruiting. What this means is that the firm is always recruiting — even when no open positions exist at the company. This allows them to “fill the pipeline” with qualified candidates. When emergency or last-minute openings arise, they tap their own database of pre-screened, qualified applicants, rather than running out to hire the first candidate to show interest.

Air Care and similar HVACR firms have done this by building an interactive company career page. Built as a jobs “hub,” the page has several different points of entry. Visitors reach it by clicking links inside social media and niche job-board postings. They also get there from the navigation of the company’s branded website. The company career page has the same look and feel as the rest of their site, but behind the scenes, it is “always on,” gathering applications from numerous sources, screening them, scoring them, and even storing those that meet certain criteria.

Because contractors tend to lack the assets and staff to build and maintain a jobs “hub” page, they often use third-party providers with an SaaS model — they host the page on their servers and take care of all back-end support. On the front end, the page looks like any other page on the contractor’s website. For example, at BirdDog we optimize the page for SEO, manage compliance issues so the jobs are vetted through the National Labor Exchange (which means aggregators pick them up), leverage social media tools, and post the jobs on our blog to extend reach. 

The backend is also where the contractor grades and sorts the applicants along with the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Program reporting. User-level security ensures that only the designated person in the company can access the diversity information.

The result of “always on” recruiting is that the contractor has his own pool of pre-qualified and interested candidates, which dramatically cuts down the stress and   resources associated with filling inevitable last-minute staff openings.

This kind of “panic hire” poses a greater risk to HVACR businesses today than ever before. With the unemployment market flooded with jobseekers, more unqualified candidates will come knocking at any sign of an open position. By taking a proactive, strategic approach to hiring — one that centers on the creation and maintenance of a fully vetted candidate pool — firms are in a much-improved position to hire quality employees. 

But the best part about these custom-built company career pages is the back-end connectivity with the most popular job boards on the web. When a hiring manager logs in to add a job opening to his company’s career page, the posting is automatically distributed to millions of jobseekers.

Avoiding Costly Hiring Mistakes

Having an interactive company career page saves money, as well. Because the page is under complete control of the employer, job openings can remain on the site for as long as necessary — without the daily fees associated with newspaper classifieds or even individual job board postings. This can be particularly appealing for companies with high turnover or even those who are always looking for good people.

Also, according to a recent survey of small-business owners by SurePayroll Inc., a bad hire that results in a firing can cost a company as much as $10,000. Our average customer spends $300 to $500/month for various levels of the always-on recruiting services. That equates to roughly $3,600 to $6,000 a year.

Contractors can also waste money by making the wrong choice for an online-recruiting partner. To reap the greatest benefits, look for a solution that is more than just an applicant-tracking system. With the widespread use of social media, it makes sense to look for partners that can help you to tap into this market. And, if you don’t have the skills on staff to make videos and other career-page-related content, some vendors can supply these along with professionals who can actually manage the recruiting process. In other words, look for providers that have resources you lack.

Also, it’s important to work with partners that really understand your unique needs for talent as an HVACR contractor.

Speaking of Talent . . .

When it comes to hiring from younger pools, business owners and hiring managers can hit generational barriers at full speed, knocking the wind right out of our industry’s collective sails. It’s like any other cultural collision — it takes effort on the sides of both parties.

A perception among seasoned HVACR professionals is that kids today are lazy, that they lack the drive to do what it takes to really excel in the marketplace — or even at their own company.

Every generation prior has made the exact same observation. Yet somehow, good people continue to find their way into the work world, shaking loose their novice ways as they learn from good leaders. What it takes is a community of mentors. It’s going to be a challenge, but more HVACR companies will need to invest — definitely time and perhaps even dollars — in the molding of the next generation of professionals.  

Another perception we hear at BirdDog as we go out in search of good, young talent for HVACR firms is that there exists an unrealistic expectation of salary among those graduating trade school. Some blame exaggeration in tech-school advertising. Others blame the Gen Y “entitlement mentality.”

Much of the problem of unrealistic expectations can be solved with good communication and a clear vision for how a company will reward its employees. And this begins in the recruiting process.

Just as the Air Care representative lays out exactly what Air Care employees can expect in the company’s website video, contractors should articulate from the very beginning what a team member has to look forward to, how he will be compensated, and what opportunities are available to him when he exceeds expectations.

Just before I came back to my desk to finish this article, one of our interns perfectly summed up this need for employer-employee communication. She said, “If more bosses would just share their plan, fewer employees would be bothered by a lack of promotions or raises. They wouldn’t have to guess when the reward is coming.”

Good communication doesn’t begin on an employee’s first day. In fact, it begins before that person is even employed. It starts from the moment a jobseeker gets wind of an open position. For the next generation, this isn’t happening in the classifieds. It isn’t even happening on job boards. It’s happening in their online social communities, where they share their lives, pursue their passions, and try to find their way in the world. 

About Doug Mitchell

Doug Mitchell

Doug Mitchell is VP of Marketing for BirdDogJobs.com, a niche candidate acquisition and management system. He can be reached at doug@birddogjobs.com.


Articles by Doug Mitchell

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Welcome Aboard!

The U.S. government reports that by next year, the country’s workforce will fall short of filling 3 million skilled-worker positions. The result: HVACR contractors will be competing with each other and other industries for good employees.
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