“If you build it, they will come.” Let’s face it, only a Hollywood scriptwriter could write a perfect ending to the labor shortage that currently plagues our industry. I just built a new training center within my hvac business in Hartford, Conn., but I know that if I want to fill it up with top talent, I need to dedicate time and energy to building a culture within those walls that lures them in. It’s got to be something that has a magnetic force of energy, benefits and fun. We can’t outsource our business to India, so we have to build strong teams at home.
Recently, I attended Nexstar’s Owner’s Spotlight Series in Orlando that focused on new ways to attract, qualify and nurture people. Nexstar calls it The People Project. I went in search of new ideas for recruiting and retaining skilled workers. I needed inspiration and I found it.
Inspiration begins at the high school level. For some reason, technical schools have been stereotyped as less desirable than four-year colleges and universities. At Owner’s Spotlight, Nexstar gave members a tool kit to take into high schools to change that perception. The kit is designed to build interest among young people in the process of choosing a career path and the adults who are influencing their decision. It contains a series of eye-catching cards that highlight the benefits of technical occupations and the great careers within. We also put our money where our mouth is by offering scholarships to students through the Nexstar Legacy Foundation. We all need to work toward changing the perception of our industry. It’s key to recruiting.
One of the other keys to recruiting success is focusing on it all year long, whether you have a position to fill or not. When stellar employees hit the marketplace, you want to reel them in, so you better keep your line in the water.
My current recruiting methods are very strategic. I target areas of town with a large volume of supply houses because I know it’s a high traffic area for hvac service providers. I buy billboard space in January and February that says: “New Year – New Career.” It’s short and sweet, so it doesn’t cause accidents and the word “career” is intentional to move people beyond their current “job” to thoughts of an hvac career.
I also buy a steady stream of ads in three smaller newspapers circulated on the outskirts of Hartford. I focus on the Sunday edition. I’ve done this for the past five years and it’s paying off. Consistent advertising keeps me in front of my target market and it’s more cost effective to purchase a full advertising schedule than a one-time placement. A full year of ads in the Sunday paper in the Hartford area costs me only $900.
I have a “career opportunities” page on my Web site where candidates can access job information and click to apply. I also recommend using current employees as referral sources. I pay employees $1,000 if they bring in a new recruit and I recently hired two new people with this strategy.
I use an online resource for recruiting. This saves me time and it’s thorough, making it easier to weed out and better qualify candidates prior to the interviewing process. From the beginning of my business, I’ve subscribed to www.hvacagent.com. They describe themselves as a “Professional sports agent for the HVAC and refrigeration industry” and they are a great recruiting partner.
Another good recruiting resource is www.mepatwork.com. In Orlando, MEP Jobs recommended that I build a people strategy for a competitive hiring advantage. They encouraged me to identify the talents that are most important to my business and brand myself as the employer of choice. They recommended hiring someone to manage this whole process.
What do you look for in job candidates? I look for attitude over skill. Now here’s something that came across loud and clear at Owner’s Spotlight. Kevin Freiberg, co-author of “GUTS! Companies That Blow the Doors Off Business-as–Usual” said, “You can’t train miserable people to smile. You most likely hire for skill, but you will fire people who don’t bring the right spirit to your business.”
Speaking of retention. Obviously, a good health and retirement benefits package is critical, but employees are looking for so much more. I reward five years of service with a snowmobile trip. I’ve formed a company partnership with a travel company as a staff benefit and I’m going in search of more “outside the box” benefits that will help attract top talent.
In Orlando, I met Rex Bothwell, another link in The People Project. Basically, he’s an expert on strategic change. Bothwell says employee satisfactionand customer satisfaction are strongly and positively linked. Surprisingly, people don’t typically leave a job because they don’t make enough money. They leave because they’re not satisfied…not happy. According to Bothwell, if employees are proud of the work they do and they feel that their contribution is valued and acknowledged, they will stay. I’ve decided to invest in an employee satisfaction survey so that I know what my employees are looking for.
Lauri Bucci of Fred’s Heating and Cooling in Euclid, Ohio, has decided that she needs to go to the heart of this issue. She says, “I’ve invested time and money in nice uniforms and trucks, but now I need to invest time in helping my staff believe that they are heroes in people’s homes.”
I left Orlando inspired to invest in my employees and bring more fun and opportunity into my workplace. Kevin Freiberg believes, “If you’re interested in making your business a world-class magnet for extraordinary talent, you can make it happen.”
I’m fired up to recruit and retain great people. After all, Freiberg says, “Good employees can make revenue dance!”
Jeff Leone is president of Air Temp Mechanical Services in Hartford, Conn. He is a member of Nexstar, a business development and best practices organization that provides business training, systems and support to independent home service providers in the plumbing, electrical and hvac trades. To learn more about Nexstar, visitwww.nexstarnetwork.com.
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