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Develop Unique Selling Points for Attracting Top HVAC Talent

It's hard to find good people!

Originally published
Originally published: 4/30/2024

We have been talking for years about the coming generational shortage of skilled labor in the trades. Experts say a shortage of 400,000 HVAC workers will last into the next decade. 

You probably feel that recruiting people is one of your top business issues.  You post ads on job boards, put flyers in supply houses and then hope you find good talent.  Hope is a poor strategy, and you often turn up with few or no suitable candidates.  The lack of applicants harms your organization beyond just the open position you are trying to fill.  In HVAC, without great people, you have nothing to sell.  

In response to these challenges, I say, "Good!"  The industry status quo creates opportunity for you.  Most contractors don't know how to attract great people, which means that if you are good at finding great talent, it will give you a huge competitive advantage.

This article will share with you unconventional ideas on how to attract great talent.  

Productivity

This will probably sound crazy in an article about finding talent, but have you maximized the productivity of your current people?  Based on my experience, most HVAC contractors have huge room for productivity improvements.  What is your average service ticket?  Average install ticket?  What is your net profit per hour in both service and install?  What is your first call completion rate?  Maximize what you have before you go and hire more people.  

Culture

Yep.  The "C" word.  Culture is not about massages, fitness facilities, and pool tables like Google.

Why would anyone choose to work for you versus another company?  Just like when you sell a system in the home, you have to differentiate yourself from your competition.  If you look and sound the same as everyone else, the decision will come down to price.  Some of the critical components include:

    An inspiring vision for where you are going as a company.
    Clearly articulated values that resonate with the type of great people you want to attract.
    Communicate your "why" as a company.  In other words, what is the purpose of your company?

People spend a third of their lives at work.  They want to work where they:

    Love what they do
    Are with people they enjoy
    Receive appropriate compensation
    Are recognized for making an impact
    Have opportunities for growth and development
    Have time for other passions

How can you create an environment that people love so much that they tell their friends and family? 

Hire for attitude, train for skill 

Have you ever hired someone with years of experience who turned out to be a problem child?  Someone who is a bad cultural fit with a negative attitude will become a cancer on your team. You can't train attitude. You can't train someone to fit into YOUR culture. They either have it or they don't. You CAN train someone with the right attitude in the skills and knowledge needed to be successful in their job. I know this isn't easy, but neither is finding the courage to fire a high-performing tech who is a jerk. 

This is why it is critical to clearly describe your culture and the behaviors that define your company culture.

Perpetual Pipeline

What is your strategy to continuously create new technicians and installers?  This is a counterintuitive strategy for attracting "top HVAC talent."  Rather than attract top talent, create your own.  The key is to keep a perpetual pipeline of new talent coming into your company and systematize the process, which is essentially an apprenticeship program.

Follow these steps:

1.    How many new and relatively green installers and technicians can you handle at any time?
2.    How long, on average, does it take these green folks to get up to speed to where they can "ride on their own"?
3.    Institute a process where green people are always coming into the company to fill No.1 above.

Example

1.    You can train up one new tech and one new installer at any given time.
2.    For you, it typically takes six months for a service tech and 90 days for an installer to be "up to speed."
3.    Every six months, you will bring in a new service tech, and every three months, a new installer.  In a year, you will have two new techs and four new installers.

You probably think this is great for the larger companies that have created their own internal schools to train up new techs and installers.  I argue you can do this on your own.  There are two ways you can find or create people who are ready for your apprenticeship program: trade schools or partner with your local distributor.

Trade Schools

There are mixed feelings about the quality of education received at various HVAC trade schools.  I think this deserves a shift in mindset.  Rather than view Vo-Tech graduates as 100% "Truck Ready," view these graduates as people ready to be an apprentice with you.  When you develop relationships with the instructors in these programs, you can get inside knowledge on who the best students are.  Most trade schools have advisory councils made up of local business owners who meet several times per year.  These advisory councils are an excellent way to develop relationships at trade schools. 

Distributor Partner

A great distributor partner will offer training programs to get totally green folks up to speed on the basics of the industry and help to get them to be "truck ready."  Typically, these programs combine online classes with hands-on learning.  Speak to your local distributor partner to explore how they can help you.

Conclusion

While the shortage of skilled labor in the trades presents significant challenges, it also offers opportunities for innovation and differentiation. By focusing on company culture and establishing a perpetual talent pipeline, contractors can position themselves for long-term success in a competitive market. Embracing these strategies addresses immediate staffing needs and lays the foundation for sustained growth and resilience in the face of evolving industry dynamics.


Ryan Kalmbach is the CEO of Johnstone Orion Distribution with 12 locations and 125 employees in California. He has more than 20 years of experience in operating a family distribution business. The core passion at The Orion Group is to partner with its customers and employees to help them to grow. Contact Ryan at ryan.kalmbach@johnstonesupply.com

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