Ask the Experts | How to Recruit Techs?

Question: What's the best way to recruit technicians?

James Leichter; President, Aptora Corporation & Mr. HVAC, LLC:

Best way to recruit technicians: we get this almost every week. The unemployment rate right now is 3.9%. Now of course we don’t know what the unemployment rate is for an HVAC or out of work plumber, but I bet it’s something like .01%. I have no idea what it is, but it cannot be 3.9%. There cannot be a 3.9% unemployment rate between plumbers and HVAC technicians; even the lousy ones have jobs right now.

So there’s no easy answer for that. It’s not easy to find anyone right now. It’s not easy to find waiters and waitresses and bartenders and auto-mechanics and landscapers and roofers. It’s not easy to find accountants. It’s not easy to find anybody right now. So when you’re looking for an HVAC person that can be lousy and still get a job – and let’s face it, all of us contractors know that’s true, we’ll hire even the bad ones – then what are you supposed to do? There’s no easy answer.

I believe that you have to be opportunistic, so you’re always advertising. Your vehicles say that you’re always hiring, even if you’re not. Your website says that you’re hiring always, even if you’re not. You’re constantly advertising, looking, networking, putting out the word; you’re looking for employees all the time. Even if your company doesn’t need one, because you never know when someone is going to leave and you never know when you’re going to need somebody. But the one thing you do know is you’re going to have a heck of a time finding somebody when you do need them, so always be on the lookout.

Number two, you’re going to have grow your own, and it costs a lot of money. And it’s risky because they may not stay. So what I mean by that is that you should probably consider filling the seat next to your best technicians. Each of your best technicians – and I don’t mean skills best, I mean people best, I mean like Brigham best; the people that he likes, those are the best – the best attitudes, the best personalities, etc. You probably are going to need to partner them up with tomorrow’s technicians; you’re going to have to grow your own.

Now that means you’re going to have to charge more, and you may or may not be able to do that, I think you can; most of the people that I’ve talked into doing this have found that they can afford it, they can charge more. Two people aren’t twice as fast, but when they have good chemistry two people are faster. They can maybe cut the time down by 25%.

So I guess the bottom line here is that you’re going to have grow your own, you’re going to have to hire people who have skills you can’t teach – great personalities, great work ethic, etc. – put them through a thorough vetting process, hiring process, get them in that seat and just flat tell them, “we’ll train you on everything you need to know, we just want a commitment from you because it’s a big investment for us.” Fire them as quickly as possible when you know they’re not working out, because it does cost a lot – so fire them quickly when you know they can’t work out: if they’re tardy, unreliable, get rid of them, start over.

And hopefully after a while you will have your next greatest technician. And I’ll end by saying this: That story is exactly how I got my career in HVAC. Many years ago I was lucky enough to be hired by a company that wanted to give me a chance. I had no education in the HVAC world – I had almost no education in any world, for that matter - - and I had no HVAC experience and I had an HVAC and electrical company hire me. And I was an apprentice and I worked really hard and, I’ll be darned, but 52 months later I got my master mechanical license. And anyone that has had me work for them, to be frank about it, has been pretty darn happy.

I’m not saying you’re not going to have to go through some bad people, but I don’t think you have any other possibilities right now than to grow your own technicians and installers.

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