Where are all our great field guys coming from?

OUR INDUSTRY IS engaged in perpetual hand wringing over the lack of qualified field personnel. To that constant moaning, I say, "Bull!" Plenty of qualified field personnel are out there; it's just that they're in hiding, at least from the mechanical contracting job market roulette and for good reasons. Sure, in some very narrow occupational specialties such as technicians who are experienced in working

OUR INDUSTRY IS engaged in perpetual hand wringing over the lack of qualified field personnel. To that constant moaning, I say, "Bull!"

Plenty of qualified field personnel are out there; it's just that they're in hiding, at least from the mechanical contracting job market roulette — and for good reasons.

Sure, in some very narrow occupational specialties such as technicians who are experienced in working on chillers above 100 tons or BAC/DDC control monkeys who can blueprint up a system, more positions are open than there are qualified people to fill them. For ordinary, garden-variety technicians, however, and more to the point of my focus of this column, qualified new commercial work-oriented and experienced field personnel, there's an absolute ripe orchard to pick from right now in these rough economic times we're in.

Actually, there have always been at least enough qualified field personnel to go around. It's just that many of your brethren, in efforts to stuff more profit into their pockets, have tried to beat you, the honest contractor, at the hiring game by promising the moon to potential employees and then, in the end, screwing them over. That's why so many people have said, "Screw you!" to any future prospects of working within the trade. They've picked up their marbles and taken them to another employer outside our industry. We lose access to their talents forever.

The best recruitment poster child for mechanical contracting is you, the reader of this column. After all, aren't you successful; professional in appearance, demeanor and attitude; driving a nice vehicle; and otherwise surrounded with the trappings of American-style success? Then why don't you brag about how great being a mechanical contractor actually is to any and all?

We have to communicate our pride that what we do is important to our local community, the nation and the world. Our natural honesty that we are truly happy in our business can be felt and understood by others. This will draw new blood into the career channel.

It's a given that you'll have to offer at least something close to the standard benefit packages that other segments of the economy offer, such as halfway-decent health insurance coverage, paid vacation and sick days and 401(k) plans.

So, if the base benefits of your company are on par with other local noncontracting small businesses, how do you attract the best new blood into your training program? You have to get people in so that you can begin the winnowing process to find, cultivate and harvest new talent that will become your foremen and superintendents and, yes, even project managers and senior-level estimators.

First, since you think this business is a lot of fun or you wouldn't be doing it, why not be a vocal cheerleader at every occasion? Enthusiasm isn't contagious but it is catching!

Next, immediately shake out those who just are looking for a cushy job where they can put in their eight hours and not do much else. You want to identify and recruit those who actually have the drive to put in the long hours necessary to become a success. The kind of people who actually like being out-side in the great outdoors, if a lot of time is spent inside open-sided building shells. People who take great pride in doing a job well. In this industry, slack-ers and couch potatoes need not apply.

Lastly, make an effort to be not just a words ambassador but a deeds ambassador for our industry. Offer your precious time to talk to high school students, to teach classes at a local community college, to work with Habitat for Humanity on installing new plumbing/HVAC systems in its charitable efforts, work with other local charities in their Warmth for Winter programs. Get yourself out there and make your presence in the community as visible as you can.

In the end, you'll find that all of the above is not only good for finding and recruiting new talent that you'll need to grow your business down the line, but also your positive words and deeds will have an immediate payback in total workflow and this-quarter, bottom-line profits.

H. Kent Craig is a second-generation mechanical contractor and project manager with unlimited Master's licenses in boilers, air conditioning, heating and plumbing. He can be reached by calling 919/367- 7488, or via e-mail at [email protected]