What to do about pending labor shortages, part 2

IN THIS, THE second of three installments, we'll continue to look at the many options for replacing our dwindling workforce. Hire from the returning military veteran pool. With the returning wave of Iraqi Freedom veterans returning home soon, we will see an excellent crop of work-hardened, highly motivated people with an excellent work ethic. Not all returnees, however, have the skill levels required

IN THIS, THE second of three installments, we'll continue to look at the many options for replacing our dwindling workforce.

Hire from the returning military veteran pool.
With the returning wave of Iraqi Freedom veterans returning home soon, we will see an excellent crop of work-hardened, highly motivated people with an excellent work ethic. Not all returnees, however, have the skill levels required to fill these open positions. We know that they can be trained and given the skill sets necessary to properly perform their jobs, but we still do not know the total percentages. This also assumes that we don't get thrust into another altercation somewhere in the world that may cause many returning vets to re-up. If that happens, we can forget about that potential labor pool.

That said, if you find yourself in the enviable position of being able to help a vet by giving him or her a job, you will not regret it. Whenever possible, hire vets. They will thank you in ways that can't be measured.

Hire from the other gender pool.
As an instructor in the pipe trades, I am seeing more and more female plumbers, pipefitters and electricians than I've ever seen in my 32 years of doing business. As a matter of fact, I've had numerous women in all my classes, and I find them to be much more attentive and receptive than most of their male counterparts. I spoke with a female proprietor of a small electrical firm who hires only women. When I asked her why, she said that in her 25 years of owning and operating this business that she found the women electricians to be much more stable, dependable, cleaner and neater than any man she'd ever hired.

Although they may lack the physical attributes that are typically associated with the pipe trades industry, they work smarter, not harder. They also make excellent candidates for the service sectors where heavy lifting is not a major requirement. Their cleanliness and speed rivals that of the most experienced fitters.

Hire immigrant status employees.
I have an associate who has to speak three different languages. I struggle with one language, and this gentleman has to speak three fluently. And he's not alone.

In his case, he has three field employees. One speaks English, the other speaks Spanish and the last speaks Russian. He said that two of the three were previously employed as plumbers in foreign countries, and the English-speaking one also speaks fluent Spanish. I asked him if his immigrant employees were subject to being returned to their countries, and he said that they were both working hard to become American citizens. He said that as long as they didn't get into any kind of serious trouble that they wouldn't be deported before becoming naturalized citizens. He said that they both had a stronger work ethic than just about any employee he'd ever hired.

Hire from a different industrial sector.
We recently hired a young man who originally was working as a battery re-builder. He was directed to us by a friend of the company who knew we were on the market for a skilled laborer. Quite frankly, he was tired of acid burns, acrid odors and the hazardous job without hazardous pay. He was ready to leave the industrial sector. We gave him our standard skills test, on which he scored high, and we hired him. He's worked out quite well, loves his job, the work, the pay and his associates.

When we first hired him, he had no piping skills and was trained to our way of doing pipefitting. The nice thing about hiring him was that because he had no piping skills, he didn't bring any bad habits to the table, like not fully reaming all his pipes. He actually took a cut in pay in order to make the transition, with a reassurance that if things worked out, that he'd be back to his pay scale in short order.

Although this scenario requires a lot of attention to detail in training the new, untrained employees, it does have the benefits of being pretty much baggage-free. People in his age group are in high demand and short supply, however, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Grab them while the getting is good.

Tune in next month as we look at some educational programs that are aimed at high school-aged kids in an effort to bring them into the trades at an early age. Until then, Happy Help-Wanted Hydronicing!

Mark Eatherton is a Denver-based hydronics contractor. He can e reached via e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 303/778-7772.