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Getting the Right People

It’s tempting to lower your hiring standards, except we all know the gigantic can of worms that opens up.

The workforce crisis is as bad as it has ever been. Call it a perfect storm: older workers retiring, younger people choosing not to enter the trades, and a tight labor market that has contracting firms fighting tooth-and-nail to find and keep the existing skilled hands.

It’s tempting to lower your hiring standards, except we all know the gigantic can of worms that opens up. If you’re working on the residential service side your techs aren’t just doing the work, they’re also the face of your company (Scott Milne talks all about it in his column this month). All it takes is one guy who tracks mud or grease across a carpet, one guy who fails to show empathy in a discussion over price, one guy smoking a cigarette on the job—and presto, there’s a customer lost.

And lowering your standards can lead to the absolute worst thing: those people who just don’t work out. You’ve taken the trouble to find them, hire them, fill out all the paperwork, put them through your onboarding process, in a lot of cases train them… and then they don’t show up for work. Or don’t show any enthusiasm for the work. Maybe they don’t exhibit any desire to increase their knowledge. Maybe they just don’t mesh with the company culture you’re trying to foster.

Big or small, you need some kind of screening process that will better your odds of making a good hire. When I attended the Synergy Solution Group’s Sales Management Forum, I found a group of commercial contractors using some pretty sophisticated behavioral analytics, not just to identify top performers, but also to determine which employees will benefit from what sort of coaching. It turns out that sometimes you’ve got a good hire, you’re just using them in the wrong role.

Now, your business might not need a system that elaborate. Over on the HVAC side of the industry there is a testing/credentialing organization called NATE (North American Technical Excellence). They offer a Core Exam for trainees, and any number of specialization exams (Air Conditioning, Air Distribution, Heat Pump etc. etc.). But one thing they’ve recently come out with is their Ready-to-Work exam, for people just off the street with little to no formal education or training. We need something similar for the plumbing industry.

Because once you have that screening process in place, it allows you to widen your field of search. Michael Copp, Executive VP for the PHCC-NA (click here to read his interview with John Mesenbrink) suggests recruiting among veterans, minorities, and not just young people, but at-risk young people.

And of course, the great untapped labor force: women. Part of what we learned at the recent Women in the Mechanical Industry Convention is that while there are barriers to women seeking to join the trades, and difficulties for companies seeking to hire them, they can be overcome and deliver great success for everyone involved.

And once you find those good people show them that there’s more to be had in the trades than just a job. Show them they can make a life in the trades, build a home in the trades. That might mean offering things you perhaps haven’t offered your employees before: flexible scheduling, financial literacy courses, a free breakfast to start the day, mentoring.

But the reward is more than a happy, loyal employee. It can mean changing the perception of the trades, from “back-up plan in case college doesn’t work out”, or “least-worst option”, to something more and more people look to as their first choice in a career. That’s the real solution to the workforce crisis.

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