Open the Door to the Growing Labor Shortage

May 1, 2008
Recruiting and retaining employees in plumbing, HVAC and electrical industries will continue to be challenging, but I firmly believe that as a result, the time is ripe to seize the opportunity to attract top talent.

Where would we be without clean and safe water, heating, air conditioning and electricity in our homes? Finding a good accountant or attorney is easy. Finding a good plumbing, heating cooling and electrical technician is not.

As many in the contracting business already know, 1/3 of the people currently working in technical occupations are age 45 or older.

Since most people in this industry retire at 55, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that within the next 10 years, approximately 1/3 of our workforce will be depleted. As the number of technicians decrease, so do the number of skilled contracting firms.

It's no secret. Recruiting and retaining employees in plumbing, HVAC and electrical industries will continue to be challenging, but I firmly believe that as a result, the time is ripe to seize the opportunity to attract top talent. The competition is pulling back and running scared as a result of the media hype surrounding the economy, so if your cash flow permits, stand firm in your commitment to recruiting. The time is now.

I'm not a proponent of luring employees away from the competition. I truly believe that what goes around comes around and the best strategy is to focus on building the supply rather than feeding off the same supply.

As president and CEO of Nexstar, I continually interact with more than 400 plumbing, HVAC and electrical service providers who share their business challenges and successes on a daily basis. The labor shortage is at the top of their minds, so it's my job, along with my colleagues, to ensure that we have accurate information on the current pulse of the marketplace. It's also our job to offer tangible strategies for responding to the labor shortage.

We have to change the perception of technical careers at ground level. I encourage you to go into your local high school and connect with students, their parents, teachers and guidance counselors who are influencing their career decisions. Provide information on salaries and benefits for professional home service technicians and offer to speak with students in the classroom.

Once you make the connection:

  • Tell them the technical profession seeks students who want to continue their education, enjoy a very good standard of living, serve the community and work for an employer dedicated to employees and customers.

  • Talk about the satisfaction that comes from providing service and comfort to families within your community.

  • Provide information on scholarships. The Nexstar Legacy Foundation ( offers scholarships that cover everything from trade school education to master's degrees, and you don't have to be a member of Nexstar to apply.

  • Share the fact that the job placement rate for technical school graduates is high. Very high — above 90%

Don't stop there! Build a relationship with your local trade school.

Position yourself as an employer of choice by offering opportunities for job shadowing and apprenticeships and you will become a magnet for attracting top talent.

We are receiving mixed feedback, but generally we believe trade school enrollment is down. We believe it has decreased due to a nationwide perception that becoming a plumber, electrician or heating and air conditioning professional is a copout from a four-year college education. We do not agree with this perception. We believe the valuation of the trades will increase due to simple economics. When demand exceeds supply, valuation increases

In an effort to attract prime candidates, some technical schools now are offering a four-year bachelor's degree program. Administrators also are enrolling college graduates who want to pursue a technical degree because they can't find a job.

The reality is there are qualified and energetic people seeking employment in the marketplace, inside and outside the industry.

Look at people who have been laid off from other technical yet applicable fields. Consider airline, automotive or facility management professionals who have technical acumen and train them to work in your business. I've talked to a lot of business owners who prefer to hire and train people from outside the industry because they're not so set in their ways.

Once you reach out to prospective employees, you have to make it easy for them to get in touch with you. Is your Website appealing and user-friendly?

Does it provide an opportunity for online job application? The Internet is a major source of communication for your future workforce, so if you're not attracting visitors and inviting conversation on your Web pages, you'd better get moving.

Is your business appealing to job seekers? Job satisfaction is not all about benefits and compensation anymore, so focus on making your company an enjoyable and gratifying place to work.

Business owners who are successful at recruiting and retaining good employees seem to follow a basic strategy. They value their employees, they recognize their need for life balance by offering job sharing opportunities and flexible shifts, they reward good performance and they make the job fun.

Turn the labor shortage into labor opportunity, so when good employees come knocking, you can open the door to career success!

Greg Niemi is President of Nexstar Inc., a business-development and best practices organization, delivering business training, systems and support to independent home service providers in the plumbing, HVAC and electrical trades. Nexstar comprises one of the largest and most active memberships of plumbing, HVAC and electrical contractors in the world. Additional information is available at

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