A universal truth in our industry seems to be that contractors need more employees. While there are the lucky few who have all the good employees they need or who prefer to work as a one-man shop, the majority of contractors simply need qualified employees. According to the 2005 Contractor Needs/Issues Survey conducted by Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors – National Association, 91.2% of respondents said that finding qualified employees is a major issue.
At the same time, enrollments have declined in vocational programs in many areas around the country. With this labor shortage, we need to look for alternative paths into our industry.
What can you do differently?
You’re paying competitive wages, maybe even the best in your market. Your benefits package is incredible. You advertise in the newspaper every week for technicians, but all you get are applicants who don’t meet your company standards for a variety of reasons. What can you do differently?
First, if what you’re doing isn’t working, try something else. Get creative. Where could you possibly find young people who are willing to work and willing to learn? Some sources for finding young people are college and career fairs and businesses that hire young people, such as retail establishments and restaurants. Finding “green,” or inexperienced workers at these places lets you grow the employees yourself.
A Northern Virginia contractor once told me that he gives a special business card to individuals who provide him with exceptional service. He lets them know that he appreciates their wonderful customer service skills and, should they desire a career change, to call him. I believe this has worked and he has groomed some wonderful service and repair technicians out of it.
Promote a career path
At college and career fairs, promote more than just your business. Promote a career path. Where can an employee go from being a technician in your company? What related careers are in the industry as a whole? What is the earning potential after five years? Ten years? Show that your industry is more than its stereotype.
The PHCC-National Auxiliary has a wonderful booklet called “Constructing Your Future” that is available through the PHCC Bookstore at www.phccweb.org. Get some copies and take them to the career fair. This booklet talks about the many opportunities in plumbing and HVACR and where a career can take you.
Now that you’ve hired your local grocery store’s best employee, how do you grow this “green” worker? First, get him or her enrolled in a formal apprenticeship program and register them as required by your state. Most states require that a student complete a formal four-year apprenticeship which includes classroom and on-the-job training. In this case, you have two good options from PHCC: 1) enroll your new apprentice in a program that uses newly-revised apprentice manuals; or 2) enroll your new apprentice in the PHCC Educational Foundation’s home study program.
In addition to sending your new employee to apprenticeship classes, be sure to include him in productspecific training you might find at a local supply house. Help him to get as many product certifications as possible. To paraphrase the movie “Field of Dreams,” if you train them, they will stay. And when they stay, you make more “green.”
The bottom line is that to solve our labor shortage in plumbing and HVACR, the industry will have to “take the bull by the horns” and create its own workforce. Innovative thinking is the key. Think about ways to promote employment at your company that go beyond what other companies are using. Try something new and perhaps you will get a new result. And when you do get that new hire, invest in your business and train them well. Remember that it takes money to make money. Take the “green” employee and train him to help you make the green for your business.
Additional information about the Educational Foundation’s apprentice and home study program is available at www.phccweb.org, or at 800/533-7694.
Merry Beth Hall is the PHCC Educational Foundation director of apprentice and journeyman training.