By Chris Koch
The process of developing the next generation of leadership in the skilled trades is different than it used to be. That is because we’re different. The composition of today’s skilled labor force is rapidly changing as the baby boomers continue to retire and succeeding generations rise through the ranks.
The labor force is shrinking. We have fewer people coming into the trades and many that are transitioning out. We must hold on to existing workers by showing them there are opportunities to grow and evolve within the industry as a whole and within their own companies. The skilled trades cannot afford to lose any workers. Retention is vital.
Recruiting is another challenge. For the last 30 years, the country has done itself a disservice by saying the only way you can be successful is to get a four-year degree, work behind a desk and type on a keyboard all day. We’ve got to do a better job of educating young people about how the trades can be a route to a good living, competitive pay, and job security, all without the massive student debt that drags so many people down.
It is important that we diversify our workforce and find ways to reach out to different communities to bring a lot more people into the skilled trades. An important part of developing the next wave of leaders will be to find them! There are extremely talented people out there in the world that don’t even know about the opportunities that await them with a career in the trades.
Power of Communication
For a long time, our success in developing new leaders has been limited by a lack of clear and transparent communication. Home service business owners and managers must do a better job at communicating the opportunities available to team members. Clearly map out the promotion opportunities available, the steps to get there, and how management will help.
The reason many employees leave is we have never told them what to do next to succeed. That isn’t their fault — it’s ours. As managers and leaders, we need to be there to support them and help them reach that next level.
Here is a topic that makes people nervous: Leaders need to be transparent to everyone about compensation. We need to be able to communicate to team members that “When you get to this level, this is what the compensation looks like.” It does not need to be a secret. In fact, I believe team members should be told what each position pays and how the compensation changes with each step up the ladder they take. It’s not a subject that should be a mystery to anyone. Everybody knows what possibilities are in front of them.
The Power of Engagement
It is no secret that people like to be paid well, but retaining employees over the long run isn’t just about compensation. The younger generations especially want to feel engaged with their work. Engagement is about knowing that you’re part of something bigger than yourself. People want to know that the work they do matters. Millennials will switch from one job to another because their values align better with the other company. As a home service contractor, it is important to ensure that your values are aligned with your employees. Make sure the team members know that everyone is pulling for a greater common goal.
Another major barrier to developing new leaders is the reluctance of business owners and managers in letting go of the reins and delegate. There's not enough time in the day to do your most important job as a manager, mentoring and coaching team members, without delegating some of your day-to-day tasks and responsibilities.
A client of mine once said that when leaders first delegate, they become micromanagers. This is the result of being afraid that the person given the task is not going to meet their expectations. Generally, this comes from an inability to communicate the real expectation. The biggest key to delegation is trusting your employees, but it also means trusting that you gave them all the directions and tools they need to be successful.
When trust is high, control can be low. If trust is low, then we become controlling. We’ve got to learn how to balance that by letting people know what is expected, so both parties can agree to it and then move on.
It is vitally important that home service business owners and managers take a long hard look at their recruitment and retention processes. Yesterday’s playbook is not going to cut it. In the decade ahead, businesses that do the best job of communicating the opportunities for advancement and security with their company will be the ones that thrive. Be open and transparent. Follow through and be consistent. Good luck!
With 25-years of HVAC industry experience, Chris Koch is a paramount member of Business Development Resources’ business coaching team of experts. Following his service of four years as a Marine Corps Corporal, Koch started in the HVAC industry in 1990 and is experienced in the commercial service, residential HVAC and plumbing spaces. He has a passion for building teams and provides the hands-on experience that BDR coaching clients have come to expect.