Welcome to our five-part series in strategies for finding technicians. Today’s solution involves training your own technicians.
Sometimes, when you can’t find anyone to hire, it pays to train someone in the necessary skill set yourself.
Danielle Martini, Nexstar member and owner of Three Way Plumbing Services in Concord, North Carolina, has built an in-house, state-certified apprentice program that has been her most successful tool when it comes to hiring and retention. Her two best employees came into the company with mechanical aptitude and great attitudes, but no plumbing experience. With the apprenticeship, they learned the necessary skills.
“If you hire someone with the right attitude, you can really mold them,” she said. “They become much more successful. It’s not hard to train for skill, but it is hard to train for attitude.”
In Martini’s four-year program, the apprentices are taught in such a way that they are able to get in a truck much faster than usual. They get one-on-one training from the certified technicians in her shop, and the work they do is focused, so they get to see how to do something the right way over and over.
“We start with things they can do by themselves,” she said. “We start them with drains, and their pay increases as they become more productive. It works.”
Brett Hobson, Nexstar member and owner of Comfort Experts Inc. in Weatherford, Texas, is also owner and founder of Perfect Technician Academy, a licensed trade school.
Hobson got the idea to start a technical school when he too realized hiring based on technical experience alone wasn’t enough, and some of his employees were unwilling to rethink the way they did things.
“We were doing the normal thing of hiring a guy with five to 10 years of experience, who had only worked one or two years at each place before ours,” Hobson said. “Then we realized, we were being kind of arrogant in thinking we could do what the last three or four employers of this person could not.”
After that turning point, Hobson knew that the technical side of a job in the residential service trades is teachable, but personal character, work ethics and morals are much more difficult to train. So, as he developed more and more technical training tools for new hires, these eventually turned into a fully licensed technical program.
As opposed to other technical schools who take anyone who can get in and pay for the program, the majority of students at Perfect Technician Academy are referred by contractors: They have applied for a job with a company, have passed a drug test and background check, and have the right character but lack the technical skill. That’s where the school comes in.
The technician shortage is not threatening to Hobson.
“Manpower does determine how profitable we can be,” he said. “But the company who is willing to train has a huge advantage. It’s going to take effort and work, but we have the best business climate in the industry that we’ve ever had. Nexstar members have these things that the average contractor is not willing to do.”
Jason Trahan, director of human resources for Blanton’s Heating & Air in Fayetteville, North Carolina, follows a similar notion when it comes to hiring.
“It’s been beneficial for to focus more on a complete person rather than just an applicant’s technical experience level when interviewing positions at our company,” Trahan said. “We make sure they’re a cultural fit first.”
Trahan said he often works with Troops to Trades, a program of the Nexstar Legacy Foundation, a nonprofit entity affiliated with but separate from Nexstar Network. The Troops to Trades mission is to bring veterans into the service industry. Blanton’s is located near Fort Bragg, a military base, and the company has an apprenticeship program that several veterans have completed. They can apply their GI Bill benefits to subsidize their salary while they are getting trained in the technical aspects of the job.
Trahan also uses social media and recruiting software, such as BirdDogHR, to get the word out about openings at the company. He knows that even though it can feel like the need to fill an opening is great, it is better to wait for the right person.
“As frustrating as it might be not to have the job filled, don’t settle for someone who doesn’t fit your company culture,” he said. “It’s worth the wait.”
He also stressed the importance of investing in that great person once you’ve decided to hire them.
“Far too many people in our industry overlook the importance of onboarding,” he said. “Employee concerns can get overlooked. Introduce them to the culture and the systems, and show them that they’re a value to the company from day one.”
The advice Martini has for people in smaller shops is to get creative with what you have around you. She’s had apprentices work on the kitchen, bathroom and washing machines in the Three Way office.
“You don’t have to be big to do something like [my program],” she said. “We use each others’ homes as practice; we have them work on Habitat [for Humanity] houses.”
Even in her recruiting advertisements, she is very careful in how she words things. In the past, she has run two ads for the same job, one that says “hiring a plumbing apprentice, and one that says “hiring a plumbing technician.”
“You have to open your mind to the type of person you’re hiring, “she said. “People don’t believe me when I tell them I got better people from the ‘apprentice’ ad. People who might be hard workers with just a little experience see that one and apply for it. You’re not getting the people who are technically experienced but are maybe not as good a fit personally.”
Check back next week for part two in this series.
Read part one of this series, “Get Out in Your Community.”