Chapter Corner

Recruiting, Hiring, and Keeping Your Key Employees

Posted in: Features, July 2017

The shortage of skilled labor is a topic everyone should be concerned with. Many of the baby boomers are
getting ready to retire and there seems to be a void of skilled individuals ready to take their place.
So, where do we turn to fill our vacated spots? The logical place is the high school graduate. More men and women over the age of 25 earned their high school diplomas and the numbers are growing.
What does this tell us about finding skilled labor? It is going to be tough because our competition is well financed and full of attractive opportunities.
The service and trades industry is in a marketing battle for its life. Take a look at the marketing campaigns colleges are conducting around the country. There are big bucks being spent trying to attract high school graduates. What kind of marketing do you see with contractors in the fields of electrical, HVAC, and plumbing? Local ads touting a particular contractor are the norm.
Awareness is the driving force behind whether a high school graduate will even consider entering a trade. Most students don’t really know what the service industry is all about.
Put yourself in the shoes of a bright, young woman or man who recently graduated and is wondering what to do with his/her life. There are all these beautiful colleges with manicured lawns steeped in tradition. You find nice, clean buildings in which to learn about all the latest innovations.
This is not the case for the contractor. Our students need to realize there are plenty of opportunities to grow and advance in the contractor’s business. There are spots open for managers, estimators, sales people, and other jobs. Who is going to do this introduction to the trades?
In the past, the logical place to turn for work was where the father and family members worked. It was just assumed that you would take a trade similar to what your family performed. The general feeling regarding a shortage of skilled tradesmen was one of complacency. There were plenty of "blue collar" jobs available. 
The factors which contributed to the shortage of skilled labor we find today included advances in technology, job expectations, and the power of the Internet. 
Communication brings information to us in seconds and the world as we know it comes to our fingertips in the form of iPads and other amazing devices. It is no different with the other trades. HVAC, cable companies, and other contractors are feeling the same crunch.
Let’s take a look at the four P’s of marketing, as taught in the first semester of business school. As a contractor, you have a Product you can offer your prospective recruits. You can offer your recruits a chance to learn a trade that will support them and their family for the rest of their lives. 
You can offer your recruits a safe Place for them to work. They can apply their trade almost anywhere they care to work. 
You know what you are able to pay in the form of salary and benefits and Price may or may not be a factor when recruits are considering where to work.
The fourth P is how you Promote your company and the industry. 
Now, you must ask yourself this question: would you work for your company? 
Knowing what you know about your management style and how you handle pressure, would you work for you? 
The second question relates to company culture. Are you doing everything you can to build a productive, friendly, and safe environment for your workers to work? Is it safe to work in your company? Is there a feeling of tension between managers and workers and between workers and workers? Is the pressure to succeed so high that you can see it in employee turnover? 
There are seven steps you can take that will give you a pool of exceptional candidates from which to choose.
  1. Realize what it costs your company to make a bad hiring decision. Recent studies indicate that making a bad hiring decision and catching it within a year can add up to a third of the person’s salary. If you are paying your electrician $25 an hour, multiplied by 2080 hours straight time, this is $52,000 a year without benefits. Take 33 percent of this total and you get $17,160 per each employee, and this doesn’t include all the negatives that come from a poor choice.

  2. Try to determine why people leave a company. Most of the time money is not the issue. The second biggest reason people leave is because they feel they were not recognized for their efforts. The number one reason people leave is because they feel there is little to no opportunity to advance within the company. Everyone must realize that in a small company, there is no one position to fill. Everyone pitches in to help.

  3. It is wise to conduct an exit interview to determine why the employee left. This is a valuable tool to use for several reasons.

    1. The exit interview can help you improve your compensation programs.
    2. It can open the lines of communication within your company.
    3. It can identify potential problems with your management team.
    4. It may help to be more open during the recruiting and hiring process.

  4. The fourth step in the recruitment process is to conduct a Job Audit. A member of the recruiting team observes the worker doing his or her job. You are trying to emphasize the job duties, job skills, physical demands of the job, and the day-to-day responsibilities.

  5. Now that you have a good feeling for what your employees do on the job, you can create a Recruiting Brochure. Remember that your company is in a battle for an edge in marketing. Anything you do that is unique to your industry will draw attention. What do you put in a Recruiting Brochure?

    1. The type of work you do.
    2. The history of your company.
    3. The training you provide.
    4. The wages and compensation you have to offer.
    5. The fact that you test for drug use.
    6. What is expected of the employee.

  6. Conducting a variety of tests helps you narrow the field of prospective employees. There are many types of tests to administer to your prospects. Tests of job knowledge and physical ability are popular. My favorite is the behavioral test that asks “How do you react to certain events, such as a customer chewing you out?”

  7. The final step in the recruiting process is to realize that all the highly skilled electricians are already working for some one. You have to make your company stand out amongst the crowd. You have three options:
  1. Blow their socks off. Make your company so dynamic that all the top electricians will want to work for you. They were not stolen from your competitors. They came on their own.
  2. Expand your comfort zone. The second option is to observe people as they go about doing their jobs. For example, the lady or gentleman behind the counter in the coffee shop has a great attitude every day. You would love to have her working for you. Come to find out she is making $6.50 an hour. You pay your phone receptionist $10 an hour.
  3. Ask for references. Let the world know you are looking for all kinds of people to enter the field of electrical contracting. Put together a marketing piece that describes the many benefits of working in the trades. Get creative and invite your friends to recommend people who might have the initiative to try a new career.
In summary, there is a shortage of skilled labor and it is getting worse. What can we do? There are plenty of good ideas coming from the trades. 
The electrical contracting industry has so much to offer, and too much pride to lower its standards. All this will shake out as it always does. It’s going to be an interesting ride, so hang on! 
Setting up a program to recruit skilled and potentially skilled men and women is merely the first step in the process and fill the holes left by the class of the baby boom. The next step is to dig deeper to find some active people whom you can hire.

Jim Booth is a business consultant working with electrical, HVAC, and plumbing contractors. He has been involved with these industries since 1974. He is the author of two new books written specifically for employees and managers: Recruiting, Hiring and Keeping Key Employees, and The Contractor’s Guide To Providing SUPERIOR Customer Service. He can be reached at (800) 243-6919.