Last summer, my AC broke and it took three technicians and three days to fix it. It felt a little like Goldilocks and the three bears: The first one didn’t do it, and neither did the second. But the third one got the job done.
I was grateful to have the AC back on, given that I live near D.C., where the summer air feels like a hug from a wet sasquatch.
But I was also grateful for the technician’s professionalism: He apologized for the previous technicians’ failures on behalf of the company, assured me he’d get it right, and then diagnosed the problem in a few minutes.
That’s the sort of HVAC technician every company wants to hire. However, it can be hard to find technicians with those qualities.
Hiring HVAC technicians is a people-first process
HVAC repair is all about atmosphere, in more ways than one. Sure, fixing the AC makes the air bearable. It’s who you’re making the air bearable for, though, that really matters. And in the same way HVAC repair is about people first, hiring HVAC technicians should be, too.
When you’re hiring a new HVAC technician, consider who they are, not just what they do. A technician might be a machine whisperer, but if they’re unreliable or unprofessional, their skill won’t matter.
It’s far easier to teach someone to repair machinery than to teach them to be a trustworthy employee. That’s something HVAC industry expert Butch Welsch remembers when he hires: “A practice we use is to hire for attitude, because you can train for aptitude.”
Dave Schmidt, operations manager of Frederick Air Inc., agrees.
Hiring the right sort of person isn’t just good for the customer, however—it also helps company culture.
“Hire for culture,” Schmidt advises. “We’ve got a great group, and we owe it to the people who work here to only bring on people who will work well here.”
That commitment to the employees translates to success in the field.
How to put people first:
When people apply, ask for references and look for recommendations. While a good reference from a family friend or high school teacher may not say much about repair skills, it can say something about an applicant’s character or willingness to learn.
You may need to take a chance on an employee who has less experience but more willingness than another.
Since employment is an investment (for you and them), this idea isn’t as flighty as it seems. A worker who’s willing to learn and develop is more likely to learn more skills and to keep on learning. That potential’s worth more in the long run than experience is in the short term.
Hiring the right HVAC technician is also about skills
Though attitude and culture fit are important, this doesn’t mean that technical knowledge is unimportant. That said, finding a worker with the right skills takes more than just reading a resume.
Some HVAC managers suggest that you prioritize soft skills over experience when hiring. Kevin Walsh, president of Schaafsma Heating & Cooling, takes this approach: “Hiring experienced HVAC people is really difficult, so we have been hiring them with no experience and then training them.”
Chevie Publicover of Calgary’s JPS Furnace and Air Conditioning also asserts the importance of finding the right person.
“Though experience is valuable,” Publicover says, “experience can be attended by many ‘if’s,’ such as bad habits, or a routine that differs from the company’s. Because of this, JPS is always happy to coach newcomers in the company’s procedures.”
Frederick Air takes the strategy of training new hires one step further. “We want to grow technicians more than hire them,” Schmidt explains. “You’ve got to think of business ten to 15 years down the road.”
To that end, Frederick Air began working with local vocational schools 20 years ago to create a talent pipeline from the school to their company. “There was a trades program, but no HVAC program,” Schmidt says.
Frederick Air helped to set one up and now has access to the best talent coming up through the system.
It benefits the students, too. At 17 or 18 years old, students work in the company’s warehouse and then have the option to work for Frederick Air once they graduate. In Frederick Air’s case, attention paid to the person and their future becomes a way of securing the right skills.
How to find the right skills:
If you’re looking for technicians, a good place to check might be community colleges and vocational schools with HVAC repair programs.
The right software will help you find the right people
Baby Boomers will be leaving the workforce in the next decade. Whether you call it the silver tsunami, gray-out, or just a source of your own gray hairs, there’s a mass exodus from HVAC and all service industry jobs.
This mass retirement presents small businesses with two personnel challenges: how to preserve the knowledge of the people leaving, and how to attract the right people from the next generation.
HVAC software can help your small business both preserve knowledge and attract new members to your team.
Service history tracking, a feature common to many HVAC software programs, gives your technicians a place to record notes about a customer, or even a specific asset at that customer’s location.
If you’ve got a long-time customer used to seeing a technician who knows the quirks of their particular AC unit, a sudden switch to a new technician can seem scary. But if that new technician has access to an old hand’s notes, it will put the customer at ease and give that new employee a better idea of what that customer needs.
HVAC software also makes it easier for Gen Z employees to communicate. Texting is a first language for them (though isn’t that the case for us all by now …), so the messenger features in many HVAC software programs will be an easy, natural way for them to communicate with the main office.
Software will also attract high-quality employees. HVAC software doesn’t just make communication easier, it makes organization easier.
HVAC software (or any field service management software program) reduces paperwork. Invoicing and billing, scheduling, and information about customers, is all shifted from paper to the software program. Rather than keeping up with a truck’s worth of loose papers, all you’ll need is a smartphone with an app. That’ll help disorganized employees and attract organized workers.
How to find the right software:
There’s a painless way to test drive HVAC software: download a free trial version. There are numerous field service management software programs that offer free versions good for one or two users. Though these programs are designed for field service jobs more generally, they’ll give you access to many of the same features you’ll find in HVAC software programs. In some cases, the same vendors offer both FSM and HVAC programs.
Test driving a free program (or several) will help you determine which one works for you and will prepare you to make a bigger investment later.
As for finding the right software program, Capterra’s HVAC software directory and field service management software directory both offer hundreds of options. Checking a program’s reviews is a good way to start searching the directory. Reviews give you a general idea of what customers like, dislike, and how the vendors respond to them.
What’s your experience with hiring HVAC technicians?
Has your experience hiring HVAC technicians drawn on any of the ideas above? If so, let me know about it in the comments below.