It never fails: I’m attending an industry meeting and someone says, “We just can’t find good people. We’ve tried everything, they’re just not out there!” Many run typical HVAC tech recruitment ads with disappointing results. Some sink to “raiding” other companies, often out of desperation.

The problem is the pool of qualified individuals and, more importantly, the ones you really want dealing with your customers, has become too small and the “pickings” are slim.

So what’s a contractor to do? Should you settle for second-rate guys with fair technical skills or, worse yet, poor customer skills and attitudes? Or is it time to go fishing in a different pond?

Recruiting from outside. In my last column, Get Out of That Truck (CB, Aug. 2007, pg. 168), I mentioned how it’s important to be constantly recruiting — a practice each one of us needs to embrace. It’s often easy to grow your own technicians by bringing in non-industry people with great customer skills and good mechanical aptitude. They can learn HVAC from the ground up, starting as a tune-up technician while they’re learning the trade. In the article I offered a “recruitment” ad to attract these people.

I was amazed at how many calls and e-mails came in requesting the ad. This overwhelming response made the direness of this issue even more obvious. Here’s an ad that’s getting good responses. Notice there’s no reference to HVAC:

READY FOR A NEW CAREER? Local service company hiring and training new diagnostic technicians. No formal education or experience necessary. Must be drug free, have clean driving record, good technical aptitude, and a great attitude toward customers. If you’re accepted, you will be placed in our technical training program while you work — with great opportunities to grow in the organization. Apply by writing to PO Box 5555 with your background and experience. Please describe in detail why you should be considered for this position.

Always be on the lookout. Sometimes your best candidates are from the least likely places. Maybe it’s the guy selling car stereos at your local electronics superstore, or the friendly mechanic at the muffler and brake shop down the street. Another great source for techs is the military. Many have undergone rigorous technical training, they’re usually clean cut, respect authority and are courteous men and women. Why not contact your local military office and see if you can tap into this resource?

Go car shopping. Are you looking for a good salesman? It’s often better to bring in someone from outside the industry who is good at selling big ticket items like cars, boats, and other expensive purchases, then teach him or her the technical aspects of HVAC.

A number of contractors I know “shop” for a Mercedes or a Lexus on a monthly basis, just to see who’s out there. A luxury car salesperson usually possesses the skills to deal with the most discriminating customers. Isn’t that the kind of person you want on your team?

The bonus is you’re starting with a clean slate with no bad habits. You can teach him or her to sell what your company’s really good at, especially if you’re more than just a “box seller.”

Recruiting from within. There’s nothing wrong with recruiting from within our industry, as long as you try to attract those people who really want to take a step up. If your company does more than sell boxes, if you provide true, measured solutions, and believe in training your techs to become total system diagnosticians, here’s a recruiting ad for you:

HVAC SERVICE TECHNICIAN Advance your career with true performancebased service. Successful service and replacement company wants Your Town’s best service technicians with great customer skills. We provide state-of-the-art airflow and combustion diagnostic tools and extensive advanced technical training. Competitive compensation and excellent benefits. New position available June 1st. Call 555-123-4567 for more information.

The key is to get creative and think “outside of the box” when it comes to attracting and growing good people in your organization. E-mail me and I’ll send you an ad for an installer and a salesperson.

Dominick Guarino is chairman & CEO of National Comfort Institute, (www.nationalcomfortinstitute.com) a national training and certification organization teaching Air Diagnostics and Balancing, Carbon Monoxide Safety, Combustion Analysis and Tuning, Performance-based Selling, and more. E-mail him at domg@ncihvac.com or call NCI at 800/633-7058.