by Ray Isaac

Last month (CB, July 2003, p. 36) we discussed the challenge — often self-imposed — that we face in attracting quality individuals to our industry and our companies. We also discussed the need to evaluate the three C’s (your company, your competition and your customer) in the process of attracting quality people to our industry.

We covered your company last month, and I hope everyone who read that article has evaluated his or her organization from top to bottom with a critical eye. If you’ve done this and
didn’t find anything that needs fixing, you’re not looking hard enough. Personally, I rely on my ACCA Mix Group to help me with this task. Believe me, they see things that I never thought of.

The second “C” is to know your competition. Who are they? Whenever I ask this question in my seminar about attracting, hiring, and retaining employees, everyone in the room instinctively looks around at their fellow contractor attendees.

Although this may seem like the obvious answer, our real competition for employees is every other employer out there. I’m talking about IBM, Fed-Ex, UPS, and any other company that has established itself as a quality employer. In our quest to attract people to our industry and to our companies, we need to compare our companies with these top performers and position ourselves accordingly.

I feel that HVAC companies are the job market’s best kept secrets, often providing wages, benefits, opportunities, and security far superior to other industries that have a better reputation.

Is being better than Joe’s Heating down the street good enough? Not if you’re looking for true professionals with good attitudes and ability. We need to look at our competition on a more global scale and model our companies after these top employers in the marketplace. Your employees should be proud to say that they work for your company.

The final “C” is the customer. For this discussion, the job applicant is the customer. Just as you target your marketing when trying to attract customers, the successful contractor targets his or her marketing for good applicants. Where most contractors fail is that they limit their market.

Many contractors will say that there’s a shortage of qualified applicants. What is your definition of “qualified”? Is it the applicant with 20 years experience (which usually means one year experience 20 times over) who can fix the space shuttle but can’t talk to his own grandmother? If this is what you’re looking for, then you’re doing your company and your customers more harm than good.

Sure, this technician may fix a customer’s unit very efficiently, but chances are the customer will never call you back because the technician couldn’t handle the customer professionally, and didn’t know how the customer would like to be treated.

At Isaac, we hire first and foremost on attitude and personality, often finding our best employees from outside the industry and selling them on the many benefits of working in our industry and for our company. Often these outsiders know what’s like in the “glamour industries,” and have a real appreciation for steady work, training, advancement opportunities, and the ability to work for a quality employer.

Many contractors I talk to say they can’t afford to bring in an “unqualified” technician and spend the time training that person from the ground up. I can appreciate that, but in these contractors’ quest to find a “star,” they usually go through many asteroids who shine brightly for a brief period of time, then burn out. There’s usually a reason why stars are out on the street looking for employment, and many times it’s not of their own choosing. Hire professionals and train them to be technicians.

As an industry, we need to start sharing our secret. By concentrating on these three C’s and making a conscious effort to take the high road, we’ll start to publicly improve our image — one contractor at a time.

Ray Isaac is the general manager of Isaac Heating & Air Conditioning, Rochester, NY. The company was Contracting Business magazine’s 2002 Residential Contractor of the Year. Ray will be the keynote speaker at HVAC Comfortech, which will be held September 10-13, in Dallas, TX. He can be reached at 585/546-1400, ext. 344, or by e-mail at rsisaac@isaacheating.com. For more information on HVAC Comfortech, call 216/931-9550.