Finding Great Employees - IE3: Business Tools for HVAC & Plumbing Contractors  

Finding Great Employees

Modifying your recruitment approach could yield a bigger crop of candidates.

In the 37 years since its founding, Haller Enterprises in Lititz, PA, has grown from a one-man shop to more than 400 employees involved in commercial construction and service and replacement. Keeping that team at full strength often presents a challenge, particularly during the busy seasons.

“The labor pool faces a shortage of qualified applicants in general, and the mechanical trades are outstripping that shortage by an additional 14 percent,” says Edward McFarlane, Haller’s vice president of learning and development. “We always find ourselves looking for good talent, year-round.”

For years, Haller Enterprises relied primarily on print newspaper ads and employment websites to announce its available positions, supplemented by billboard ads and appearances at job fairs. Last year, however, the company shook up the status quo: Rather than taking a piecemeal approach to recruitment, the leadership team developed an all-out marketing campaign focused on hiring employees for Haller’s six locations.

“The biggest change was in our internal thought process,” McFarlane explains. “We took the same strategies and tactics we use to find customers, such as targeting specific demographics, and applied them to finding team members.” Haller’s marketing and HR teams collaborated on a cohesive marketing strategy, tactics, and action plan to guide recruitment efforts. The plan included placing targeted ads on Facebook and developing a dedicated recruitment URL (hallerishiring.com) that highlights all open positions—especially the technical ones that carry a signing bonus up to $5,000. Just one click takes job seekers directly to additional details and an online application.

Haller also changed the way it handled the livechat feature on its website; it retained an industry-specific service instead of staffing the function internally. Once the livechat became available 24 hours a day, the company learned that people had questions about job opportunities, not just furnaces and air conditioners. “We now have someone who can interact in the moment, immediately capture employment-related information, and send it to the HR department for follow-up,” says McFarlane. “In the first month we used the outside service, they gathered information on five potential candidates.”

A Big Boost

With its residential services area registering annual growth between 20 and 30 percent, Hurley & David, Inc., consistently needs additional technicians. To expand its employment pipeline, the company began using ZipRecruiter. The service distributes open positions to more than 100 online job boards, then funnels all applications received from the various sites through its portal.

“We pay one fee to be on the various job sites, which is easier and has a wider reach than if we posted separately to Craigslist, CareerBuilder, and other places,” says Gary Woodruff, Hurley & David’s residential manager. Responses are gathered into one Candidate Dashboard, so Woodruff can view all the respondents and their resumes in one place. He has also used Facebook’s new job posting feature and paid an additional fee to “boost” the post to ensure it was seen by various demographics, such as people who might pass along the word to friends or family members.

“We boosted that job posting for a week and had six people apply through Facebook. The one we will probably hire, who came in at the last minute, wasn’t someone we would have known about except for Facebook,” reports Woodruff. Nearly everyone who responds to a job ad receives an invitation to a recruiting event. Held periodically at Hurley & David’s headquarters in Springfield, MA., the recruiting events include a short presentation about the company and its job opportunities. Typically, attendees are then scheduled for one-on-one interviews.

“In the past, we wasted a lot of time scheduling interviews that didn’t happen because about 75 percent of the applicants never showed up. Now, with the recruiting event, we know who can get past the first hurdle of employment, which is actually showing up when you say you will,” Woodruff says.

In addition to tweaking your recruitment approach, as they did, Woodruff and McFarlane recommend:

Offer learning opportunities. Hurley & David employs a co-op student from a trade high school, who alternates attending classes with working in the field. Although it’s too early for Woodruff to evaluate the student’s employment potential, he appreciates the school’s interest in providing candidates.

Cultivate relationships with trade schools. For at least a decade, Haller Enterprises has sent field managers to local trade schools to give presentations and conduct mock interviews with students. “They like spending time in the classroom, which also keeps us in the students’ minds—and we see the dividends of that in the number of students who look at us when they graduate,” says McFarlane. “You get out what you put into the relationship, and we believe in supporting the trades.”

According to ACCA member surveys, graduates of post-secondary trade schools do not always have the skill set that matches an HVAC contractor’s needs. In response, ACCA is developing an updated curriculum to help trade schools teach to a national standard.

Involve current employees. Haller Enterprises has long had an incentive program that paid a nominal amount to employees who referred others for employment, but it recently boosted the “finder’s fee” considerably. McFarlane explains, “The likelihood of people working out is much higher when they have been referred by an existing employee. Because we have to spend money on recruitment anyway, our leadership team decided we’d much rather direct those funds to our employees, if possible, rather than running another ad.”

Look ahead. Haller’s leadership team plans to create an in-house training center, which would enable the company to hire inexperienced technicians and teach its own curriculum. For more experienced employees, the training center would offer skills enhancement opportunities. “Half of meeting staffing goals is retention,” says McFarlane, “so we want to invest in the team members who are already here and desire a career path—to prepare them for their next promotion, whatever and wherever that might be.”

The turnover that’s inevitable in any business underscores the need to keep your recruitment efforts fresh as well as constant. “We have 45 team members today and don’t want to be caught in the lurch if one decides to leave tomorrow,” Woodruff observes. “We try to find and identify people before we need them—and we always have an opportunity available if the perfect candidate walks through the door.”

Sandra Sabo

Sandra Sabo

Sandra R. Sabo is a contributing writer for IE3 Magazine.
Sandra Sabo

Latest posts by Sandra Sabo (see all)

Sandra Sabo

Sandra Sabo

Sandra R. Sabo is a contributing writer for IE3 Magazine.
Sandra Sabo

Latest posts by Sandra Sabo (see all)

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