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Lost and…Found?

Some of you might find the headline on this column strange, but I can assure you that by the end you will have a clear understanding of its meaning.  Let’s look at the “lost” part first.

It refers to lost employees, and how or why a fuel dealer loses them. There are many reasons, of course, but I often hear the words “overworked,” and “underpaid” and “poor benefits.” I also hear the statement, “Nobody wants to work anymore.” I guess this is related to the long hours that blue collar jobs often demand. Regarding pay levels, I had predicated several years back that the day would come when company owners would be held hostage by employees. Recently I heard of a situation where a company lost two topnotch technicians. When I asked why, the answer was that they had left for more money and a better benefits package. These employees were offered a hefty pay increase, fully paid medical, profit sharing and a retirement package that could not be matched by their existing employer.

When I asked the employer what the pay difference was I was told it was $5 per hour. I then asked myself, If I had a long-term employee, licensed, who made the company money and had good people skills, would I not consider matching the five dollars?

When I consider the time it takes to train someone new, and not really knowing if it is going to work out, I know what my decision would be. Who knows when this kind of competition for skilled techs will ease? Not me. In the meantime, maybe employers should consider matching the offers their employees are receiving, to hold on to them.

Now let’s address the “Found” part.

Over the past several months, I have been approached by many, who ask where they can find more help. I conducted a completely informal survey of decision makers from many companies, inquiring what they do to attract new employees. To name some ideas they implemented: one manager said his company was offering a $3,000 signing bonus along with a $500 lead fee if an employee brings a new person in for an interview. Another has posted a professionally made large DRIVERS & TECHNICIANS WANTED sign that is located curbside, facing in a northern and southernly direction to the highway.

I also recently noticed that there are two large mechanical companies that are running help wanted ads on TV, at specific time slots throughout the week.

Recently at a convention, the subject of one of the speakers was shortage of labor and how it has crippled the industries’ growth.

I know those connected to the HVAC trades are not alone when it comes to finding help, because I have also talked to electricians, plumbers, builders, and they all say the same thing: “I can’t find the help.”

The shortage has crippled blue-collar companies trying to grow their businesses.

There is another factor that affects the trades, and that is the number of skilled tradesmen retiring in large numbers. The number of those setting down their tools is not equaled by newcomers to the trades. Another complaint that I hear from owners and service managers is that it takes too long to get a new employee licensed. One owner mentioned that his daughter became a licensed nurse faster than he could get an employee licensed to conduct work in the trade. I think one way to get new employees is to take on technical school apprentices and give them an opportunity to learn through what we call OJT—on the job training. I would also like to see states enact job-sharing programs, with the states and the hiring company sharing the cost of training new technicians.–Charles Bursey Sr.

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