Finding it tough to come across good HVAC techs? The sad truth is fewer young people are going into trade work, and the labor pool has shrunk to a puddle. But there are still good techs out there to be found, and this guide is loaded with tips to help you find, hire, and train the right ones.
Finding HVAC technicians
Here’s a look at a few old-school and creative ways companies find skilled technicians.
Placing job ads
Back in the good old days, HVAC businesses placed ads in local newspapers, tacked them up at job sites, and hung fliers in supply houses to find experienced candidates. But in today’s labor market, most skilled workers are already employed and may not even be looking. You might need to try some extra tactics to get the best pick of candidates.
Online ads will cast a wide net and can help you find prospects that aren’t already in your network or even in your city.
The downside of casting a wide net is that you end up with lots of responses from people who aren’t a good fit. You may have to sort through hundreds of resumes of candidates who are unqualified or lack training. It’s best to start with a phone interview first. You’ll probably know in 5 or 10 minutes whether or not you want to move that candidate forward.
The salaries you pay HVAC techs can mean the difference between winning or losing top talent. Make sure you offer competitive pay and call that out in your ad. Don’t forget to mention benefits in your ads, like your health insurance or 401(k) plans.
With a shortage of skilled workers, companies are relying more heavily on HVAC schools for new hires.
Trade school graduates will expect lower salaries and are eager to learn. They also haven’t been taught wrong practices. You can start fresh instead of being forced to break bad habits and perspectives that don’t align with your company.
It can take months or even years of on-the-job training to get a green worker to reach the same level as an experienced hire.
Want to find the cream of the crop? Start and maintain friendships with trade school instructors and ask for introductions to their best students. It’s a win-win-win for you, the instructors, and the graduates.
You probably have a bigger network than you realize. Ask local contractors, suppliers, and other trade professionals you work with to spread the word for you. If you’re a member of the local union, contact them too.
Don’t forget – your network includes your social media accounts. Post what you’re looking for on LinkedIn and Facebook. Include reviews from happy team members and customers on your company profile.
And remember, your network includes current employees too. In a recent survey, 35% of trade companies hired technicians based on employee referrals.1 You’re also more likely to get a quality hire. Your team doesn’t want to work with slackers any more than you want to hire them.
Other trade professionals probably know good workers they’d be happy to refer.
This approach is hit-or-miss, especially when few HVAC technicians are looking for work.
Help those in your network find quality prospects. If you help others, they’ll be more likely to return the favor.
What questions should I ask when interviewing?
A lot of factors go into the hiring decision. The required education and skill set is just the start. Ask situational questions to get a sense of work ethic and character. Some questions will be answered when you first meet them. Did they show up for the interview on time? Are they dressed appropriately for the interview? How’s their attitude?
Working in uncomfortable situations:
Q: “Are you comfortable being around chemicals, working in confined spaces, or standing on a ladder to make necessary repairs?”
It’s likely the applicant will work in extreme heat or freezing cold conditions. Even if temperatures are decent, many HVAC systems require work in cramped and awkward spaces. Make sure the prospect isn’t claustrophobic or scared of heights. Jobs may involve climbing into a tight vent or making repairs to a unit on the outside of a tall building.
Also, remember there are a few possible dangers of working with HVAC materials. Harmful refrigerants, electric shocks, and carbon monoxide poisoning are all dangers and risks that an HVAC technician should be aware of.
Possibility of crazy hours:
Q: “Are you willing to go above and beyond to provide service, even if that means being on-call?”
Broken HVAC systems can wreck businesses in no time and make life uncomfortable or even dangerous in residential homes. That’s why customers want repairs done as soon as possible. When an emergency strikes late at night or on a weekend, technicians may have to work outside of the normal 9 to 5 schedule.
Fit for the job:
Q: “Can you lift 50 pounds, push heavy equipment, carry ladders, and operate large vehicles?”
No, a technician doesn’t have to be an Olympic athlete. That being said, the job can be physically demanding at times. Keep that in mind as you hire.
Good customer service:
Q: “Is customer service important to you? How will you respond to picky customers?”
To be a great HVAC technician, you can’t just be good at fixing air conditioners. Talking with clients is a big part of the job too. The right team member will have patience with difficult customers, listen carefully to their concerns, and always show respect for their home. A technician with good customer skills can multiply word-of-mouth referrals and win you more business.
Hiring the right HVAC technician
There’s a lot to consider with potential candidates. What’s their work history and technical know-how? Will they be good with customers and fit well with your existing team? It can be a long and tiring process. But taking the time to make the right hire will save you effort in the long run. Here’s how to do it.
Weed out candidates with a technical skills test
You might not always have time to train someone and need a capable technician on day one. This is where a technical test comes in handy.
Technicians can claim anything on their resume, but do they really know what they’re talking about? Weed out weak candidates with a written or on-site skills test. (Check out these example questions from the NOCTI Job Ready Assessment test.)
HVAC technician job descriptions vary wildly across different industries. Keep that in mind as you search for technicians with niche HVAC experience, like:
- Aerospace products and parts manufacturing
- Colleges, universities, and other places of higher education
- Industrial and commercial machinery or equipment repairs
- Wired telecommunications carriers
- Natural gas distribution and management
- Hardware wholesale merchants
- Household goods maintenance and repair
- Building equipment contractors
Contact multiple references
If you want a more honest sense of how the candidate will be on the job, ask multiple references about their work performance and character.
HR expert Bruce Anderson recommends asking for the names and contact information of your candidate’s previous employers instead of asking for general references.2 Bowling buddy Bob will give you a different response than the candidate’s previous supervisor.
Prioritize soft skills and a willingness to learn
Companies often prioritize technical skills and experience over soft skills and personality fit. If you’re able to do more on-the-job training, consider flipping that. Prioritize soft skills — like customer service, work ethic, and punctuality — over technical knowledge. Research shows 85% of job success comes from having soft skills and people skills.3
In the long run, it’s easier to teach a hard worker technical skills than it is to nurture a stronger work ethic. Personality assessment tests can help you learn if a candidate would be a good fit for your company.
Of course, a general aptitude for skilled trade work is necessary and isn’t for everyone. Candidates should at least be able to pass basic mechanical aptitude tests.
Training HVAC technicians on the job
No matter the experience level of your new hire, everyone will require some training. This includes understanding your company’s culture, expectations, and on-the-job technical training.
After you’ve made a hire, set clear expectations about what you expect of your employee in these first few months.
Train on technical and soft skills
ACHR News recommends training new employees in four areas:
- Mechanical skills
- Time management
- Customer service
For instance, they may have a good understanding of HVAC systems and how to repair them, but how good are they at troubleshooting basic or advanced problems? These can be two very different skill sets.
HVAC systems aren’t the only technology technicians need to be trained on. Have your new hire practice using your internal systems — like updating arrival times, setting estimates, and invoicing — before they need to do these with your customers. Housecall Pro offers an app that makes it all super simple.
Start with a trial period
Set a 30, 60, or 90-day trial period with clear expectations about what they should be able to do and understand by the end of the trial.
Your new HVAC techs should also understand what will happen if they fail certain parts of their assessment. During this trial period, your new hire will do a mix of training and job shadowing as they slowly take on more of their own responsibilities.
A well-documented trial period eases the process of letting someone go who isn’t working out.
Managing HVAC techs
It’s one thing to start out as a technician and do outstanding work; it’s another to become a skilled manager. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but one of the top reasons HVAC businesses close down is the owner’s fault.
As you grow your business and your team, your responsibilities will grow too.
So what does it take to lead a successful team?
Encourage independence in your employees
The goal is to grow a team of technicians that are capable of managing themselves. When you’re confident your team can do their jobs without being checked on constantly, you can focus on the big picture.
Hold each team member accountable for their performance by requiring weekly or monthly reports. When these reports are available to the entire team, individuals can track their performance compared to their co-workers. Be clear and honest about their performance individually and as a team.
Incentives for good performance
Offer incentives early on for hard work and great service. This sends a clear message that good work isn’t just expected; it’s rewarded. Incentives like raises, bonuses, or time off build goodwill and company loyalty and can take some of the anxiety out of the trial period.
Of course, incentives aren’t just for new hires. Matt Michel, CEO of Service Roundtable, explains, “Pay wages for time on the job, and you will get time on the job. Pay incentives for productivity, and that’s what you will get.” He goes on to explain that incentives don’t have to be money. Recognition can be just as rewarding. Everybody wants a pat on the back from time to time.4
You can also offer incentives for advanced training, like licenses and credentials. Invest in your people. This will only help to make them better HVAC techs!
Use the right tools
The right technology can make managing a team simple and efficient. Keep track of your team with a live map. A centralized scheduling and dispatch tool will keep them up-to-date about new service requests and changes to old jobs. These tools should be easy-to-use. Housecall Pro offers an all-in-one HVAC software app that can help you do it all.
Grow your team by hiring smart. Grow your employees by leading them well. Growing your business will take time and effort, but it will most definitely pay off.