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Where Have All The Service Techs Gone?

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I was having lunch with my mother the other day, and we had an interesting conversation. She was telling me about her dilemma with finding a new landscaper. It’s not that she was unhappy with her current one, just the opposite, they had been doing a “good job,” in her words. What had transpired is she had received a call from her landscaper explaining that they were downsizing and could no longer provide service for her. She stated, “I thought the goal for a company was to actually grow,” and asked him why are you downsizing? He told her it was not by choice, but he has not been able to find and hire enough manpower. Wowzers, we’re having the same problem!

At that moment I realized that the problem of finding new talent was much bigger then I had originally thought. We, the HVAC industry, are not only competing with each other, we are competing with all of the other occupations available for a young individual to choose from. This changes everything.

When my friend told me about their daughter being a registered nurse, and what she makes working three 12 hour days a week (and she gets to pick what days she works), I can tell you it is more than a HVAC service technician makes working 50 to 60 hours a week. It now makes perfectly good sense where all the new techs have gone.

The HVAC industry has an aging work force, and as we retire there isn’t any new talent to take our place. Let’s face it, we are no longer attractive to a young individual about to make a career choice. At least at the current compensation package and the work-life balance our industry provides. I know some of you may not agree, but I think the facts speak for themselves. People are choosing a career that is attractive to them, and it’s not in HVACR as a service technician.

Our industry, like most, grew up with a Baby Boomer mentality. Not that it’s a bad thing at all! It was good for the time, a strong work ethic, manners, respect for your elders, honesty, you get it. You did what it took to get the job done. You worked all the over time you could get. It meant providing for your family. It is how the HVACR industry has evolved into what it is today. We all have stories to tell about how we went above and beyond. I doubt there are any who can top one of our service technicians who worked 103 hours in one week (again Wowzers). We are out to prove ourselves, our self worth, pump our chest out, and say I got the job done no matter what (the Millennials ask at what cost?).

Guess what? It’s not what the young Millennials want. These are the same people we are seeking to attract. Don’t get me wrong, I am not insinuating that they don’t have a strong work ethic (just different), or they are not honest. What I am saying is they value their personal time and family time more than us Baby Boomers. Here again don’t take me wrong, I am not insinuating that Baby Boomers don’t value their family time (just different).

I think the Millennials have something on us Baby boomers. I had one of our young technicians in my office the other day, and he said, “I don’t want to be like my father.” I asked what do you mean, and he said, “My dad was always working, he was never there for me, and I am not going to do that to my kids.” His father is, guess what? A service technician! Like the saying goes, Baby Boomers live to work, and Millennials work to live. It’s time to realize the work ethic is not changing, but has already changed. The Millennials have seen how we Baby Boomers work, and they are not interested in being like their parents.

There are many career choices out there that are attractive to the young Millennials. These other choices provide a compensation package that pays enough in wages that they don’t need to work over time, that doesn’t require them to work in all weather conditions, and to be on call. No overtime and no on call pretty much fixes the work-life balance issue. And now comes all of the excuses, “I can’t pay that and be competitive,” “It’s what the market will bear,” “I already pay top wages,” “Gotta make hay while the sun shines.” Ah, now you’re thinking like the landscaper. Think like the landscaper, be the landscaper. Our day is coming if we do not change.

Why are we afraid of each other? We are in this boat together. We are all too afraid of being the first one to charge enough so we can pay enough to attract eager young talent. If ever there was a time for all of us to jump on the “band wagon,” it would be now. We have all heard the saying, “I can’t afford to train, can you afford not to?” Can the industry afford not to pay? I’ll check with the landscaper and get back to you.

Keith Nickas
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Posted In: ACCA Now, Management, Opinion

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