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Training Your Team

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I was asked to write an article about tips for the best ways for contractors to train their teams.  However, before I can go there, I feel a need to first convince you that such an undertaking is, in fact, necessary.  I say that because, so few HVAC contractors have ongoing training programs.

You’ve heard the argument, “What if I train my people and then they leave me?” You’ve also heard the retort, “Yeah, but what if you don’t train them and they stay?” It’s a simple choice for any contractor as to whether you want to surround yourself with trained or untrained people.

If you’re going to start a training program in your company, then first you need to identify who needs to be trained. The answer to that question is simple, everyone! No one is above self-improvement.

One suggestion is to create a simple 10 question test. Make one for service techs, one for installation techs, etc. Think of the 10 most important things that you think each group should know.  Then, get ready to be disappointed by the answers you receive.

You may also want to have an end goal, like NATE certification.  You could even incentivize that by offering an additional $0.25 to $0.50 per hour raise for each passed exam.

If you are an owner/administrator that is not technically savvy, ACCA offers preparation training DVDs for these exams and on other various HVAC technical subjects. You can give these DVDs to your employees to use in their spare time or you can all sit together and view them en masse. When you do that, you can stop and start the program as needed to add relevant information or to engage in a discussion.

There are online training programs available through ACCA called Qtech®, as well, that can also be used by your techs at their own pace, on their own time. If you take this approach, be sure to set strict time lines as to when a given program, or segment of a program, is to be completed.

Product specific training is very important, and this is usually handled by the OEM or his distributor/wholesaler. If you’re a Carrier dealer and Carrier comes out with a new line of gas furnaces, you’d better get your people into the sales/installation/service classes that Carrier will offer for that new product.

Hook up with a good wholesaler. Some wholesalers offer training programs throughout the year on a variety of different subjects.  Johnstone even has what they call “Johnstone University” specifically for contractor training.

Be sure to share the technical and industry journals, like ACCA Now (formerly IE3 Magazine), the HVACR News, and the RSES Journal, that you receive via the mail. Pass those around your office and shop. Use a sticky note with the names of those who should receive that literature and be sure that it ends up back to you with all the names checked-off.

And don’t forget meetings with organizations like ACCA, RSES, PHCC, etc. These can be very informative and allow your team to mingle with other contractors’ employees.

If you want to be more aggressive, you need to devote a certain portion of the work year (3 – 4 months) to weekly training. Every company has slow periods of time. Why not use that time to train?  After all, how many times can you paint the shop? Bring everyone in at 4:00 PM one day a week. Bring in a speaker from companies from which you buy. They won’t charge you for that service; they’re happy to keep your business.

Bring in some pizza and be sure to let everyone go by 6:00 PM at the latest. Sometimes it just ends up being a gripe session, but even that has value. You’d be surprised what you can learn in a casual conversation.

I took that aggressive approach years ago with a small company that I was running, and it worked very well. But, the unexpected always finds its way to your door. One Thursday after a training session, one of my installers came up to me and said, “I’ve been here for three months now, and I’ve learned more in that time than I have for the 10 years I’ve been in the HVAC business. But, I don’t want to be responsible for all that information. I just want to hang duct and go home at the end of the day.” So, I granted him his wish and I sent him home, permanently. You can’t make this stuff up!

Training is essential to any successful HVAC company. It is the company’s responsibility to train its team. Stop thinking of training as an expense, but rather as an investment. If you can reduce call-backs and your service techs and installers work more efficiently, then you will increase your bottom line.

Jack Rise
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Posted In: ACCA Now, Management

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