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As everyone in the business knows, unemployment in Canada might be 5.5% but unemployment for HVAC technicians is close to 0%. It’s hard to find qualified people, and it’s important to retain the good ones you have.

HR managers and owners are highly sensitive to the challenge at this point, considering the tight market, plus the time and cost to identify candidates, conduct interviews, check references, complete paperwork, and provide training. It’s even more daunting to deal with poor performance or terminations, so good hiring and retention are critical.

Writing in hvacrbusiness.com, James Leichter, a construction consultant said recently there has been a surge in interest in job-hopping. He quoted a survey by research firm Robert Half that found that 64% think job-hopping will benefit their career, an increase of 22% over results of the same survey four years ago. Among Millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) it was 75%.


Experts say virtually everything required to significantly improve employee retention is within the control of the company, and the measures that cost money are likely to be much less expensive than having high employee turnover.

Author George Dickson says more than three million North Americans quit their jobs every month. He references research by Glassdoor and Gallup that found 35% of employees would seek a new job if they didn’t receive a pay raise in the next 12 months, and 44% would change companies for an increase of just 20% more compensation. It’s important to keep “your finger on the pulse of what the market rate actually is for each position on your staff.” However, remaining competitive with wages should be enough, because a handful of other measures can be effective when it comes to retention.


Steve Ball, a partner at Gross Mendelsohn, a consulting firm in Baltimore, says it is, of course, important to provide good benefits and salary increases to the best performers, but the atmosphere you create is at least as important. He suggests providing feedback to team members after every job, sharing and celebrating news of company successes such as new contracts, customer praise, good online reviews, and positive metrics, so that employees can be proud to work for the company.


In addition he recommends involvement of the company with community service programs, which gives team members a sense of purpose and the feeling that they are part of something more than an HVAC repair job.

Leichter suggests that companies adopt a clear statement of purpose and help team members understand where they fit in to making it happen. His examples include Southwest Airlines: “Connect People to what’s important in their lives through friendly, reliable, and low-cost air travel.” and Walmart: “We save people money, so they can live better.”


Leichter also feels that employee recognition might be the absolute number one reason people stay or leave. “Most contractors have a difficult time offering genuine heartfelt praise.” He also talks about ‘negligent retention,’ which means keeping an employee who is incompetent or contributing to a toxic environment, rather than dealing with the unpleasant task of terminating them. “Winners tend to want to hang around with other winners…If you have employees that don’t pull their weight, there will be resentment among your best employees.”


Dickson says the retention challenge starts early, with a company’s onboarding process. He says 31% of employees quit in the first six months, and there are easy fixes to make the first days smoother. Employees are under a lot of pressure when they are new, so make it easier by helping with simple basics like network logins, hardware provisions, building access and a tour. It’s helpful to assign a supportive co-worker to ‘show them the ropes’ for the first few days.

Use your favourite communication channels to properly introduce the new hire, conveying your expectation that the team will extend a warm welcome. Also, make certain that job parameters are clearly communicated. If there are inconsistencies between the recruitment pitch, the formal job description, the probationary assignments, and the longer-term expectations, these should all be clearly articulated and understood by the new hire, and by those who are working with him or her.


Dickson says the Gallup research also indicates that leaders need to be involved in everyone’s career planning. It found that 93% of young professionals changed companies, in order to change their roles. If someone is valued, but is about to be passed over for a promotion, it should be discussed, and your intentions for the future career of that employee should be clarified.

It’s not a good idea to assume they will ‘figure it out on their own, be patient and make smart career decisions.’ They need hope, clarification, and transparency about what you’re thinking.

This is especially true in the case of a key employee who you hope will become a partner, new owner, or day-to-day management lead. HRAI is offering a great succession planning seminar at this year’s conference on Aug 26 in Niagara Falls. Don’t miss it. Register now.


One way to soften the blow when a valued team member has to wait for a promotion is to demonstrably invest in them. Ball says it’s critical to provide both technical and leadership training, to demonstrate your belief in your people and your commitment to helping them advance. Some employers are hesitant to invest in training during an era when company switching is increasingly common. But the experts say investing in people improves retention, and if you do lose them, it improves what they say about your company to others.