Hiring Inside and Outside the Box

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Published On
Feb 11, 2020

Every contractor I speak to says good help is hard to find. Because of this overarching problem, contractors are resorting to “stealing” help (at higher wages) from their competitors. Because the hair I have left is gray, I can I tell you this problem occurs in every construction boom cycle.

Also, business is changing. So many systems  installed are computer-controlled, and if you don’t employ workers who can program these systems, you are left out in the cold until a manufacturer’s programmer shows up to get the systems up and running. And, of course, there might be delays because the manufacturer must place you in a queue with other customers.

New entrants to the electrical field may get better training and be better prepared to address changing technological issues. However, there is the issue of finding experienced talent. Especially now with the amount of work, many employers are so busy they don’t have time to think about options.

During the last construction boom, I was giving a seminar about changes to the National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code. I was explaining how the new fire alarm systems were becoming computer-based and the level of knowledge to program and operate these systems was at an all-time high. At lunch, the topic of needing qualified journeymen came up and everyone at the table agreed how hard it was to find  talented workers.

One gentleman said he had changed his outlook on hiring and was now finding some impressive talent.

He shared his approach with us, and, in my opinion, he hit the ball out of the park. His guideline was to hire for enthusiasm and then train talent for needed electrical systems.

He specifically looked at where the industry was headed and decided he needed technicians with stronger capabilities in the computer science area. He started raiding local computer service companies that had repair technicians who might be interested in a change. He hired and trained them in electrical and fire protection systems. In his opinion, he had beat his local competition in finding qualified talent.

We also have an additional source of qualified journeyman technicians serving as current facilities directors. Advertising to this group opens a source that your competition has not thought of.

Another important resource for new journeymen technicians is the military. It is a good business decision to hire veterans—ideally with electrical or systems experience—as studies have shown that veterans are more productive and have higher retention rates. Recognized business leaders have advocated the practice in articles in Forbes and the Wall Street Journal. These articles describe attributes and characteristics of veterans as seen by their employers, including proven leadership skills, the ability to get the job done, having a good work ethic and being a team player. Those veterans also developed creative skills thought their military jobs and work well under pressure. Additionally, veterans may already have the electrical skills needed because their military experience exposed them to advanced technology and technical training. You can read more in the Department of Labor’s “Employer Guide to Hire Veterans” at https://bit.ly/2RAk39a.

Don’t limit your thinking about sources of potential employees. Review the skills technicians need. Consider how to establish a training program that will enable new hires from outside of the traditional electrical industry to understand what is expected of them. It is futile to complain about the lack of qualified help without looking in the mirror and asking what can be done about it. Then develop a plan to ensure a constant source of qualified technicians who can help build a stronger and larger company.

About the Author

Wayne D. Moore

Fire/Life Safety Columnist

Wayne D. Moore, a licensed fire protection engineer, frequent speaker, writer and expert in the life safety field, has been a principal member and chair of NFPA 72, Chapter 24, as well as a former principal member of NFPA 909 and NFPA 914. He is the...

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