How To Find Great Trade Workers


December 10, 2015

Part 1 of tips for employers

So far this blog has been devoted to advice for aspiring trade workers. I’m going to switch gears for a while and speak to their employers, many of whom also follow this blog.

I know most of you would rank finding top-notch trade workers the most challenging aspect of your business. Stay with me for the next few articles while I share with you some of the most successful recruitment, hiring and retaining strategies I’ve witnessed and written about over a 40-year career.

Let’s begin with perhaps the single most important best practice by successful trade contractors.image of talent recruitment

Always be recruiting.

When workers are in short supply, you can’t afford to let good ones pass you by, whether or not you are in immediate need of help. The most successful contractors are always in a recruitment mode when they spot promising young talent. This holds true for service contractors in particular.

“Grow or die” is a famous slogan coined by the late Peter Drucker, acclaimed by many as the wisest business management consultant who ever lived. Service businesses in particular have to constantly grow their business if for no other reason than to replenish customers lost through no fault of their own. Studies show that around 10% of a home service company’s customers will disappear each year due to natural attrition. Customers die, move away or make new business friends and there’s nothing you can do to hold onto them. (A lot more than 10% may disappear each year because they forget about you or are disappointed with your performance, but those issues are within your control and a subject for another time.)

You need to constantly grow your business to make up for unavoidable losses, and also to heed Peter Drucker’s warning against stagnation. And, just as you’ll lose customers to natural attrition, you may well lose good trade workers for the same reasons. Of course, you can wait to recruit until you’re desperate for help to meet immediate needs, in which case you will be in a seller’s rather than buyer’s market and probably have to settle for less than stellar performers.

Instead, be ready to pounce whenever you identify someone top-notch. If they’re experienced, put them to work right away in the field and watch them generate sufficient productivity and revenues to make it worthwhile. If they’re but novices, put them to work as apprentices, train them and regard them as long-term investments. Just don’t let potential superstars pass you by.

Recruit outside the box.

Successful recruiting requires more than placing classified ads. That’s among the least likely ways to generate good results. Too many people who respond to “wanted” ads are out of work due to poor performance or misbehavior. Not all of them, of course. I’m not saying don’t place classified ads. You may find the occasional gem, perhaps someone new who just moved into town, for instance. But it’s not a fertile ground for recruiting top-notch workers.

Your best results are likely to come from referrals from family, friends and current employees. Many good contractors offer finder’s fee bonuses for successful recruits (payable after the recruit passes through a probation period).

Put “We’re Hiring” magnetic signs on the back of every company vehicle, with a number to call. This actually serves a marketing function as well as recruitment purpose. It creates the impression that you run a successful, growing business, which will impress potential customers.

Make friends with the instructors and career counselors at trade schools in your area. Better yet, try to get someone on your staff to teach there part-time or volunteer to instruct in a particular area of expertise. They’ll be able to identify the best students and you’ll get first shot at them.

Post flyers in distributor supply house counter areas, and get to know their counter people. Ask them to keep their eyes and ears open for good trade workers looking for a better job.

Speaking of which, I recommend recruiting top-notch people away from competitors. This is controversial with some of you, because many trade employers are fearful of “stealing” people away from other local firms out of fear they will do the same to them. That’s the same as admitting that you don’t treat your key employees as well as someone else would.

Sometimes you don’t do it because you may be friends with other contractors via trade associations or business entanglements. Okay, I accept that friendship may override business concerns. But if there are not personal friendships involved, I say there’s nothing immoral or unethical about offering a better job to a good worker. I might even make the case that it’s unethical NOT to make a better offer to someone who deserves better treatment that he or she is getting from a present employer. Get the word “stealing” out of your vocabulary when it comes to recruiting. This is America and nobody owns anyone else. Trade workers are free agents entitled to work for whomever they choose.

I’ll continue with more recruitment best practices in my next blog.