When you look at industry surveys, staffing is always listed as the number one problem facing custom installation companies due to lack of qualified candidates. Created three years ago as a response to that problem, HD Staffing is a specialized recruiting service that serves the residential integration market. Company CEO Tres Huber has extensive experience in finding the right fit for various construction trades, and has insights on how integrators can successfully fill the voids in their staffs.
RESI: Why is it so difficult for residential integrators to find skilled help? Are these hiring issues unique to CI?
TRES HUBER: The challenge is not relegated only to integrators. My background includes a couple of decades in construction staffing, and I think it’s more of a blue-collar trades issue. Integrators are part of the building trades. In general, for the last 20, almost 25 years, there has been a decline as far as people entering in the trades. It’s got a stigma and a lack of awareness of the opportunities. I think staffing is a blanket issue for the construction industry in general.
When focus in on the integration industry, I think it’s even more challenging because there’s no standardization of what a lead technician is, or a project manager, or a systems designer — pick your position. And integrators are working in an ever-evolving environment as far as technology and things of that nature, so that’s what makes it doubly challenging for them to find people right now.
Do you think direct industry experience is essential for a candidate?
No, but most integrators would tell you yes. Certainly integrators have openings in their company that need a seasoned programmer of a specific control system or what have you, but I think there’s not enough of an effort to go beyond that and think, “Who am I looking for?” All employers are looking for a highly motivated person, but, in our industry, we also need somebody that’s mechanically inclined; somebody that has technical aptitude who is also a blank slate that we can mold into the way we do business.
We do see companies out there that see the longer-term vision, but, in defense of the integrator, it’s very challenging to have that vision when you are busier than you’ve ever been and the work needs to get done. In many cases, that ability to show and teach becomes a luxury.
What are the qualities integrators should look for in a candidate — entry-level, mid-level, and executive?
For entry level, as we discussed, everybody you want is highly motivated, which can be revealed in an interview through energy and those types of things. Mechanically inclined is important, which can be demonstrated if they worked in construction or maybe they could have been a carpenter’s helper, electrician assistant, or other positions like those. It shows that they’re used to visualizing how things go together; what the finished product looks like. For the integration industry, look for people that show that next-level kind of technical background. If you can get that perfect meld, you’re going to have a great entry-level employee that you can mold into whatever you want.
At the mid-level, they should have at least a couple of years working with a control system. Look for that person that was at the same integration company for at least for 18 to 24 months, because if they were there less, then they really didn’t learn a system. It may not be your system, but when you’re looking mid-level you want to know that somebody can conceptualize from design all the way to commissioning of a job.
For your senior level, it depends on what the role is — lead technician, senior project manager, operations manager, or so on. If you need a lead technician, then I think you need to hire somebody that has very strong control systems experience. Some integrators get caught up on if a candidate is knowledgeable about a particular control system, but you should interview them to see if they can make that leap over to another control system.
The keys for senior level are understanding that they have control system experience and making sure that they’ve worked at places for a long period of time. Then, if you want to get more granular, you can check to see if that person has worked on systems of your company’s size before. Frankly, if they’ve been on smaller phase jobs, then that jump doesn’t really translate as quickly as one would think.
What red flags should employers avoid?
I think the first thing that we do wrong so many times in interviews is we’re selling the candidate on the job and not asking questions and letting them just talk. My personal interview style is to say, “Tell me about your professional self.” And then I don’t say anything for that 25 or 40 minutes the individual answers you. People will tell you things that you should hear and things you should not hear. They’re going to tell you much more if you’re not focused on asking the next question.
If you listen, usually the red flags are in there, but if you’re not listening, unfortunately you will find out three weeks later and go, “Oh God, I made a mistake.”
What do you think are the best ways to get a new hire up to speed?
You need to be disciplined as a business owner, or, if you’re fortunate enough to be with a bigger firm, as the project manager or lead tech who is doing the instruction of the person. You really should have an onboarding program. You should have an orientation to your business and then have the first eight weeks planned out. It sounds almost exhausting, but it has so many benefits.
This is really about patience, showing, and observing. Then, every Friday, if you’re the boss or the supervisor of the new person, download with the person — How did the week go? What did you learn? What don’t you understand?
So often none of that is happening. Remember that we’re in the trades and, whether it’s putting a rack together or a simple termination or installing a TV, every shop has their own process. Show them how you do it, do it together, and then have them do it alone under supervision.
What methodologies do you recommend for finding employees?
I’ve used referrals for 30 years. If you love that technician on your staff, do you think they don’t know other technicians? Do you think they’re going to refer somebody that’s going to make them look bad? They’re doing the vetting for you! That’s a great practice, but it has to be talked about. If you’re doing a Toolbox Talk every week or a Taco Tuesday or whatever you do with your team, ask if anybody knows someone who would want to join the company. You might want to have incentive plans in place — gift cards or whatever — but I can’t overstate how important it is to communicate that there’s recruiting going on.
Also, make sure that your company website has a careers page and that you actually have real jobs on there. Designate somebody to look at the submissions every day, because it literally has a shelf life of only a few days from when a candidate applies. This isn’t like an accountant or an executive that understands that there’s an opening and a search process. This is a lead tech, and if he or she wants a job right now, they want immediate gratification. If they’re applying to you, they’re applying to seven or eight other people, and when that resume comes into your inbox, urgency is key.
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Which area that you cover is the most difficult to place? The easiest?
The most challenging one is a client service technician just because of the nature of that position. That means that the individual has to be an expert in the preferred control system. When we have a client request that, we ask if they have analyzed their internal staff, because they may have a promotable person.
The most in-demand one is probably lead technician for all the obvious reasons. There’s an abundance of work going on and it’s not getting done fast enough for the clients that want it done.
None of our orders are easy to fill, but I would say we’ve had a great level of success nationally with project manager positions.
What are the benefits of hiring a firm like HD Staffing from both the employer and the candidate perspective?
With us, you get the experience. My partner, Brent Wiseman, was a partner in DSI out of L.A. for a number of years and was part of DSI’s growth all the way up to the VIA merge. I have 20-plus years of construction staffing around the United States, managing offices from L.A. to New York and parts in between and knowing the blue-collar worker. We know your market.
Another benefit is that we have gained some momentum with candidates in various cities, and, if they want to make a move to a different area in a particular market, we can assist with that. Plus, many candidates are leery of interviewing directly with another integrator because they don’t want the word to get out. So it brings us in touch with candidates that integration companies normally wouldn’t see because the candidate would rather go with a third party.
We also have a replacement guarantee. If after 90 days the person doesn’t work out, we’ll find you somebody else. We take out all the negotiation — we represent both sides so the integrator always looks like the good guy all the way through the process.
Related: HR for Integrators