Hire-ology: How and where to find the best talent
The shortage of qualified, dependable tradesmen in the U.S. is not a new story, but it is still a concerning one for many contractors. While many workforce-related headlines point to a need for computer scientists, engineers and health care workers, the National Association of Home Builders reported in 2016 that there are roughly 200,000 unfilled construction jobs in the U.S., up 81% in the past two years.
An aging skilled-trade workforce, coupled with fewer younger workers opting for the trades isn’t helping matters. Some experts predict a prolonged skilled-labor drought. In fact, economic research firm The Conference Board forecasts 15 years of labor shortages for the U.S. economy.
Painting professionals, however, do have opportunities to find good help. inPAINT spoke with business consultants and pros in the trenches to gain some valuable insights into how to find A-caliber talent—even in a tough labor market.
THE SEARCH STARTS IN THE MIRROR
It’s not what business owners want to hear, but the biggest barrier to finding top talent could very well be ownership, explains Tom Reber, founder of MOTORhard.com, a business coaching enterprise for contractors that focuses on helping owners make more money using less time by maximizing resources.
“You’ve got to start by looking in the mirror,” Reber said of the hiring process. “You have to look at who you are and ask what type of vision you’re going to create for your company. That’s your starting point.”
Informing the team of your vision and goals allows individuals to better understand their roles in the big picture and the growth options available.
The problem can also lie in an owner’s poor perspective on the labor pool. If that contractor is better able to harness a company vision and set achievable goals to grow the enterprise, Reber is convinced labor problems can be quickly solved.
“I believe the number one fix for the labor issue in the trades is making more money,” he said. “If you can make more money, you can also invest in your people.”
Reber encourages clients to look at labor as a tool to grow revenue, rather than an expense.
“If you only have a three-man team, you have to look 20 years down the road and ask where you want to be. You’re not going to retire with only a three-man team. You simply don’t have enough billable hours,” he added.
Hire early, too. Many contractors wait until they are buried in work before adding staff, says business consultant Art Snarzyk, founder and owner of InnerView Advisors, Inc. Snarzyk is a former paint-business owner, now specializing in helping contractors find top talent. Creating a great team before finding a lot of business can be a motivator for growing your business, he adds.
“When you hire good people, you don’t want to lose them. Some business owners will actually grow the business just to keep guys,” Snarzyk said.
Dalton Tomlinson, founder of Supreme Painting in Ft. Worth, TX, has adopted an employee-first mind-set. He isn’t afraid to hire, even if business may be light at the time a good prospect comes along.
“I am always looking for an all-star. I worry about getting the work second. If I have an all-star, I can easily get the work for them,” he said.
TRAINING, ‘NAME TAG JOBS’
More contractors are learning that training someone new to the trade may be a short-term detriment that could pay long-term dividends.
“I’d rather train people how to paint that are of really good character than hire prima donnas who can paint now,” Reber said.
Dave Kyle, general manager of Trademasters Service Corp., operating in the DC-Virginia area, is in the HVAC business, but his approach to hiring those new to the trade definitely applies to painting contractors as well. Kyle looks to the service industry—a local big-box retail outlet, restaurants, tire shops and other service-oriented professions—for top, trainable talent.
“Look for talent in ‘name tag jobs.’ Find the ones with a great attitude and an affinity for service, and give them a chance to become a highly skilled professional,” he said.
Kyle also says painting contractors have something to give—an opportunity for the millions of Americans who are working in very low-skill, low-pay service-industry jobs. Learning a trade like painting could open them up to earning a far better wage.
“One tool you have in your toolbox is opportunity,” he said. “You can take them from semi-skilled to highly skilled fairly quickly.”
Kyle even recommends talking to counselors at local high schools. Some students who may not excel academically could be hard workers, eager to earn money now.
John Neubert of Neubert Painting in Ohio, is not afraid to hire unskilled employees. In fact, his company thrives on it. He sends notices to guidance departments at high schools. He even buys mailing lists of high school seniors and college freshmen in the zip codes within 30 minutes of his warehouse. He uses the list to send out mailings to hire seasonal help for the high volume of exterior work he sees in the summer. This seasonal staff has won 13 Angie’s List ‘Super Service’ awards.
While Neubert admits that his hiring system is a bit unconventional, he notes that, “Our core competency is how we train high-grade-point-average, college-bound high school seniors to become excellent exterior paint professionals.”
Neubert has a year-round, full-time staff of interior painters that have remained loyal to his company. But when he does need to hire for this team, he isn’t afraid to open his wallet.
“We paid a $4,000 bonus to one of our painters to find the last guy hired two years ago,” he added.
As more contractors look for referrals from current staff, Snarzyk says painting contractors should expect to pay signing and referral bonuses going forward.
GET THE AD RIGHT
Snarzyk also says, “Quality ads will attract quality people.” Craigslist is a great medium but, too often, he sees vague ads that give too little information about the position, company and work environment.
Snarzyk says painting contractors are usually looking to fill three basic types of positions: an apprentice, a mid-level worker, or a foreman. First and foremost, employers need to be clear about which position they’re hiring for. The ad should clearly explain the duties for the position and talk about the types of people the employee will work alongside.
“Be clear about what your company needs and the kind of individuals who are going to thrive there,” he added.
One sticking point Snarzyk often sees comes with a business owner understanding the types of personalities needed for each position. An apprentice who is driven to learn or a mid-level painter who does quality work, for example, may not need the social or interpersonal skills of a foreman or crew leader who deals more directly with customers, Snarzyk explained.
For a foreman or crew leader position, emphasize the type of clientele the person will work with while multitasking and tending to customer service issues.
For apprentices and mid-level employees, he adds, the focus of the ad can be on the type of skill needed; for example, if drywall repair skills are needed, or if little experience is required, or maybe that the right attitude about learning is what’s needed.
Snarzyk also says painting contractors have an opportunity to use the ad to sell the profession to apprentices. For this type of employee, a contractor can highlight why painting is a great career (no cubicles, variety of jobs every day/week, train/learn and increase pay quickly).
“We have to become both attraction machines and training machines,” Snarzyk added.
Be forthright about pay, too, and avoid lines like, ‘pay commensurate with experience,’ he recommends. It’s a waste of time to vet someone only to find he or she has different pay expectations.
“The goal of the ad is complete transparency,” he said. “When the ad is transparent then people have the option to self-select or de-select. I’ve yet to hear a good reason for not including pay in the ad.”
SOME QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
• Is it primarily residential work or is it high-production commercial work?
• Will the employee be overseen by experienced, encouraging mentors?
• What direct skills are needed? Is the position more about rolling and brushing or are customer service skills needed?
THEY SAID IT: GO-TO SPOTS FOR TOP TALENT
Every pro has a go-to source for finding the right talent. These pros shared where they like to look—and even some of their dead-end roads:
“Indeed.com is where I get the largest number of candidates, but most are not suitable. So, I have an application on my web site that uses Google Forms. We also use Craigslist with a well-written ad and we use the same Google Form to get their info.”
—Dalton Tomlinson, Supreme Painting, Ft. Worth, TX
“I always look to my team and ask them who they know of good character and habits that either know how to paint or have a ‘learner’s attitude.’”
—John Peek, Peek Brothers Painting, San Diego, CA
“We have found that our video, which plays during the previews at our local movie theaters, has worked very well. Our billboard above the busiest paint stores in town has also produced some great hires.”
—Josh Abramson, ALLBRiGHT 1-800 PAINTING, San Fernando Valley, CA
“We utilize current employee referrals and offer a referral bonus. We also post to social media, and use supplier referrals and online job boards Indeed.com and Craigslist. We have a Google Form with certain required interview questions that is loaded on the site.”
—Ron Ramsden, Ramsden Painting, Methuen, MA
“We post direct to Craigslist. We use Indeed.com, but Craigslist seems to be where the talent we’re going after is hanging out. We have a list of questions and criteria we use and those questions feed right into our web site.”
—Kelly Edwards, Orange Elephant Painting & Restoration, Raleigh, NC
“The most frequent source of new hires is personal referrals from our existing team. If our employee is willing to put their name on the line for their friend or family member, that speaks volumes about their belief in the person. Another source we use is our local union apprentice program. We know they are receiving proper training.”
—Steve Hester, Hester Painting & Decorating, Skokie, IL