How to Find the Right Employees—and Keep Them

by Diane Walsh

Four decades in operation have taught Kevin Nolan, president of Havertown, PA-based Nolan Painting, how to succeed throughout the perennial challenges of the painting business. And over the years, success, as Nolan has learned, is impacted most by one factor: his employees.

The forward-thinking painting veteran is optimistic about his company’s future as he continues to rebuild and hire since the pandemic: “We’re smaller than we were a few years ago. But we’ve grown to become leaner—and smarter.”

Even still, at 100-plus employees, Nolan’s team is more robust than most. So it’s clear he knows how to attract and keep high-caliber employees. Here are three ways he does it.

Focus On Attitude Over Experience in Hiring

Nolan Painting is consistently recognized by the annual Top Workplace awards. But in recent years, the company’s stream of applicants began to overflow with what Nolan describes as “displaced” workers—an influx of unemployed individuals from industries outside of painting that were hit hard by the pandemic and stunted economic markets. These were motivated workers eager to have a wage-earning job, but they lacked professional painting experience.

Kevin Nolan navigated business growth through COVID-19 in part by evolving his hiring tactics.

Skilled labor shortages aren’t new to the painting industry. Coming to terms with them within the business model is a critical first step to allow for continued growth in the face of any challenge.

“In order to scale up,” Nolan explains, “we actually focus on hiring people without experience and train them to become painters.”

Field Manager Tiago Lopes, who oversees crews and squads across eight to 10 jobsites on any given day, says a lack of previous painting experience can also come with an added benefit: fewer bad habits to break. “Having someone come in with a clean slate that you can mold to the way that we do things can actually be very rewarding,” Lopes says.

Team effort: Field Manager Tiago Lopes relies on the Nolan Painting crew leaders to help him manage, motivate and train the company’s painting crews.

Empower Employees — and Reward Them for Personal Growth

Thanks to a program Nolan Painting launched to motivate and empower employees, the company’s painters now have their own stake in the training process. Employees earn cash incentives for recording short, Snapchat-snippet-style video tutorials demonstrating “The Nolan Way.”

“It’s been an amazing way to have engagement in the training,” says Nolan, who then stores the winning entries in the cloud so that crews can easily access them on a jobsite.

It’s an approach that’s rooted in the passing of knowledge from leaders to new painters. As a result, new hires are immediately immersed in the “Nolan Way” to prep, paint, clean up, and otherwise conduct themselves while at a jobsite, all the while fostering a relationship with their supervisors and peers.

Painters at Nolan Painting are offered monetary incentives with Nolan’s “Know. Show. Do. Review.” training method.

Establish Community Partnerships to Create Your Own Talent Pipeline

To help better position the painting industry as a rewarding career path, Nolan partnered with a local school district to launch a program aimed at offering real-world work experience and a taste of the trades to high school seniors.

“We’ll have seniors work for us during the semester and get school credits,” Nolan explains. “And we’ll offer them jobs when they graduate.”

Reflecting on his own educational experiences, Nolan acknowledges that going to college was not the best option for him. As he sees it, students may lean toward a traditional 4-year college experience without fully considering other options, such as trades.

With the program’s launch, Nolan hopes to create what he envisions will be an ongoing pipeline of talented high school graduates who are looking to establish themselves not only in an industry that’s showing no signs of slowing, but also with a company that’s dedicated to superior training and elevating from within.

About the Author:

Diane Walsh is Vice President, Market & Channel Development for Shurtape Technologies, LLC, maker of FrogTape® brand Painter’s Tape. She also serves as director of the Shurtape Professional Paint Advisory Board.


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