Where Can We Find Tomorrow's Technicians?

Aug. 21, 2006
Having a hard time finding good alarm technicians? Maybe you need to create them...

What are the most significant issues facing the future of our industry?

There’s certainly no shortage of significant challenges we face these days that could be the answer to that question. If we look honestly at our industry, we know the list of challenges is extensive, and we also know that some issues will be harder to fix than others. Of course, if you asked me that question, I might say that one of the most critical issues is the lack of well-trained technicians. It is as good a place to start fixing our industry as any.

Here's the honest situation: There's an immediate need for qualified installers and service techs. Many company owners and managers are banging their heads against the wall to fill positions within their companies. There's an immediate need because the sales staff is still working hard, creating sales that have to be installed...and these newly sold systems must be installed in a reasonable amount of time. The unfortunate result is that existing customers' repair calls may be delayed, but that's not a good solution, since you don't want to lose a good customer because of a slow repair call.

In many cases we're recycling "experienced techs" from competitors by offering them more money or promises of better working conditions. Many of us are so desperate today that we're lowering our standards to simply get a "body" in an effort to "stop the yelling". Obviously, it's never good to lower standards, yet many of us are doing just that to bring in anyone.

So that's where we stand -- we need qualified technicians, but how many of us are simply putting a Band Aid on the problem and really closing our eyes on the future? This is a nationwide problem, and one which is clearly not getting any better. Albeit some conscientious alarm industry associations have created programs which will prove to help, there are other existing solutions that our industry, in general, is not taking advantage of. Let's be proactive and not reactive!

In the 1980s and early '90s, I used to put an ad in the paper for a skilled tech with a minimum of five years experience, and I would quickly have a line out the door with well-qualified candidates. Today, that same ad would generate two phone calls if you're lucky. One of those would come from an out-of-work delivery driver, and the other applicant would be a person who has some experience repairing TVs and VCRs. Based on the experiences of so many alarm industry hiring managers, here's what would happen at that point. Neither of them would show up for the scheduled interview, and if they did show up, they wouldn't pass the drug test nor would their driving records be conducive to even considering them.

There is no argument that many of us have no choice other than to do whatever we can to address the immediate need. Regrettably, with little attention, we're closing our eyes to the future need and the problem is going to go on and on indefinitely. Unless we get proactive about recruiting new trainees today, the lack of qualified technicians is going to continue to escalate.

Creating Solutions

Finding new recruits is a time consuming and agonizing task. Most of us are extremely busy and are really not very creative when it comes to looking at the future. It's easy to try the same things over and over with little success. I wish I had a dime for everyone who told me they're using Monster.com for this purpose. While the online job hunting services may provide a few success stories, it will not solve the problem for the future. So what can we do?

One suggestion is that we take a lesson from the military. In every single city throughout this country various organizations sponsor job fairs. Organizations like the U.S. military use the job fairs, because, like our industry, they are in constant need of new hires. Every single high school and college campus does a job fair type of event. Trade schools and junior colleges have several during the year. Your company can capitalize upon these jobs fairs. Consider designating someone from your company to set up a table and actively pursue these events with the objective of revitalizing our industry with some energetic new blood.

Then take another lesson from the military. Did you know that, in some cases, the federal government offers financial assistance to companies who hire and train newly returning vets? Have you ever looked into this? Many of these heroes make hard-working, long-term loyal employees. I have worked with several over the years who became some of the best technicians we ever had.

Look at the layoffs. Large corporations who are forced to lay off numbers of people also provide financial assistance to help retrain and employee these separated workers. All of them can be found at job fairs.

Today, kids flipping hamburgers can make $12 per hour (yes, it's shocking, considering where most of us started), but they garner no skills and they certainly don't receive any tangible benefits. The security industry provides young people with an opportunity to earn both.

I have had the privilege to present some motivational seminars at a number of job fairs; my goal was to inspire and encourage young people to create hope for their future. Many of them could not find meaningful work up until then for lack of experience. But to this day, with the exception of only one alarm company, I have yet to see our industry participate in any noticeable manner at these types of job fairs. By the way, the one dealer there had a nice stack of applications and a line of a half dozen or so interested people waiting to speak with them.

Looking Back

When I got into this business, I was only a kid. It was a summer job between 10th and 11th grades which I took because I wanted to buy my first car. It was hard to find a job having no experience, until one old man was willing to hire me for $1.50 per hour to help him crawl and pull wires installing alarm systems and intercoms. I had no intention of doing it for a career, yet these 30 "some odd" years later, here I am.

He taught me a skill I was able to use for gainful employment my entire life. I was never once out of work, nor did I have to look very far to get a new job when I wanted to make a move. In all those years, I have worked for a total of only four employers. The reason was that someone took the time and effort to teach me a skill that was in demand.

Let's face it, some recruits will work out and others won't. Some will stay and some will go, but just like alarm sales, it's a numbers game. If you make the time and the investment to try this and other creative methods, and if you make employment in the security sales industry attractive and inviting, there is no doubt we will secure the future of our industry and provide ourselves individually with a new generation of fresh, smart, and energetic lead installers and service techs.

There are many passionate young people eager to work hard and to get paid to learn a tangible skill. Up until now we have sadly missed the boat and are paying brutal consequences for our apathy. For the short term we have no choice other than to put a bandage on the problem, but the problem will only intensify (history is proof) if we do not get proactive and creative to look today for tomorrow's solutions.

The goal is to provide each of your installers and service techs with a trainee/helper. If you can, the benefits will far outweigh the cost. Frankly, many of them will not make it, but we must intentionally, creatively and strategically plan ways to guarantee that new recruits will be waiting in the background and ready to step in. In the end the numbers will work out in your favor and we will provide ourselves with a new generation of experienced technicians.

Please don't use the excuse of thinking that you will invest in training for someone who will just jump ship to work for a competitor who might pay more. How much are you spending now in terms of upset customers who can't get service? How much money are you losing by not being able to sell systems because you can't get to an installation quickly enough? Bad will with a customer is a hard thing to overcome.

If you take care of the trainees and teach them a skill with positive reinforcement, then you'll be surprised how many of them will stay with you. It's up to you to solve this problem for the long term. Unless you get proactive and focus significant energy to intentionally do so, this problem will escalate indefinitely. What other creative ways can you think of to solve this crisis? What successful things have you already done to bring in the new recruits and look toward the future? Let me know and I'll be happy to share your ideas in a future article.

About the author: Bob Harris is managing director for The Attrition Busters. With over 30 years in the alarm industry, he provides seminars, business consulting, and workshops to help great companies become even better. Bob can be reached at (818) 730-4690 or by email at [email protected]. Learn more about The Attrition Busters at www.attritionbusters.com.