Ever Wonder?

Ever Wonder?

In this week’s installment on Lifelong Learning, guest writer Mick Vaught challenges readers to truly assess our paradigms and pre-conceived ideas in “Ever Wonder?”

Ever wonder why we tend to remain in our comfort zone and never see a paradigm shift coming around the curve? 

One of my all-time favorite role models growing up was Stephen Covey and his book titled “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. In my opinion, this was his finest publication ever because it really changed my views on many things.  This book was a real game changer for me. Of the 7 habits he prescribed, habit number 5 “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”, was the most useful for me during my journey in the construction industry. I look back now at some of my biggest mistakes in dealing with what I thought was critical in problem solving, only to realize later that I did not understand the root cause of the various issues. 

A good example of what I’m talking about was my preconceived notion of how to correct the overwhelming problem of developing and retaining top notch service technicians. Like many well intended experts, I believed the best approach was to offer better wages and benefits than the competition with hopes that money would be the answer. What I didn’t understand was the critical needs of the service managers, technicians, and most importantly, customers. Over time, I gained a better understanding of the many issues and how to address these issues. Here are some of the initiatives I found to be most appropriate.  

Step 1:  Identify the scope of the current needs, and those in the next ten years.

  • Determine current utilization of techs based on OT and customer service response times.
  • Measure machine populations, aging of company rental fleet, trends of growth and new skills required. 
  • Determine and log the current CSA requirements and new product lines introduced or proposed for the future. 
  • Rank the current staff skill sets by determining specific strengths and weak areas and score each tech on an equal and consistent measure process. 
  • Chart the aging of current techs and estimate potential replacement cycles. 

Step 2:  Analyze the current mix of jobs, and skills required for the work. 

  • Determine % of Level 1 jobs currently being performed through work order analysis.  (Cleaning, Greasing, PM services.)
  • Determine % of Level 2 jobs requiring higher skill levels. (Inspections, Pre-deliveries, basic electrical and hydraulic repairs.)
  • Repeat same review of Level 3 jobs requiring troubleshooting, diagnostics, basic welding, major component R&I and exchange, equipment software usage and understanding. (Tech Tool, Matris, etc) This level will require factory and on-line training requirements for specific areas of knowledge. 
  • Finally, all Journeyman level jobs requiring unlimited skills to be able to perform all troubleshooting, diagnostics, major repairs, component rebuilds, welding, and complete knowledge of equipment software, fault code analysis, Tech. Tool, ,  etc. This level will require completion of all manufacturer online training modules, and attendance at numerous factory training programs. These techs should be targeted to customer jobs as a priority. 

Step 3: Rank the current service staff.

  • Create the same four tier tech classifications to match the service jobs and attempt to match the skills to the job.
    • Level 1 – Apprentice
    • Level 2 – Shop Technician *
    • Level 3 – Senior Technician *
    • Level 4 – Journeyman Technician, Shop / Field **

    *Requires supervisor sign off, and training requirements.

** Requires GM sign off and required training completion and testing. 

  • Pay levels are made consistent with Tech classifications, as an incentive to move up in classifications and knowledge. 

Step 4:  Recruitment

You now know the needs of what tech levels are required to meet the existing needs, as well as future requirements through business growth, changing technologies, retirements, and tech development and promotions. 

Recruiting Apprentices:

Today, tech school students are being drawn to the less “dirty” jobs upon graduation by trucking companies, HVAC companies, Major Rental companies, etc.  Recruitment has become very competitive and many companies start there in high school years by attending college job fairs. 

We need to be active in these recruitment sessions and offer significant incentives to draw the prospect to the construction industry.  The biggest obstacle facing a student after graduation from a tech school is the tuition debt they have incurred, and the expense of buying tools to start work. We will prepare incentives to address these two issues:

  • Tuition Reimbursement Program: 

The student would be reimbursed for his existing tuition debt over a period of employment as a technician with the company.  This four-year program would refund 25% of the student tuition expense every year, with 100% refunded after four years. It would be required that the student achieve a minimum of a Level 3 technician to qualify for 100% reimbursement. 

  • Tool allowance program:

The student would be given a basic tool set and toolbox to start his apprenticeship program. These tools would remain the property of the company until the employee has completed his Level 1 apprenticeship period and was elevated to Level 2, (Shop Tech). The tools would then become the property of the tech.  OR, an upfront $2500 tool bonus that would need to be paid back if the employee left in the first year. Further, a $1000 tool allowance will be given to the tech on an annual basis up to the Level 3 classification, and then receive the standard company tool allowance.  

Recruiting Senior and Journeyman Technicians:

The needs of these techs are different.  They are looking for job security, good pay, good benefits, a clean, safe workplace, nice field trucks, and more quality in the job.  To draw these potential techs to leave their current employment and join our team is more difficult, complicated, and costly. 

  • Address their concerns: 

Recruitment in regions where work opportunities are transitioning, can appeal to the job security concern. For example, the coal fields of KY and WV offer little job security at this time, and in the future. These techs are looking for what they are going to do going forward.  You can offer job security with the vibrant growing markets. You need to heavily advertise in all transitioning areas. 

  • Provide a safe, clean and modern workplace.  It is important that the facilities and shops be kept clean and updated, along with providing the tools necessary to do their jobs. Service trucks are very important to field technicians that view these vehicles as their homes on wheels. This is a very big consideration for a field tech to join your team from another company. 
  • Provide excellent training opportunities.  No tech wants to get to a job and not know what to do. Offering year-round training sessions online and at the manufacturer is a big draw for those who do not have it now. You need to market and sell that. 
  • Have specific guidelines in place to include relocation expenses, temporary housing, storage, and relocation assistance services, as required. 
  • Offer all techs an annual tool allowance, boot allowance, and specialized skills training, such as welding, MSHA certifications, etc. 


The company will need to have a structured, consistent approach to the recruit process that will provide for the needed demand in the years to come, and fill the vacancies created by tech aging and retirement.

Balancing the tech skill levels to the work difficulty levels is difficult, but provides the best profitability to the service department, and the best customer support to the end users. 

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