Without the right talent, you just can’t run an exceptional business in the skilled trades. Your growth depends on it. The thing about talent is that it cuts both ways. If you hire well, but your team isn’t fulfilled by the work, it will eventually impact quality and client satisfaction. If you don’t hire well, you run the risk of building a team without the right skills and that will cost you customers and revenue.
Either way, you’re putting your business on the line with how you hire full-time and part-time employees. It’s the ultimate balancing act for business owners. Attracting skilled technicians while keeping your team and clients satisfied is no easy feat. You’re often left wading through piles of resumes, spending valuable time on applicants that just don’t have the desired skills.
Fortunately, trade business owners have a proven recruiting strategy to control the flow of applicants and zero in on top talent. We’ve pulled together 10 proven ways to attract and hire the right talent pool. Take a look:
How to find and hire top trade talent
1. Get specific on what you need
If you’re not clear on the skills you need in your next team member, expect the applicant pool to be a bit messy. Don’t just toss everything into the skilled trades job description, expecting a unicorn employee to pop up. The likelihood that you’ll find someone who is good at everything is pretty slim. Instead, focus on precisely the skills your team needs and hire for that.
As much as possible, give applicants an idea about “A Day in the Life” of someone in that role you’re hiring for. Let potential employees know exactly who they’ll be working with and how the team functions as a whole.If you’re replacing someone, reflect on what you learned from that departing employee’s time in the role and embed that in the job description.If you put some time and intention into evolving the role and growing your business as you do, getting this specific will make all the difference at the outset of the hiring and staffing process.
2. Check those technical skills first
As a company in the skilled trades, you must have a minimum floor for technical skills. While certification from trade schools and on-the-job training are important parts of the profession to a certain extent, most of the people you hire will need to bring a certain level of know-how or years of experience with them. You simply won’t always have the capacity to train new people and sometimes you’ll need a technician's skill set on day one.
Whatever your minimum technical qualifications are (and they can vary from role to role), test for them as part of the hiring process. Get this out of the way early so you’re not wasting time courting applicants lacking the basic skills.
3. Look for specific mindsets and a willingness to learn
There’s more than just technical skills. Every business owner knows this when it comes to their team. Sometimes they’re called “soft skills,” which is ironic because they can be very hard to find during the recruiting process. But once you’ve tested for hard skills, whether through interviewing or other assessments, you should determine each candidate’s relative level of emotional intelligence and personality fit. After all, they’ll likely be dealing directly with customers and representing your brand out there in the world.
Soft skills like having a customer service mindset and being on time will matter to your customers and they should be considered in your hiring process. Contrary to conventional wisdom, there are a number of personality assessment tests that make it easier to test for soft skills and understand where applicants are coming from in this regard. Doing this early in the hiring process saves time and resources down the line merely because it’s easier to teach technical skills than nurture social-emotional ones in an adult.
4. Leverage your network for referrals first
To find qualifying job seekers, start with word of mouth. This means trusting that you’ve got the right networks to fill the role with the best person before you even make a public post. You’ve got relationships with other trade business owners and professional organizations that you can leverage here. Your employees will like that you’re asking them to take part in recruitment, especially when it comes to people they know and trust in the profession.
Once you’ve exhausted those personal and professional networks, be selective about where you post the opening. Think through the channels most likely to give you the highest quality applicants. Sites like Trade Academy use algorithms to match potential applicants with employers based on available data, so that both parties get better results. Posting somewhere like Craigslist would certainly cast a wider net and could be good for more localized outreach, but might water down quality given the nature of the platform.
5. Keep the process simple
The reality is that you’ll get less-than-stellar applications no matter how difficult you make the application process. Assuming you’ve set up the right first few steps to narrow the pool, make the process from there (and overall) easy and straightforward for applicants. No new job listings on websites that are hard to find. Avoid laborious signup processes where applicants have to register and login into a new system. Leave requests for more information until the interview phase when you’re more certain if you’ll need it.
Put simply, if you make even the most skilled technician jump through too many unnecessary hoops in a cumbersome hiring process, you’ll lose out on the potential right candidate.
6. Check those references
If you’re seriously considering an applicant, talk to multiple people who have worked with them before. It’s one of the best ways to get a complete picture of their past work performance and character. Don’t be afraid to drill down into how they function on a team, their perceived work ethic, actual results from their previous work, and other tough questions.We’re certain you’ll learn a lot and be glad you made those calls.
7. For the right applicant, go the extra mile
You’ve stepped through a rigorous interview process and found your qualified candidates. Now it’s time to bring them onto the team but your initial offer wasn’t enough. In a moment like this, don’t be shy about rolling out the incentives and perks. Obviously taking into account your company’s unique situation, include things like a higher wage, relocation assistance, and a sweeter benefits package (like more paid time off). Remember the best candidates will likely have offers on the table from multiple companies so you’ll want to make yours as competitive as possible.
8. Hire slowly
As the old adage goes, “Fire fast, hire slow.” Once you’ve got the top candidate to agree to an employment package, give them time to learn the role and prove themselves. Don’t think of onboarding as a one or two-day event where you hand them an employee handbook and consider them a full-fledged team member. Set a trial period (anywhere from 30 to 90 days) with crystal clear expectations about what both parties (the new employee and the company) should accomplish in that time. Make sure job shadowing and training are mixed into their onboarding plan even as their responsibilities grow. Be upfront about what happens if the new hire doesn’t perform on certain parts of their assessment during this trial period.
This is their chance to show what they’ve got. If you end up having to let the person go, having a trial period (and documenting it well) makes that unfortunate event much easier. More importantly, though, the trial period should be framed as an opportunity to learn and show existing skills rather than a high-stakes test early on.
9. Onboard with the team in mind
Onboarding isn’t just about one person. It’s about the whole team.When you add a new team member, you’ve changed the entire workplace. Take the time to acknowledge that in word and practice with your employees. Help them adjust to integrating a new employee into their workflows and team culture. Assist the new employee in understanding how things work in your company beyond the formal structures and technical realities of their industry.
If you need to, create new processes that reflect how things have changed. At some points, teams get too big and complex to operate in the ways that made them successful in the past. If you feel like you’ve reached that threshold after a new hire, act accordingly and shake things up so the team can optimize for its growth. That’s your role as the owner, keeping the big picture in perspective while empowering your team to do their best work together.
10. Keep recruiting
The best way to recruit well is to never really stop. In other words, hiring isn’t just about when you suddenly need a new team member. The top talent isn’t running on your personal recruitment calendar. That means you’ll need to stay vigilant about where talent is in the industry market and pursue, even if it’s not precisely the right time for your company in some cases.
At the very least, you want to maintain ongoing recruitment efforts so you can stay top of mind for potential candidates that are out there. Make it your goal to be their “next choice” for when they finally make the jump and start looking for a new place of employment. You can accomplish this through the social media content about your company that you share on your website, hosting networking events for your team and local talent, and doing follow ups with the top talent that you keep in touch with regularly.
Finding and hiring top talent in the trades is an ongoing process
Taking the steps outlined above will help you put more intentionality and focus into your recruitment process. As the market for technician talent gets tighter, the businesses that will successfully recruit the best applicants are those willing to form a recruitment strategy to reach skilled technicians where they are and onboard them onto high-performing teams. Don’t forget, your current employee training and retention are also important.
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