How Employers in MEP, HVAC, and Other Building Trades Can Support Staff Career Development
A common interview question we ask prospective employees is ‘Where do you see yourself in 5 years?'”. As employers, we like to hire people who have a clear plan – that shows initiative and commitment to career development. But, we need to provide an environment where these motivated employees can achieve their career goals. We need to help them get to where they want to be in 5 years. When a company is committed to employee career development, it becomes easier to attract the best employees.
At the end of the interview, we typically ask if a candidate has any questions for us. Often we get some variation of the question, “Is there room for growth?”. And it seems that in today’s professional climate, career growth and company culture are just as important to candidates as salary and title. It really helps the hiring process if your firm has a well-defined process for career development. Having a reputation for caring about career development also helps you attract top talent.
In this post, we’ll discuss the ways in which employers in MEP, HVAC, and other building trades can provide career development support through a set of best practices we have observed over many years in the industry. These ideas have been developed after listening to feedback from hundreds of job candidates.
As we mentioned in our last post, HVAC and MEP technology is ever-evolving, and recently, it seems like at a faster pace than ever before. With rapid changes in technology and equipment, your employees’ skills can quickly become outdated. In this industry, staying up-to-date with the ‘latest and greatest’ is necessary to stay competitive in the marketplace. You’ll find yourself losing business if your employees do not continue to receive education and earn certifications.
For a variety of reasons, employees seldom pursue education or certification on their own. They like to have employer-sponsored programs to take advantage of. Partly, this is a cost issue. Employees find it difficult to allocate their own funds to pay for this necessary training.
You may find that your employees resist signing up for courses or training for a variety of reasons, but, the main reason we see is that employees do not want or can’t afford to take on the financial burden of paying for these expensive courses.
As an employer, it is often in your best interest to partially or completely pay for continuing education. The added cost for your company is tax-deductible. More importantly, having well trained and certified employees provides a competitive advantage. In addition, when one employee learns a new skill, they usually end up teaching their colleagues when they work on teams together. Furthermore, employees appreciate financial support for their career development, and it builds loyalty to your company and reduces turnover.
In addition, do not make the mistake of charging employees PTO (paid time off) for enrolling in career development courses. This breeds resentment and diminishes the loyalty benefits your company receives by sponsoring education. We suggested that you sit down with the finance department to determine what your company can afford in terms of PTO and training costs. Put together a program that your business can afford and that your employees will appreciate.
As an alternative to outside training, you can bring an expert in-house to provide on-site instruction. By doing so, you eliminate the need for employees to take an extended period of time off and can even hold cross-departmental sessions to expand the reach of the class. As an added bonus, your employees will be able to work in a collaborative environment and can hopefully use this time to connect with their team members and other employees they may not interact with on a daily basis. This is also a good opportunity for company executives to sit in on training so they can get a better understanding of the latest technology and equipment that their customers and employees are working with.
Be Transparent With New Opportunities Within Your Organization
There are many advantages to hiring within and we sometimes find that the best candidates for a new role are the ones you source internally. First off, internal candidates are already known to be a good cultural fit. That eliminates one of the biggest risks of any new hire. Your existing employees who are doing well are already fully invested in your company culture and success. Secondly, when your staff observes that your company promotes from within, they appreciate the opportunities being provided and reciprocate with loyalty. This improves retention and reduces turnover. Be sure to get the most benefit from this goodwill by advertising open positions internally and encouraging qualified employees to apply.
Taking this a step further, it is good to present new opportunities for your current employees first, before you start an external search. This shows that your company cares about its people and takes its commitment to career development seriously. One way to do this is with a company-wide job board. When new positions become available on the job board, send out a company email to advertise the opportunity internally.
An internal job board is also a great way to keep your best talent. Sometimes employees find themselves stagnating in a role and start looking for opportunities outside of your company. If you have an internal job board, they can also look there, and your management team will be alerted that they are looking for a new challenge. Smart companies take advantage of this opportunity to have a conversation with the employee to learn about their career plans and put together a program that meets the employee’s development needs internally. Make sure that management does not discourage employees from looking around internally, but actually encourages that behavior. When employees know that they are free to look around internally, they feel supported and are less likely to look outside your company for their next opportunity.
Create a Mentorship Program
As we mentioned earlier, technology in the building trade niches like MEP and HVAC is rapidly changing. By developing a program within your organization that pairs employees with a mentor, you can foster knowledge sharing across generations. A younger employee, fresh out of school or an apprentice program, may have some cutting-edge technical skills, whereas a more experienced employee who acts as a mentor will know industry tricks of the trade understand what it takes to make a project successful. By pairing these two individuals, it’s possible that the mentor and the mentee can both learn something from one another. It also helps to build relationships among your employees and gives people a way to connect and bond through hands-on experience. As anyone who’s had a first day’ knows, it can be uncomfortable to enter a new environment. A mentorship program can offer a sense of comfort for new or current employees making the transition to a new role. They will know that there is a person who can help show them the ropes’ and support them throughout the sometimes nerve-wracking process of learning a new job.
Usually, employees are anxious around review time, because dread meeting with management to hear about all the ways they can improve. But ideally, a company should be providing honest feedback to employees on a regular basis, not only during the review. Each employee should have a development plan, and the review should be spent talking about how well the development plan is working. Time should also be allocated for allowing the employee to provide feedback and suggestions for improving the company.
Sometimes, employees may be hesitant to speak openly in front of their superior, so we suggest using a service like the Engagement Multiplier. Services like this allow your employees to give anonymous feedback to upper management without the awkwardness. This can be a great tool for any organization because it gives your employees a voice, without them feeling uncomfortable.
We also suggest changing from annual reviews to quarterly or at least bi-annual to allow for increased communication and facetime with your employees. By doing so, you lessen the pressure of an annual review and help your employees develop faster by offering guidance on a continual basis versus once a year. More frequent reviews give a struggling employee additional opportunities to ask for help and receive constructive feedback. They also give you, as an employer, a better understanding of whether or not the employee is making an effort to succeed, whether or they are a good fit, or whether they need to be moved to another department. No matter whether a review is a celebration of achievement, or a chance to get back on track, honest and open communication between manager and employee is important for career development.
Over the years we’ve seen many employees leave organizations because they could not see a growth path or find any opportunities for advancement. Oftentimes, these are good employees who, with a little more guidance and investment, could have been very successful and been promoted. Hiring and attracting top talent is a time-consuming and costly venture, so, by taking the right steps to invest in your employees’ development and growth, you will save money on recruiting and keep your best people. At HVACExec.com, we understand both perspectives and can offer guidance, support, and insight into developing such programs for your firm.
Your goal, when you ask prospective candidates the question “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”, should be to get the answer “here”. Develop a culture and reputation for career development, that helps you keep your best employees around for the long term.
If you are thinking through these issues and how your company can best support career development, we would be happy to help. Click the link below to book a meeting with us to discuss more.