With cooling season winding down and the depths of heating season still a few months away, now might be as good a time as any to consider what your company is doing to keep the ranks full.
Have you made a concerted effort at recruiting new employees in the past year? Could you use an extra technician or two? Maintaining a full crew is one of the biggest challenges that face mechanical contractors this decade.
The following is a story about one of the larger mechanical companies in the Southeast, and what they’ve done to ensure that they’re never shorthanded, regardless of the time of year.
There seem to be fewer family-owned mechanical companies every year, especially in the South, where fast AC service is king and competition is as fierce as anywhere in the country. For such a company to reach 275 employees while focusing solely on residential service and retrofit, is almost unheard-of.
But Charlotte, NC, is home to one of these rarities. After nearly six decades in business, Morris-Jenkins, Inc., is still owned and operated by the same dedicated family. They’ve grown with the city, through economic booms and turndowns. At each step, the company has thrived while navigating the challenges and pitfalls that inevitably rise in its path.
Above: Morris-Jenkins’ headquarters is located in Charlotte, North Carolina.
“We’re the largest mechanical firm in the Charlotte metro, and yet it feels the same as any family-owned business,” said Training Manager Brett Sumpter. “As an employee, or from the outside looking in, I think it’s obvious that we enjoy being a service provider. That interaction with the homeowner, and the appreciation they convey after a job well done is in large part why we’ve never branched into commercial work.”
Staying true to their values
Success has come by way of holding true to their own moral compass, providing the best service possible, and creating solutions to each obstacle they encounter along the way. The bigger the challenge, the more comprehensive their answer.
“Keeping pace with evolving, sophisticated equipment is a constant game of cat and mouse, but continuous employee training does the trick,” said Sumpter. “The real struggle is maintaining our workforce, and I think every contractor across the country would agree.”
Above: A Morris-Jenkin technician reads about air conditioners, heat pumps, and furnaces to stay educated and to help teach their customers.
The skilled labor shortage is real. Recruiting dependable, able-bodied employees who are eager to learn is no small task. Trained technicians are worth their weight in gold, and keeping them on staff can become a bidding war with competitive companies.
Morris Jenkins has 100 service techs, 30 installers and 30 plumbers. For a company that size, even with a low turnover rate, keeping the trucks full takes more than passively accepting the best applications. The company continues to grow, and each passing year brings more retirees. Luckily, owners and managers at Morris Jenkins identified this challenge early, and in 2012, decided to be proactive… very proactive.
HVAC Tech Builder Program
“Morris Jenkins University is a unique program we developed in 2011,” explained Sumpter. “It’s an intensive training course that takes a new employee from ‘green to service tech’ in nine weeks. After that, they’re off in a service van, under supervision for as long as needed, but no longer.”
This “Tech Builder” program includes lab time, classroom instruction and plenty of ride-alongs. Typically, 30 techs graduate from Morris Jenkins University every year. Participants of all ages and walks of life have since joined the company’s ranks.
Above: A plaque is dedicated to the Morris-Jenkins University graduates for the class of August 2018.
“Not everyone that starts the program finishes it, and they’re all aware of that upfront,” said Sumpter. “We look for candidates who share our core values, especially our passion for service. Honesty, integrity, fairness and respect are attributes they must have. If participants possess these things, the soft skills so to speak, along with some level of mechanical aptitude and the desire to learn, we can make them into a great tech.”
Since implementing the program, the company hasn’t had any major workforce challenges. But a steady influx of new techs means that the sales force has had to create the work to sustain it. Luckily for their newest employees, Morris Jenkins has created solutions for that challenge, too. The company continues to grow, and according to Morris Jenkins, it’s because they’ve adhered closely to the founder’s vision.
“We stick to residential because we love to give solutions to homeowners and see the feedback that results,” said Sumpter. “That desire, and the commitment to quality and value has brought us this far. When I look forward to the decades ahead, with a growing community and evolving technology, the possibilities are exciting.”