5 Ways to Build the Best Plumbing Team

Define your perfect employee, look for character over skills, and take an interest in their development.
5 Ways to Build the Best Plumbing Team
▲ Talented, experienced plumbers are becoming harder to find. There are many benefits to creating an apprenticeship program in your company, but the most relevant is that you are creating your own talent pool.

The statistical doom and gloom of the plumbing industry’s labor market isn’t just theoretical. Many areas of the country, and the world, are beginning to feel the pain. Talented, experienced plumbers are becoming harder to find.

And here you are, not wanting to just build a team, but build the best team. It’s easy to feel like there is nothing you as an owner or operator can do to change the situation. But really, this is just one more opportunity for you to take the lead.

With some planning and forward thinking, you can still set the stage for hiring success. Here are my best tips for building an awesome team:

1. Define your perfect employee

Before you build an ad or interview your first candidate, it is important to have a clear picture in your head of what a “good” employee means to you. We all love experience, reliability and hard work. Now go deeper. What kind of energy do you want them to bring to the table? Steady and even-tempered, or fast and outgoing?

Skill sets are important as well. Experience is only helpful if it is the right kind. Go into an interview conversation with a punch-list of the non-negotiable skills versus what you are willing to teach. Literally write out a description of what this employee would look like on paper.

Then talk yourself off the ledge and remember that people are messy. Chances are, you aren’t going to get the perfect package, but you can get close. When pressed on where to back down, look for character over skills. You can teach skills, you can’t teach things like ethics, loyalty and disposition.

2. Be a talent magnet

The easiest way to attract incredible talent is to be the place everyone wants to work for. We all know that supply houses are as good as hen houses. Word gets around. If your benefits and culture are the best in your market, you’ll have talented plumbers knocking on your door.

Notice that money wasn’t on that list. Resist the urge to play the compensation game. You know what you can afford to pay your employees, and most likely it is comparable to others in the area.

There are plenty of ways — other than money — to motivate employees. Make work a place they want to go. Have fun every once in awhile. Take an interest in their professional development. After all, that is a win-win. These things sound simple, but most companies don’t do them.

3. Plan ahead

The worst time to look for a new employee is when you need a new employee. You want to start looking about six months ahead of when you expect to need another truck on the road. If that sounds like way too long, take into consideration the process. It takes time to get the word out, review resumes, conduct interviews, do the hiring paperwork, wait for them to work out a notice, and train them. Even experienced plumbers need time to be trained to your processes — and earn your trust. Throwing them in a truck immediately because you waited too long is unfair to them and a recipe for failure.

Knowing where your company is going to be in six months will take planning. You should be doing this for all areas of your business, not just HR. Take into consideration the changing dynamics of your unique market, past growth patterns, and your goals for the company. Write these out and then consider how they are going to affect every area of your business, from equipment to marketing to personnel. It is a good idea to have strategic plans for various timelines up to five years out.

4. Don’t jump the gun

Hire slow, fire fast — you may have heard this before. This is where that planning comes in handy, because you can afford to wait for the right person to come along. Before you make an offer to a candidate, do a gut check. Ask yourself if it feels right and try to imagine that person working on your team. Don’t ignore that voice in your head that isn’t sure.

Unless you do ... and hire them anyway. We all ignore our gut sometimes. We go out on a limb. That’s OK — you had your reasons. Anyone can tell you they are a good plumber. Skill will speak for itself in short order. If you find yourself with a dud, cut them loose the second you realize that a mistake was made.

If you genuinely care about your employees, cutting even a new employee loose will be emotionally difficult. Firing someone is never easy. But, one rotten apple spoils the whole barrel. Hurt feelings are not a good enough reason to risk your reputation. Your team and your business will be healthier for living with this philosophy.

5. Train the future

The current talent shortage is only going to get worse over the next dozen years. This is a long-term systemic issue we are dealing with. The tactics above can help you improve your chances in the current market, but the best defense is always a good offense.

There are many benefits to creating an apprenticeship program in your company, but the most relevant is that you are creating your own talent pool. This is an investment and a true long-term strategy with long-term benefits.

If you are interested in learning more about how an apprenticeship program can help your business now and in the future, join us at the WWETT Show on Friday, Feb. 19, where I’ll be speaking on Plumbers vs. Technicians: The Slow Decline of the Tradesman. The session will cover information about the tax benefits and government assistance available for companies with an apprenticeship program and how companies can leverage their programs in marketing efforts.


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