For HVAC Techs, Attitude, Appearance as Important as Aptitude

The sheet metal industry provides a great opportunity for career development and job stability, but not everyone is suited to every job. Service technicians require certain skills to really excel in their roles.

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Contractors agree: A technician’s truck, tools, clothing and personal appearance should be neat, clean and professional at all times.

The sheet metal industry provides a great opportunity for career development and job stability, but not everyone is suited to every job. Service technicians require certain skills to really excel in their roles.

Bill Eustace, president and CEO of Colorado’s Heating & Plumbing Engineers, Inc., believes the foundation for a good service tech is mechanical skill and good troubleshooting ability. Hector Vargas, president of ACH Mechanical in California, notes that a technician needs not only to be qualified, but also must “have experience and knowledge of the industry or the tasks that he’s contracted or employed to do.”

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An ACH Mechanical technician performs quarterly routine maintenance and check-out of water-cooled chillers at a computer technology facility.

Meanwhile, Tony Costa, president of Par Sheet Metal in New Jersey, notes that the best technicians are “always striving to gain more knowledge, because the equipment and the technology are ever-evolving.” Peter Jordan, executive vice president of Corval Group in St. Paul, Minn., agrees. “They’ve got to understand mechanical systems and equipment. That’s just the aptitude side of it.”

However, Jordan believes that “attitude trumps aptitude.” “They’ve got to have the team ability, knowing that they’re just one member on a squad, and no member is bigger than another member. You’ve got to work as a unit.” He also emphasizes the importance of integrity, which can be determined by his litmus test, “What are you doing when nobody‘s watching you?”

Jim Frees, HVAC superintendent at Holmberg Mechanical in Washington State, also believes that attitude plays a large role. He reminds his employees, “You’re in charge of your attitude. Attitude’s going to determine whether you want to stay employed here and part of this team.”

Costa also emphasizes the importance of pride in your work and ensuring your work is ship-shape. “When you come to a job site, you have to be very neat. You can’t leave a mess because that leaves a very bad impression on the customer.”

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A technician makes service repairs to a roof top Air Handling Unit on a residential building (AHU).

He believes it’s possible to tell how organized a technician is by the appearance of their work vehicle. “If you keep a neat, organized work van, you generally are that (organized) type of a person. I’ve never seen anybody who has a van that looks like it was turned upside down and yet is neat and organized on the job. Both go hand in hand.”

Frees has noticed that organized service technicians seem to “have everything in a basket. They methodically think through things, which helps them to be better problem solvers.”

Eustace notes that neatness and organization extend to paperwork. “Service is a business, and the paperwork is an essential part of keeping track of the job, and the billing and getting paid. So, no paperwork means no making money, ultimately. And it adds work for other people because they ‘re trying to chase the person down and get them to do the job that they should have been doing already.”

Vargas believes that neatness in appearance counts as well. “You want to make sure that when your technician shows up, they’re presentable, they’re dressed properly, they’re clean, their hair is combed, and they don’t look like they just woke up. It’s image. I look at it as an extension of me and my company and my values. I want to make sure the techs represent the same appearance and values that we do in the front office.”

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Holmberg Mechanical employees gather for an onsite safety meeting prior to beginning work. Employees install and maintain a wide variety of climate control systems.

Good service techs also have strong customer service skills. Costa points out, “A bad tech can do a lot of damage to your business and a good tech can really increase sales and help your business.” Vargas notes that it’s not just about the first call. “It’s repeat business. And if you maintain that customer — happy and informed — and communicate effectively with him, not only is he going to call you back for future business, but he may refer you to other friends and colleagues.”

Part of customer service is communication, but not just talking. Jordan tells his team, “Listen first. You can ask a question for sure, but then listen — truly listen — to the answer that they’re giving you, because they’re giving you a lot of signs in that answer of what they know, what they don’t know, and what they’re looking for.”

Eustace is realistic about the challenges of finding well-rounded service techs. “You find people that have some of the skills, but then not the rest of them. Some people are really technically gifted, but you couldn’t leave them alone with a client because they would say something that would get themselves or somebody in trouble. Finding a really good service tech is just a unique blend” of customer service and technical know-how.

Heating & Plumbing Engineers, Inc »
ACH Mechanical »
Nasco, Inc. / Par Sheet Metal »
Corval Group »
Holmberg Mechanical »