By Martin D. Kirshner, CPA, MSA, Gray, Gray & Gray, LLP
Ask any energy company owner about the biggest challenge they face, and the reply will likely be the difficulty of finding qualified workers to fill open positions. This growing disparity between the number of available jobs and the number of skilled workers is a continuing problem that can hamper a company’s growth.
Need proof? Customer demands during the extended cold snap we experienced this past January put a severe strain on human resources at oil and propane companies across the Northeast. Owners and senior managers were forced to pitch in by driving delivery trucks or making service calls. This is just a preview of what energy businesses will face as veteran employees retire.
Many of the energy companies we work with are heavy on “experienced” workers nearing retirement age after decades of service. In many cases, these long-tenured employees have effectively shut out the generation of workers immediately following. This has created a chasm between older employees and younger, entry-level workers. This is compounded by the difficulty in attracting younger workers who view the industry as gritty and grimy, and would prefer a high-tech office job to working on a truck.
So long as the economy remains strong and unemployment low, all employers will be forced to be more aggressive in their recruitment strategies in order to stand out to applicants and convince them that theirs would be a good place to work. What are companies doing to successfully overcome this challenge?
The first step is to focus on employee retention. It is easier to keep someone who is already part of your business than to find and train a new worker. Offering competitive wages and benefits and investing in training are helpful in retaining current employees. However, it is not always all about money, especially for younger workers. Having a clear career path, getting people involved in the company beyond their primary job,
and helping them with personal improvement are all important ways to show employees how much they are valued. This is especially critical for millennials, who seek validation as much as a paycheck.
Internal recruitment can also be a cost-effective approach. This may be through the promotion of current employees into more responsible positions, or by introducing an employee referral incentive program. Job openings should be advertised throughout your organization. Not only are these methods low-cost, but an internal hire also helps to avoid the expense of onboarding a new employee.
Warning: retention and internal recruitment strategies may not be enough to consistently produce the number or quality of personnel needed. An organization needs to recruit from external sources, as well. Some energy companies still rely on traditional methods, such as classified ads and local job fairs. But desperate managers and executives are increasingly willing to try different ways of finding and hiring employees.
Nontraditional strategies include using tools like billboards, cold calls, reaching out to former employees, internship programs, internet searches, “poaching” employees from other businesses, contracting professional recruiters, creating multimedia ads, and reviewing previously overlooked or rejected applications. One Boston-area oil dealer has created a classroom in his office to enhance training of new hires and invites local vocational school students to get a sense of the industry by spending a day observing drivers and technicians.
Social media is another important way to target web-savvy millennials who are increasingly filling the country’s work force. Facebook, Instagram, and online job sites like Indeed.com should be part of your plan. It goes without saying that every energy company should have a “careers” section on their website to make applying for a job easier.
We can also learn from other industries. An innovative recruitment program in the automotive repair business is generating a great deal of interest.
A longtime owner of a vehicle repair shop in Massachusetts is convinced of the value of internships and apprenticeships. He regularly hires two interns for six-month trial periods – they get to check out the business while he evaluates their potential more deeply than any single interview could accomplish. What’s unusual about the program is that the shop owner also provides free lodging for the interns during their trial period, purchasing a house near his shop for this purpose. This takes a lot of financial pressure off the young workers and allows the shop owner to pay a lower wage during training. He sees it as a good investment.
Diversification is also helpful. We all know that adding “off season” services such as air conditioning, propane, septic work, or construction can help level out the peaks and valleys of a company’s revenue stream. But it also allows a company to keep good workers employed year-round – an important benefit. The change of pace that summer work provides can help keep an employee interested and engaged, while generating important income for the company.
The pressure to find and hire qualified workers will not ease anytime soon. Just as you market your company to attract new customers, so you must also market yourself to attract new employees. Make it a priority, funding the effort properly, and you will be much more likely to be rewarded with a motivated and loyal team member.
Martin Kirshner, CPA, MSA is a member of the Energy Practice Group at Gray, Gray & Gray Certified Public Accountants and specializes in accounting, tax, and consulting for energy company owners. You can reach Martin by calling (781) 407-0300 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.