Strategies for Hiring and Retaining Skilled Technicians

It’s no secret that today’s utility fleets have encountered difficulty finding job candidates with the appropriate training, experience and technical skills. And not only that – once qualified candidates are hired, those workers can be wooed by other companies offering greater salary and benefits packages.

So, how can you find and keep the right candidates for your fleet job openings?

Those in the know recommend partnering with area technical schools and colleges to ensure the right skills are being taught – and the right candidates are being snapped up early. On the other end of the spectrum, they recommend providing current employees with training and career development opportunities to keep them engaged.

“There’s a lot of poaching going on, especially on the utility side,” said Jason Ball, who worked as both a heavy-duty mechanic and fleet manager before taking the helm of Utility Training Group (www.utilitytraininggroup.com) less than two years ago. Specialized on-the-job training – delivered by someone like Ball or an OEM representative – sweetens the pot by helping workers learn new skills, gain confidence and stay up to date on the latest technologies.

But it’s important, Ball said, to make sure those conducting the training have the right experience, in addition to good references.

Understand Values and Priorities
Matt Gilliland, director of transportation and facilities for Nebraska Public Power District, said he’s seen individual applicant priorities change over time. Understanding new priorities and values can help attract the right crew members.

Individuals are no longer just looking for job security, he said, or somewhere to stay for a long period of time. Instead, it’s more about how the job can contribute to life balance – and possibly even how the job can impact social issues important to the applicant. They often want a seat at the table, and desire to engage in teamwork and successes that go beyond their individual job descriptions.

“It’s important to communicate not only about the position you’re looking to hire them for, but also the direction of the company,” said Gilliland, who is scheduled to speak as part of a hiring and retention panel at the 2017 Utility Fleet Conference (www.utilityfleetconference.com) in early October. That might include, for example, the company’s values related to sustainability and global impact.

For utilities in particular, one of the biggest challenges in terms of hiring is that there’s a wide range of equipment and a broad skill set involved in fleet work, yet very few places where individuals can learn to specialize in that work. Gilliland and his team have found value – and employees – by serving on the advisory boards of area colleges.

Ball said if he were the one in the recruiting seat today, he’d be “advertising as many places as possible,” as well as keeping an eye out for quality workers at other companies who may be interested in new opportunities and willing to grow.

Another tactic, gleaned from other industries: Don’t forget social media. The channel increasingly is being used for professional as well as personal reasons. Entrepreneur, in a 2015 guest blog written by Joe Budzienski, Monster’s vice president of product and technology, reported that more than 60,000 jobs were being tweeted about each day on Twitter, and that the platform was being used by 40 percent of overall companies to recruit talent (see www.entrepreneur.com/article/245295). In addition, 54 percent of recruiters were using Facebook.

No matter how a person comes to the job – or the length of the efforts made to get them there – it is always possible that they’ll still leave in search of greener pastures. But you can’t think in terms of just training them for someone else, Gilliland said.

“If you hire the correct individual, there’s a higher likelihood that you’ll have a long-term relationship with them,” he said. “And if they do go on to another job, you can still understand that you were part of the investment that made them able to do so. That’s still money well spent because the profession itself is advanced.”

About the Author: Fiona Soltes is a longtime freelance writer based just outside Nashville, Tenn. Her regular clients represent a variety of sectors, including fleet, engineering, technology, logistics, business services, disaster preparedness and material handling. Prior to her freelance career, Soltes spent seven years as a staff writer for The Tennessean, a daily newspaper serving Nashville and the surrounding area.


Making the Grade with Technical School Recruiting
Ranken Technical College in St. Louis (www.ranken.edu) is one school that offers coursework including diesel repair technology and fleet management. But there are challenges; Dan Kania, Ranken’s dean of academic affairs, said that over time, fewer people have been applying for the field.

As a result, “Employers need to contact students well before they graduate to get them into the pipeline,” he said. “Companies who wait to recruit from graduating classes will find the students already employed with other companies.”

Utilities that want to build relationships with area colleges – and, therefore, put their hat in the ring early – can do so in a number of ways. Ranken, for example, conducts industry advisory board meetings twice a year.

“Attend the advisory board meetings, as well as Ranken’s monthly employer breakfasts, to become familiar with the college’s offerings,” he said. Utility fleet administrators also should attend open houses, he said, to present information to students and collect resumes.


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