The days when a business owner could place a “help wanted” ad in the local newspaper and secure a bunch of applicants are long gone. In fact, adults ages 18-34 (the dreaded millennials) don’t even visit news websites, read print newspapers or watch television news, according to a study by the American Press Institute. This generation, instead, spends more time on social networks, often on mobile devices.

In today’s world, companies have to get creative in their recruitment efforts. For example, I’ve seen local businesses advertise with quirky 15 to 30 second commercials during the previews at our hometown movie theater. The commercials highlight current employees and encourage applicants to apply on their website.

I’ve also heard stories from business owners who have printed special “We’re hiring” business cards to hand out. They pass them out to employees and encourage them to hand one over whenever the employees encounter someone doing a fantastic job, whether it be in the industry or not. Other ideas I’ve come across include holding National Hiring Day initiatives like some of the big brand name businesses, holding open house style events with speed dating style interviews or encouraging employees to advertise open positions on their social media channels, which is genius if you really think about it. Consider Facebook, many of us have a few hundred friends and perhaps even more follows on other social networks, such as Twitter and Instagram.

Todd Kiefer, general manager and owner of Tiger Plumbing, Heating, Air Conditioning & Electrical Services, Collinsville, Illinois, discussed this exact topic during his keynote at ServiceTitan’s Pantheon 2019 conference last month in Pasadena, California.

Kiefer’s presentation encouraged attendees to recruit like a start-up by learning how to tweak hiring messages and collateral to attract the types of new and veteran techs to contribute to the growth of the company.

“Greatness makes for unexpected,” Kiefer said. “When a local technical college closed a few months back, I reached out to the news saying I would interview anybody with a background in electrical, heating, air conditioning or plumbing, and within an hour, they called me back and put me on air. We got a lot of applicants and even hired a few. The point is don’t wait for a local technical college to close to reach out to the news to scoop up the best and brightest. The point is to pay attention to opportunities to recruit in unconventional ways that open up in front of you.”

Recruiting is not the only problem facing the trades. Retaining employees is just as important, and something Tiger was having difficulties with in its plumbing division, Kiefer noted.

“We were hiring fresh recruits — anybody who wanted to do plumbing — which, there weren’t many,” he said. “We were losing them after a few weeks or months. We knew we needed to change the way we handle new recruits. So we started Tiger Training Academy, three to four week course where new technicians learn how to install our top 10 jobs, how to run a service call and how to use a tablet and ServiceTitan. It changed everything.

“We believe in giving technicians a solid path to success and making them feel like part of a team, but it wasn’t until we implemented the academy that we really lived that part of our culture,” Kiefer continued. “Once techs graduate from the academy, they are billable team members who know our expectations and have the tools and to exceed them. Our retention rate for plumbing increased by 28%. Employees now talk to their friends about how awesome our training program is, which means our talent pool is getting bigger. Our training academy has also proved to be a valuable recruiting tool.”

Now, a training academy may not be a solution for everyone — something Kiefer acknowledged during his time on stage. In fact, Kiefer didn’t think it was the solution to his problem at first either. His point was to listen to employees and find out what the problem is, then come up with the solution to solve that problem.