As you approach the second month of this new year, you should analyze where you are, where you've been and especially where you want to go. I hope you can look back at some very proud progress you've made during the 20th century. You may have already been looking at some of the new challenges you will be facing in the upcoming 21st century. Because like the Y2K computer problem, you can also identify other business concerns that will need attention. Fortunately we still have most of 1999 to prepare for predictable challenges and opportunities like these:

    1.America has a severe craft shortage.

    • The majority of our skilled craftsmen and technicians are now at, or nearing, retirement age.

    • We are not attracting new employees into our antiquated apprenticeship programs.

    • Contractors are indulging in bidding wars, and head-hunters are relentlessly pursuing good employees.

    • Morale is very low and quality workmanship is rapidly deteriorating.

    • Contractors are overlooking discipline for fear of losing employees.

    • Projects are not being finished on schedule.

    Not a big surprise. But you should consider what a challenging profit-producing opportunity this provides. When you can attract, train and motivate a competitive workforce while none of your competitors can find or keep them, you will reap the benefits. Contractors with critical completion dates are no longer seeking low prices. They cannot afford any critical path sub that doesn't meet their schedules.

    2.Our economy is booming and interest rates are at an unbelievable low. There is more work than we can handle yet prices are not climbing.

    When labor is this hard to come by, why would you give it away so cheaply? Here again you will hear all of those worn out excuses about your competitors taking jobs too cheap. Don't you realize that is exactly what all of them are saying about you?

    Have you ever met a contractor who would not want to charge more, pay his or her employees more and still make more profit? Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Frank Blau says if you double your prices, you will not even lose 25 percent of your customers. When you can maintain a first-class workforce that satisfies your customers' needs, you will have no problem replacing those low-ballers with first-class customers.

    3.Maintaining what is already built and replacing or updating existing mechanical systems will require even more service techs.

    America's shortage of service techs should initiate some proactive in-company training:

  • Use vendor certification and VCR how-to-do-it tapes for after-hour training on your jobsites or in your fab shop.

  • Repair and rebuild worn or inoperable equipment.

  • Place helpers in a role reversal training mode in at least one-half of your service trucks.

  • Maintain active updating of each employee's progress in your skills inventory database.

    4.Unscrupulous attorneys have turned our industry into a costly nightmare.

    We all need to actively campaign against Americans electing attorneys to legislative and executive government offices. Our three-branch government system is supposed to consist of common citizens and business people in our legislature to make the laws. We should then elect capable executives to run that branch. Attorneys should only be used in the judicial branch to interpret the fairness of those laws under varying circumstances. We are miles off of that common sense track and paying very dearly for our stupidity.

    5.Government regulations, licensing, permitting and inspections are impregnating our industry with anti-profit-oriented bureaucrats.

We all need to back up 10 steps and look at what's happening to our industry. We have more tax-supported bureaucrats trying to stop us from getting a job completed than we have craftsmen struggling to do it. The saddest part of this dilemma is that we are inviting them to control our industry. Most contractors think those government agencies will stop the unlicensed and unscrupulous plumbers, but they are beginning to realize they only slow down the good ones. Those fly-by-nights never bother to apply for permits and they certainly don't call for inspections. This is definitely something that should be ending.With all of this in mind you need to decide - is this the beginning or the end? That choice is up to you. Possibly the best advice I could offer here is to be proactive rather than reactive.

You've all heard the excuses that there are no good employees looking for jobs. My rebuttal is quite sound. In every area of the United States, we have thousands of good qualified craftsmen and supervisors who are desperately looking for a better job. I can definitely help you provide that better job.

Even though 1999 is the end of this century, we are still in the beginning of the year. You have ample time left to analyze and counteract all of those predictable negatives, as well as proactively reinforce your team. Some of you may feel that all of this is beyond your control, however, when enough good people choose not to get involved the bad ones get total control. Each of you can definitely initiate proactive steps to control and counteract all of these challenges. Your participation in whatever trade association in which you are a member will multiply your voice and effort.

Throughout the rest of this century, all of my articles will concentrate on cost-conscious, team-building techniques. Most of my clients are already scheduling human relations training for their foremen to prevent any chance of abusing and losing good employees. They are also switching to flat rate pricing and piecework to fatten up paychecks. By far the most effective solution for recruiting and retaining good employees is flex-time. Today's employees want more fun time with their families and friends. Those contractors who are trying to solve their labor shortage with excessive overtime are merely adding insult to injury. My motto has always been, "Make a good life, not just a living."

We need to polish up the image of a proud craftsman to attract all of those potential "born to build" Americans into this great industry. They need your respect and the respect of their friends and families. Fortunately this will not be difficult for any proud contractor. As you already know, your investment of time and effort to build a proud image will reap ten-fold benefits.

None of us can change the fact that our 20th century is coming to an end. But we can use these last few months to sharpen our industry's potential to capitalize on the greatest profit making opportunity of our lives.