My hope is that last month I convinced you of our need to bring new faces into our profession. Now, we have to go find them and bring them in.

We're competing for people who are desired by just about every industry you can think of. We've all met automobile, insurance, real estate salespeople and others who left our profession for better pay. Why shouldn't a kid just take the easy road and go straight to the car dealership? We must be competitive with other professions and industries. I look forward to the day when six-figure incomes are the norm rather than the exception in our trades. Offering the "going rate" and modest benefits won't get us there.

The pay envelope isn't the only place a person looks for job satisfaction. Image counts for something as well. If your company image evokes a cardboard sign proclaiming "Will plumb for food," you can forget about qualified apprentices. You may snag a person or two who are simply looking for their next paycheck, but you won't attract people with careers on their mind.

Image Counts

What do you try to hide when a visitor drops by? You're never going to find the missing part for the PRV that's been sitting on top of the file cabinet for the past two years, so get rid of it. If pranksters write phrases such as "TEST DIRT - DO NOT REMOVE" on the back of your truck, that may be a hint that your annual truck wash is overdue. Recruits will notice things like this. Remember, they're interviewing you while you're interviewing them.

A makeover may not be necessary if you just accentuate your best qualities. What gives you a source of pride? Do you offer strong guarantees for your workmanship? Do you offer discounts to families with a stay-at-home parent? Do you do charity work for widows? Customers need to know about these great character qualities of your company, but so do the people you're trying to recruit. After all, your best recruits will be those who share your vision.

How do your people present themselves on the jobsite or at the supply house? Even after years of this message being pounded into our heads, it's still easy to stand above the crowd with neat uniforms, clean trucks and cool tools. Remember, we're competing with professions that expect polo shirts and slacks at the very least.

For most of us, long hours and hard, dirty work is part of the game. This is not the most attractive aspect of our profession. (Well, there was this one guy I knew who wanted all the hours he could get. After meeting his wife, I knew why. )

Long hours and hard, dirty work might be a part of the job but to the right person, it's just a challenge. In this age of extreme sports, it's fair to say our young people are up to challenges. We just have to make the challenge worthwhile. What is it about your company that gives value to the challenge?

The kind of people we want to attract will like the idea of improving peoples' lives and will do what it takes to get the job done. Are you sincerely motivated to improve the lives of your customers? Or are you still lamenting the invention of plastic pipe? Focus on what makes our profession great rather than just a job.

Searching For Recruits

Assuming your company looks great and you're willing to pay better than the going rate, where are you going to find these potential new hires? It's not likely you'll get much action in the help-wanted section, although a well-placed, well-designed ad might bring a few leads. Here are a few, not-so-common ideas.
  • Be involved in your community. Many of us were once Boy Scouts. Even if you don't have a desire to get involved on a regular basis, you might offer to help Scouts earn merit badges in communicating, auto mechanics, even plumbing. To find merit badges that you might help with, go to To contact a Scout Council in your area, go to

  • Occasionally, you may experience great service at a restaurant. If the waitperson seems to be sharp enough, introduce yourself, give him or her your card and a generous tip. Let him or her know that great opportunities are out there for sharp people with technical ability.

  • Your customers know the kinds of people they like, so why not ask them for leads? This is a good excuse to send them a marketing piece anyway, so you'll accomplish two objectives for the price of one. Describe your ideal candidate and ask for their help in finding that person. If a customer offers you a qualified lead, thank him or her but make no promises. You don't want to alienate your customer if the recruit doesn't work out.

  • If you have a Web site, you need a page describing your company vision and a recruiting page describing your ideal recruit. While providing potential recruits a place to find out about you, it also lets your customers know what sort of person you want to send to their homes or jobsites.

  • Make sure your Web site URL is included on all printed material, and that it is listed with your trade associations. You may even get some action from low-cost referral sites, such as, where potential recruits can find you by zip code.

  • Use the "degrees of separation" principle. Very few people you meet will be likely candidates for apprenticeship but nearly every one of them will know someone who knows someone. Everyone you meet should know you as "That Person With A Great Opportunity." Print the highlights of your opportunities, as well as the personal qualities you're seeking, on the back of your business cards, then hand them out as if they're free.

  • If you're a plumbing contractor and someone asks you what you do for a living, don't give him or her the standard "I'm a plumbing contractor" answer. Tell them what makes you the best: "I improve people's lives by installing the most trouble-free plumbing systems using the best materials and the sharpest plumbers in the whole county. We're looking for a sharp young person who would enjoy a career making people's lives better."

    I can recite this line in about 14 seconds and I'm a Texan: We savor each word as it comes across. New Yorkers might get it done in under eight seconds. The point is, it doesn't take long to get your recruiting spiel across. Spend some time writing your mini-speech and practice for a smooth delivery.

  • Participate in career fairs at your local high schools. Remember to highlight the financial rewards our profession offers. Make a bar chart comparing your compensation to that of other businesses such as fast food, bank clerks, car salespeople, etc. If the chart isn't favorable, re-read the first half of this column and do something about it.

  • Make friends with job placement counselors at your local colleges. Having a degree does not disqualify a person from our profession. A person that is organized and follows procedures is a good candidate.

    If the recruit studied subjects such as communication, marketing and business administration, so much the better. Show the placement counselor how these skills apply to our profession. Mention the opportunities for growth beyond the "hands-on" phase of our trades.

    Offer scholarships to continue courses of study that complement our trades. Point out that it's easier to pay off all those school loans with the higher pay scale and faster track for advancement found in our professions.

Right now, while our economy is running a bit sluggish, we have a great opportunity to bring new people in. If we wait till the economy gets back up to steam, we'll find ourselves in even worse shape than before. To find new people, search. To attract new people, be attractive. Start now.