If you’ve been in any group of business owners, professionals, perhaps even with a Human Resource officer, then it goes without saying you have overheard the struggle of hiring in today’s workplace. In fact, it has become such a trendy topic that we made sure to host a speaker, Lisa Schaffer (Director of Career Services at North American Trade Schools), at our 2023 Spring Conference in Rochester, New York to focus on hiring and retaining talented individuals in your workplace. The focus of our event was “Fabricate to Generate,” but the more I looked around and read the room, the more I realized that the shops in attendance were those already creating an attractive workplace for current and future employees.

There is no doubt that hiring in 2023 is a struggle for most businesses; every conversation seems to have the phrases: “No one wants to work anymore,” and “You can’t find good help.” I’m here to set the record straight by highlighting what companies within our industry are doing to get quality people in their building. If you are in a position like our business, then hiring can certainly take a large chunk of your day, week, or even month—time that the normal business owner may not have. The cycle of last-minute hiring on an as-needed basis creates an environment that rarely retains long term employees that value and enjoy their workplace. 

So, what do companies in our industry do to help attract new talent and keep them there? They create a workplace that attracts employees. 

Let’s face it, if you are running a radiator shop, odds are there is more dirt and grease than there are shop rags to clean it all up! A little housekeeping goes a long way in creating a workplace that people are eager to join. This includes organization of tools, inventory, and equipment as well as the day-to-day operation of your business having a systematic flow. Walking through Empire Radiator gave us several examples of how to streamline your workflow: from the yellow tape across the floor to allow a common path that stretched several buildings, to the well-placed racks to hold certain tools and equipment that are commonly used. Not only does the flow of the building lend itself to happy employees, but there are also plenty of quality-of-life improvements that Jim and his team have made to keep the employees happy such as including cranes, lifts, and specialized welding tables to assist in ease of operations. If the hands-on example of Empire Radiator wasn’t enough, then on day two we took a firsthand look at how deep the employee relations go at Radiator Supply House. Although the basis of his presentation was focused on social media and how it can work for your business, it was apparent through their social media accounts that taking care of employees is a top priority for RSH, and they stand behind that through what they post on their social media. Every team function that Will and his team host helps build the team chemistry that helps their business thrive.

Successful companies also allow their team room to grow. 

Often, we make hires with an immediate goal in mind: what void can this person fill today? Sometimes this is physical labor, other times it is answering phone calls or handling bookkeeping, but giving key hires room to grow within their position is crucial to keeping long term employees happy and engaged. When Johnson Manufacturing hired Pat O’Connor many years ago, I’m sure it wasn’t with the vision that he would one day serve on the Board of Directors at NARSA, or become the president and chairman of the board, and eventually be inducted into the NARSA Hall of Fame, but it was because Pat was given an opportunity to grow within Johnson that he was able to thrive as a long term employee. After his induction, Pat took a moment to elaborate on his history within the radiator industry by thanking those who had extended their hand to do business with him along the way, and meanwhile making sure to acknowledge those who had given him space to grow in his own way. It was a clear indication that the right people, given the right encouragement, can grow your business in ways you never saw before. Another example of this was our host company Empire Radiator: we got to see firsthand an owner giving an employee (who happens to be his son) the encouragement and support to grow within their company the way he best sees fit. This has led Empire to the development of CnC Plasma cutting–the type of manufacturing and design that seems light years away from most small shops. 

Strong businesses hire people who believe in the vision of the company.

This next example doesn’t come from the 2023 Spring Conference in Rochester, but rather from one of my more recent interviews. The position that we were hiring for happened to be in the radiator repair shop. For those reading that don’t have lead running through their veins, this isn’t always the most glamorous position and comes with its fair share of dirt, muck, and grime. One thing that I have recently started is to give potential employees a shop tour during the day to see our team in action. After each tour, I make sure to describe to potential hires the less desirable parts of working in a radiator shop. This started because of receiving the dreaded text from a 3-month employee saying, “Can we talk?” This talk undoubtedly leads to resignation, and during the exit interview we later find out the main culprit being that “This isn’t what I thought it was.” There is no question that working in a shop isn’t for everyone, which is why we go through such lengths to explain the role. During my last interview, after explaining what it is like to work in a radiator shop, I was immediately asked, “Why do you describe it like it’s a bad thing?” I immediately knew that this candidate believed in what we do—they are the right person, in the right position–this is the type of hands-on role they are looking for. These are the employees that help come up with new ideas to improve efficiency, who bring something more to the table than just physical labor and help push companies just like ours to the next level. 

I would encourage each business in our association to take the time to expand their hiring practices past the “can they hold a wrench” approach and learn from some of the examples given by our incredible speakers at the Spring Conference. While there was much to learn from each speaker and presenter at our event, one of my biggest takeaways was how successful companies within our industry hire and retain talented individuals that keep their companies going. I would like to thank Empire Radiator, Jim, Wendy, Andrew, Mike, and their staff for helping put on such a great event as well as the speakers and presenters that continue to show faith and support of our amazing association.

Bryan Braswell
NARSA/IDEA President

Rocky Mount Radiator
Rocky Mount, North Carolina

This editorial was originally published in the May/June 2023 issue of The Cooling Journal.