Megan White (L) and Dr. Leslie Pagliari.

The “Innovative Thinking” conference sponsored by BNP Media Co.'s Plumbing Group of magazines - SUPPLY HOUSE TIMES,Plumbing & Mechanical, andPM Engineer- at Lake Lanier Islands resort near Atlanta last June provided in-depth examination by experts on the topic “Hiring, Retention and Training.” Following are highlights from the conference.

Success With Hispanics/ Hispanic Labor

Ricardo González, founder and CEO of Bilingual America:

  • The term “Hispanic” derives from political strategizing during the Nixon administration. Each of the 22 Latin American countries has its cultural distinctions. While Latinos are united by language and share a similar set of family-based values, they tend to be intensely nationalistic.

  • Do not appoint a Latino to supervise Latinos just because of language. Their primary loyalty will be to their Latino employees vs. the company. A survey by González's organization showed that most Latino workers would prefer to be supervised by an American rather than a fellow Latino.

  • Latinos represent 45% of the population growth in the United States over the past 10 years. By 2050, 35% to 40% of the U.S. population will be Latino.

  • If you have turnover above 10%, most likely your Latino employees do not trust you. To gain their trust, do what you say you will do.

  • Do not recruit Latinos through family and friends, via newspaper ads or day labor organizations. Recruit in schools, churches and social organizations.

  • If you need eight laborers, hire one or two people with the ability to lead who can become supervisors and foremen.

  • Job skill training for Latino workers should be visual. Print out photos from OSHA; don't just translate the English text into Spanish.

    Women In Plumbing Panel

    Ellen Rohr, a consultant and small business columnist with Plumbing & Mechanical magazine, as well as the former president of Benjamin Franklin Plumbing, moderated the panel.

  • Jo Rae Wagner of CTO Inc. (and PHCC president-elect): Let women know that not all the plumbing jobs involve getting into the grime and muck. Women who are detail-oriented and articulate could fill positions such as estimators and project managers, HR people and middle management. Target single moms who may be in low-paying secretarial or waitressing jobs. “Plumbing is cleaner than raising kids.”

  • Dottie Ramsey, president and chief operating officer of Modern Supply in Knoxville, TN (also first female president of the American Supply Association and currently its chairman): Of Modern Supply's 99 employees, 25 are women (including a woman counter salesperson). A female warehouse manager is running a 100,000-sq.-ft. facility. “I tell every female employee she doesn't have to act like a man.”

  • Ingrid Mattsson, senior marketing manager at Uponor: Women are conscious of their role in business and their interaction with male counterparts. “What men take for granted, women fight for.” Five tips: 1) know what your limitations and capabilities are; 2) be yourself; 3) find out what you need to learn to get ahead, then learn it; 4) appreciate the differences between men and women; and 5) take the time to listen.

    “Stop thinking of women as women - think of them as professionals.”

  • Jennifer Courchaine, a licensed plumber at The Winters Co.: “Everyone has reservations about hiring women and being sued.” Issues such as harassment, strength and child care also may apply to male workers.

    Women plumbers show up on time; are clean and professional-looking; explain how the heating system works or how to shut off the water; and don't leave a mess in the customer's home.

  • Ila Lewis, chairman, Gerber Plumbing Fixtures: Mentoring is very important. Young women today have more opportunities for development and advancement in this industry than they did 15 to 20 years ago.

    Megan White (L) and Dr. Leslie Pagliari.

    Recruiting And Training Young Workers

    Megan White, director of organizational development at Castle Supply, Pinellas Park, FL:

  • Castle Supply's 10-week training program, “Emerging Leaders,” was designed to speed up the advancement of qualified employees, using mostly in-house resources.

  • Three training sessions have been conducted and 25 employees have completed the program. A warehouse manager who was with the company six years has since been promoted to operations manager at Castle's largest facility.

  • The company benefits from the projects trainees are asked to complete and from improved employee morale.

  • Assign a program coordinator who understands the company's culture and can talk to the managers, the company president and the associates.

  • Training sessions are scheduled at 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. or from 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. every other week for 10 weeks. Managers are told who will be absent and when. Participants do their assignments outside of work.

    Dr. Leslie Pagliari, assistant professor in the Technology Systems Department at Eastern Carolina University and program coordinator of the Distribution and Logistics Program at ECU:

  • Recruit workers from business schools, technology schools and engineering schools. Contact the career services department or the program coordinator of the degree program.

  • Partner with an institution. Maintain contact with the faculty. Speak to classes. Develop internships for junior and senior year students. Internships typically pay $9 to $12 per hour. Some interns will work 20 to 30 hours per week.

  • Participate in career fairs held at the schools or arrange a visit to the school to speak to a group of students. Have a sign-up sheet for interviews the next day.

  • Provide the program coordinator with brochures about your company. Donate supplies or money to the school for free advertising.

  • Know what you want in a graduate. Understand the degree program and your company's needs.

  • Serve on the advisory board of a university.

  • To learn salary ranges for a particular region, visit:

  • Graduates consider benefits, advancement opportunities and salary range when choosing a job. Two years ago they expected to earn $28,000 to $32,000 but now that has increased to $35,000 to $50,000.

    WILLIAM RAYMOND, co-owner, Frank & Lindy Plumbing & Heating Service Co.:

  • Your employees are your greatest competitive asset. They create your customer's experience.

  • Commit to being a people development company.

  • Develop your leadership and management skills.

  • Get your people involved in decisions; hold a job fair; challenge them constantly; post the company's goals and values; read trade magazines; send them to trade shows; offer a mentoring program; be inclusive; host weekly training meetings with the reps; perform honest performance evaluations.

  • Know your cost of doing business and charge customers the right price.

    MIKE MAYBERRY, president of HVAC Agent & Plumbing Agent:

  • Look at recruiting like the courtship process. Your employees should feel their quality of life is better with your company vs. working for your competitor.

  • Base your recruiting budget on projected return on investment. The average service tech will generate about $100,000 a year. At a 30% gross profit margin, the service tech will bring about $30,000 in gross profits to your organization.

  • Consider recruiting from outside your local area. There may be only a small pool of qualified candidates in your area.

  • If recruiting from outside your local area, you can learn over the phone 90% of what you need to know to make a decision.

  • Background checks and drug testing will eliminate 53% of job applicants. Find out if the candidate has any significant others or personal ties to the area.

  • Don't pay relocation costs up front. Sign an agreement that you will reimburse an employee up to a particular amount for moving expenses within a certain period of time. Reimburse 30 days after he or she starts the job; put the money in his or her paycheck. Include in the agreement that if the employee quits within 12 months, he or she has to pay back a pro-rated portion of the relocation budget.

    JESSE ELLIOTT, an independent consultant:

  • “Up to speed” time for replacements depends on the level and complexity of the job. Divide the person's salary by $10,000, and you'll get the approximate “up to speed” time in months.

  • Outstanding performers in critical jobs demand more time and attention than others to prevent them from leaving. Look for signs of dissatisfaction.

  • If someone outstanding does leave, call in three to six months to see how things are going. You might be able to get the person back.

  • Money is a major dissatisfier, but rarely a satisfier.


    AL LEVI, president, Appleseed Business:

  • Training is essential for effective technicians and counter salespeople. Train both existing staff and new employees.

  • Hire on attitude, not skills.

  • Always be in the recruiting process.

  • Your employees need to believe they have a career with you, not just a job.

  • Provide a training checklist for new hires and have them sign it.

  • Implement ongoing training programs to move your employees up to the next level.