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Workforce Study: How to Find and Train the ‘Perfect’ Technician

First-ever joint CTA/CE Pro Workforce Study identifies key skillsets, budgets and resources for hiring, training and retaining technicians.

Workforce Study: How to Find and Train the ‘Perfect’ Technician

Jason Knott · February 27, 2017

Does the 'perfect' custom installation technician really exist? Not likely. But who is the ideal technician anyway? And once you find him (or her), what is the best way to train and keep that person?

For many custom installation companies, the lack of qualified technicians in the market is hampering their ability to grow and substantially affecting their top-line revenues and bottom-line profits.

Also, if the company has a backlog of work, there is a risk of losing the project to a less-busy competitor. So, many dealers play the “juggling” game with their customers by jumping from one project to the next day to day (or even within a day).

Indeed, according to one dealer, “It can take a year or more to find a new hire. Our backlog is six to eight weeks, with 10 technicians. It is a stressful situation.”

With national employment levels hovering near 96 percent, it’s easy to see why it is such a tough time to find employees. Young jobseekers have so many options they can pick and choose among multiple potential professions. Becoming a “technician” does not sound like a particularly sexy proposition to many Millennials.

The ever-widening gap between company owners and potential employees seems as large as the Grand Canyon these days. Employers universally decry potential Millennial candidates as entitled and lazy.

One integrator bemoaned, “Public education has caused inflated self-esteem to where 30-year-olds-and-under lack most skills, but think they are the best answer to the world’s problems that have ever been born.”

At the CE Pro Summit in Atlanta last fall, a successful Millennial-aged entrepreneur commented how shocked and disappointed he was to hear such negativity toward the younger generation amongst his peers in attendance at the event.


The ‘Perfect’ Technician?

While perfection is impossible, near perfection is possible. Below are the characteristics that integrators report tend to produce the most-desirable technicians.

  • He is found by word-of-mouth or referral.
  • He passes a drug test, general knowledge test on electronics, and a background check.
  • He is skilled in the use of hand tools and has a great attitude that translates well with clients. He also is adept at terminating cable in the field and basic troubleshooting.
  • Equipment-wise, his greatest strengths are in audio, video and troubleshooting low-voltage systems in general.
  • He has multiple manufacturer certifications, followed by a CEDIA certification.
  • He is skilled at network installation and system configuration.

The ‘Worst’ Technician?

As comedian George Carlin used to say, “Somewhere out there is the worst doctor.” While the traits below do not necessarily mean the person is a poor technician — he or she could be excellent — these are the characteristics that integrators report tend to produce the least-desirable technicians.

  • He was found at a job fair.
  • He doesn’t pass a background check or drug test, and has little basic knowledge of electronics.
  • His primary knowledge is related to industry codes vs. field experience.
  • He has an electrical contractor’s license.
  • If he has any certifications at all, he is NCCER or ESPA certified.

To help integration company owners and hiring managers better determine what to look for and how to find installation technicians, CE Pro and the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) conducted the first-ever Workforce Study. The survey had 179 respondents and was conducted in the fall of 2016. The results of the study are eye-opening, to say the least.

Among the key findings are...

Hiring Needs

67 percent of CE pros need to hire a new employee “immediately.” Said one survey respondent: “[I have] been looking for a lead technician for months with no luck.”

Nearly one in five (19.7 percent) integrators needs to hire three to five new employees in 2017.

15 percent of custom installation companies anticipate the need to hire more than 10 employees over the next five years.

Finding/Hiring Technicians

85 percent of integrators say finding qualified technicians is difficult or extremely difficult. Said one survey respondent: “Locating quality technicians in the current state of the industry is impossible without poaching from other companies.”

Word-of-mouth referrals are the No. 1 way to find technicians, with half of survey respondents reporting that is how they find staff members. Meanwhile, placing ads on online career-targeted websites (e.g., Monster.com, CareerBuilder.com, Indeed.com) is the No. 2 way to find new technicians, followed by Craigslist, trade schools and industry job boards.

More than three-quarters (78 percent) of integrators conduct background checks on prospective employees.

Less than half of CE pros (46 percent) perform drug tests on incoming employees.

Desired Skills

The ability to use power tools safely and proficiently is the No. 1 basic skill needed among new technicians.

A positive attitude/ability to connect with clients is cited as the second-most valued skill sought when hiring a new technician, with 73 percent of integrators deeming that to be “strongly preferred” or “mandatory” trait.

Said one survey respondent: “Attitude is better than aptitude when it comes to new hires. It’s easier to train someone with little or no knowledge of the industry, and meet their expectations for wages than it is for a technician with three to five years’ experience. It seems that the experience doesn’t always coincide with wage expectations. Even with just a few years in the industry, their expectations for wages exceed what we can pay them.”

83 percent of dealers named audio and video installation knowledge as the most important technical skill for new technicians to learn or know, followed by general troubleshooting abilities (82 percent) and surveillance cameras (68 percent).

With the proliferation of IP-addressable equipment, networking skills are in prime demand.

The abilities to install, configure and troubleshoot a home network are the three most in-demand skills.

Onboarding Plans

One root of the employee nurturing problem might be the lack of formal training procedures among most integrators.

One survey respondent notes: “Very difficult to find techs. Always fighting training them, then losing them to a competitor.” Well, those “losses” might be self-inflicted wounds unless you’re company has a proper way to train employees. 

One-third of integrators have $0 devoted to training new employees.

Among CE pros that do have training budgets, $600 is the median per employee.

Nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of integrators have no training plans in place for new technicians.

Training Methods

For many years, the industry relied on the consumer electronic retail and car stereo installation fields to “feed” the next generation of custom installers. Well, those industries are virtually gone.

One exasperated survey respondent suggests: “Having an organizational vocational school that could train technicians in all basic skills would be crucial.”

Still another deal believes the problem is much larger. He cites the “invisibility” of the custom installation industry as the dilemma, noting: “The industry has difficulty finding qualified installation technicians due to the local trades not recognizing the field, as they do for electrical or even plumbing.”

According to the survey, in-house instruction done by a member of the company is the most common way to train a new technician, with 84 percent of integrators saying they “preferred” or “strongly preferred” to train new hires that way.

Manufacturer training and online webinars were the next most-preferred ways to train new employees.

Bringing employees to tradeshows such as CEDIA is reported as the least-desired way integration companies want to train their staff with only 7 percent of indicating that is “strongly preferred.”

Career Objectives

Most integrators deem the ability to provide a career path for technicians is important, but verifying whether or not a technician has the technical knowledge and skills to do the job is most important objective among company owners.

Indeed, nearly three out of every four (73 percent) believe technical skills and knowledge are “important” or “extremely important.”

(Read: What are today's employees looking for in a job?)

A lower percentage of integrators believe offering a path for employee compensation growth (67 percent) and building confidence about their technicians among their clients (61 percent) are seen as less-important factors.

Certifications

Nearly two-thirds of custom integrators (65 percent) report that manufacturer certifications are the most important accreditations for staff members to achieve. Only 12 percent of dealers label manufacturer certifications as unimportant.

CEDIA certification is listed as “important” or “extremely important” by just over half of integrators (53 percent).

16 percent of integrators cite CEDIA certification as not important.

Showing how much blurring is occurring between low voltage and line voltage work, 37 percent of integrators believe it is important to have an electrical license for their company.

Size of Company Impact

While in most cases the problems of finding, hiring, training and retaining employees is universal across all size companies, there were some subtle differences found in the study.

In general, larger companies have a harder time finding employees. That data is probably due to the fact that they are seeking more employees, more often than smaller companies. Meanwhile, larger companies are more likely to have success using online career websites to find employees than smaller firms. Again, that could be simply because they are more likely to use those services vs. a smaller CE pro.

Trade schools are much more likely to be a source of new employees for larger companies than for small ones.

Well over half of companies with more than 35 employees tend to try to mine technicians from trade schools compared to about one-quarter of companies with fewer than 10 employees.

Job fairs are also much more prevalent among larger integration companies. Half of large companies have tried them successfully (as one of their top three sources for new employees), while fewer than 20 percent of small companies list job fairs as a successful source of new staff.

Interestingly, the use of background checks, tests for general knowledge and drug tests does not differ very much between smaller and larger custom installation firms.

Also, customer relations/attitude is a more vital hiring consideration trait among smaller integrators compared to larger ones.

Companies with fewer than five employees cite it as the No. 1 “basic skill” they look for.

Likewise, the ability to troubleshoot systems is more prized among larger companies than smaller ones. That is likely because larger companies will tend to have more legacy projects out in the field that need servicing.

The biggest difference among larger and smaller custom installation firms is in the area of training. About eight in 10 large companies have some sort of training budget in place, compared to less than half of small CE pros.

Indeed, companies with fewer than five employees are likely to spend $0 on training staff. Among large companies approximately 45 percent will spend between $600 and $1,200 per year per employee on training.

Only 21 percent of small companies have a formal training process in place, while two-thirds of big integration companies offer some form of a training program.

Meanwhile, the low percentage of larger companies that send their employees to tradeshows for the purposes of training is also surprising. You might expect that larger companies would be sending staff to various technical training sessions at CEDIA, CES and other events more frequently than smaller CE pros, but the responses reveal just the opposite.

One- to two-person shops send staff to tradeshow training at the highest rate of any size company. The obvious explanation is that those are the principals of those small integration companies who need to attend the tradeshows to make product selections.

In terms of general certifications, there is not much difference related to company size. One interesting tidbit is that one- to two-person shops put a much lower emphasis on CEDIA certification than other demographics.

Geographic Differences

Every region of the U.S. appears to be thriving in the current economy but still there are some differences region to region.

California is by far the most difficult place to find a new technician. Fully, 85 percent of respondents in the Golden State said it was “very difficult” to find technicians.

Texas, which has booming new-home construction, is also not an easy place to hire staff, with 75 percent of dealers there saying it is “very difficult.”

The “easiest” place to hire is in the Midwest, but even there it isn’t easy, just easier — half of all integrators deem it “very difficult” to hire new staff.

Interestingly, receiving referrals for potential new hires is much less prevalent in California, with less than one-quarter of integrators (23 percent) there ranking word of mouth among their top three sources for new employees. Texas also has a somewhat low referral rate, with just one-third (33 percent) of Texans citing it as a top-three source for finding new staff.

If you don’t like to take tests, avoid Texas and Florida. The percentage of integrators in those two states that perform background checks is 14 percent and 10 percent higher than the national average of 77 percent. Meanwhile, a whopping 87 percent of Florida-based integration firms conduct drug checks — that’s almost twice the national average of 46 percent.

Interestingly, across the board on every prerequisite skillset an integrator looks for in a new employee, dealers in the Midwest place less emphasis than their counterparts across the country. Perhaps it is because they intend to train their staffs on audio, video, troubleshooting, surveillance cameras, lighting control, communications/ intercoms, motorized window treatments, access control, and general system design.

In terms of having a budget to spend to train new technicians, the only surprising stat is the high percentage of Texas-based integrators that do not devote any budget to training. Indeed, 45 percent of Lone Star State integrators spend $0 on training.


Technicians Explain Why CE Pros Should Invest in Training Them


Looking to recruit new talent? Find qualified candidates now! Visit jobs.cepro.com.



  About the Author

Jason has covered low-voltage electronics as an editor since 1990. He joined EH Publishing in 2000, and before that served as publisher and editor of Security Sales, a leading magazine for the security industry. He served as chairman of the Security Industry Association’s Education Committee from 2000-2004 and sat on the board of that association from 1998-2002. He is also a former board member of the Alarm Industry Research and Educational Foundation. He is currently a member of the CEDIA Education Action Team for Electronic Systems Business. Jason graduated from the University of Southern California. Have a suggestion or a topic you want to read more about? Email Jason at [email protected]

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