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  • Colin Christensen

Hiring for Trades

Updated: Oct 20, 2018

Of all the challenges the economy in Alberta brings, finding electricians, pipetrades, welders, carpenters, heavy equipment techs, rig techs and any skilled labour has proven to be the biggest.


Some of the questions I am asked are:

  • How do I keep trades people? They seem to leave for $1/hr more.

  • There aren't any good trades people available, where do I find them?

  • All the trades people seem fine when I interview them, how do I tell a good one from a bad one?

  • I hire-on trades people and they either don't show up or eventually stop coming to work. What should I do?

Let's tackle this thing.


I have been telling my clients that "the young folks today" aren't the problem, they are merely illuminating the problem. The problem with loyalty stems from our lack of loyalty the the employee.

  1. If overtime is required, are you able to present the option to your employees and have them volunteer, or do you need to dictate it?

  2. Do you have more than 20% turnover annually?

  3. Do you have an ongoing battle regarding salaries or hourly rates?

  4. Have you heard yourself saying: "Where have all the good people gone?"

  5. Have you heard yourself saying: "Doesn't anyone have integrity anymore?!?"


If you answered yes to any of these, you likely have a loyalty problem. It's okay. It is the prevailing illness these days. That doesn't, however, mean you have to put up with it. Please keep reading to become healthy.


Don't get me wrong, you needn't offer more money, or be a door mat, to serve your employees. Although there are always people who will take advantage of you, for every one of those there are at least a hundred who will rise to the greatness you want to share with them.


I know you're calling BS on this... I can hear it. It really doesn't seem like there are any good candidates out there at times. Been there, done that.


But it IS true. The biggest challenge is the people you want are all working. Some of them are working and are unsatisfied for good reasons, some are working and are unsatisfied for bad reasons. I can help you find them and distinguish which are the ones for you.


Have a look at an article I wrote explaining the challenges of reaching candidates.


Good reasons to be unsatisfied:

  • They are in the wrong role

  • They lack the responsibility they need or have too much?

  • The hours are off kilter with their needs

  • The company is too big, or too small, for them

  • The commute or location is different than what they want

  • In rare cases they are paid less than they should


Just to be clear on this, if money is the only motivator you don't want to hire them. At least not without considerable discussion first.


Bad reasons to be unsatisfied:

  • Wanting more money

  • Their last few bosses have sucked

  • They were "fired for having an opinion"

Now, I'm not trying to be critical of people who are changing jobs. I am suggesting that you don't fall into a scarcity mindset and hire the first person who is open to working with you.


Times may be tough. Trust me when I tell you that they will be made tougher by poor or hasty hiring decisions. Hopefully you already know that.


If they aren't excited about working with you, don't hire them! You don't want people who can simply do the job, you want people who will tear it up. Lots of people who aren't working can do the job, and probably even want the job. And there are other companies out there who will hire them. You are not one of them. You are looking for candidates with a VALID REASON for leaving their current job and who fit in with your crew. (is my power of suggestion working?)


The best people are the ones who are already working somewhere else and would be excited about an opportunity to work with you because of.....we'll get to that.


We need to understand that hiring people who are working with another company isn't necessarily immoral. It does depend on how you go about it. I'll talk about that another day.


As you can see above, there are some real reasons for people to change jobs. So, if someone is open to looking around, another company will grab them before you do. You want it to be you.


Once you locate potential tradesmen, you need to screen them to understand if they are going to be right for you. The reason they might not be right for someone else may be the same reason they are right for you. For example, someone took a job as a gasfitter for a large company and only does a small part of the overall project, they would really prefer to work with a smaller company that will give them more experience and a better chance of advancement. This is very common actually and, believe it or not, people will take less money for the opportunity that meets this need.


"Wait", you say. "How can I possibly know what those needs are?" I'm glad you asked.


For starters, you need to know the elements of your business that make it awesome for people to work there. You can ask those on your crew who love it there. It might be you serve ice cream on Fridays. There are hopefully a few things that make your business attractive. If not, why are you working there? I hope it's for more than "I fell into it".


In order to draw out the needs of the trades-person, you must become good at asking questions. Rather than going through what would be a whole other article, please see my free ebook to get several examples of good interview and pre-interview questions. While you are there, read the section on interview structure.


When you first initiate a conversation with a worker, simply asking what their ideal job would look like can go a long way.


Once you get into an interview, you want to see if they are a fit for you. Not "can they do the job" but do they have the Character, Competency, Chemistry and Capacity - and I'll add the Excitement Around the job - to do the work you need them for, and do it well.


You can ask them technical questions to assess their Competency, but what you want to most focus on are the important questions which reveal the areas of Character, Chemistry and Capacity.


I'll give you a question structure to work with: "Tell me about a time when you..." or "Tell me about a situation where..." Ask about real situations where they had to demonstrate or resist what you are asking about. For example: "Tell me about a time when you were late to work. What did you do?" or "Please tell me about a situation where you had to work with someone you really didn't like".


My ebook has a ton of useful information around this. At 20 pages, you will get a ton out of it for the quick read that it is.


By venturing into the pool of trades who are working, and by asking the right questions, you will find a huge difference not only in the quality of workers you find but also in the way they stick around after you hire them.