December 20, 2016
Companies have gotten more sophisticated
Shortly before I retired as editor of magazines serving the plumbing and HVAC industries, I was invited to speak to a trade group on the subject of changes in the industry that I had witnessed during my career spanning more than three decades. I won’t bore you with the entire speech, but I do think it worthwhile drawing attention to one of the main changes I had noticed.
That’s the increasing sophistication of mechanical and electrical trade companies, especially on the service side. It used to be that when a homeowner called a plumber, she would often get visited by someone wearing dirty, ill-fitting overalls, maybe reeking of cigar smoke. (Sometimes with the cigar still in his mouth and dropping ashes all over the homeowner’s carpet!)
Okay, that was the worst-case scenario. Not all plumbers were so obnoxious, but even the more conscientious ones generally were ill-equipped to respond quickly to customer needs. When you called them, you were likely to get an answering machine or service and were asked to leave a message for a return call that might not come for hours or even days later, if at all. Maybe the plumber would agree to come out that day, but he couldn’t tell you when and sometimes didn’t show up at all. If you had a problem, you were tied to the home, afraid to even visit the bathroom because you might miss the doorbell ringing.
Most plumbing firms in the not-so-good old days were small mom and pop operations. Many of their owners were skilled mechanics capable of doing good work, but they simply were unable to deliver the kind of customer service modern homeowners require. When their business grew larger than they could handle, they might hire another plumber or two, but for the most part the hirees were poorly paid and had revolving-door careers, constantly going to work for another firm that might pay them a dollar an hour more.
There are still a lot of small shops like that around, but over the years I have witnessed the rise of ever more sophisticated companies with the size and reach to make life so much easier for their customers – and for employees. These companies employ people who use computers with sophisticated customer service and dispatching software to get service vehicles where they are needed as quickly as possible. Some can even guarantee service within one hour, and most of these sophisticated service firms give a courtesy call to let customers know when the technician is on the way.
Those technicians typically are clean-cut, dressed in uniforms and with name badges and business cards so you know who you are dealing with. These technicians are well paid and receive benefits like paid vacations, retirement plans, etc. Just about every community of any size is serviced by companies like this.
When you enter the trades, it is important to consider the type of company you want to work for. In the modern era, skilled trade workers have great opportunities to work for sophisticated companies that offer not only a job, but a rewarding career you can be proud of.