The HARDI member spotlight serves as a regular feature through which the association highlights standout individuals in the HVACR industry and their companies. For our June Member Spotlight, we spoke with John White, President of American Refrigeration Supplies (ARS). We highlight John this month for his dedication and passion of spreading the word about our industry, to recruit top talent.
American Refrigeration Supply (ARS)
In this interview, John and HARDI's Content Manager, Emily Frost, discuss his talent recruitment methods, his work with local schools, and how COVID-19 has affected recruitment efforts.
Please enjoy this Zoom interview!
Not able to view the video right now? Check out the transcript instead:
Tell us a little bit about your company and how you recruit talent.
American Refrigeration Supplies (ARS) is proud to be celebrating 80th anniversary this year. We got our start in 1940 with a single location in Phoenix, Arizona. We are still headquartered in Phoenix, but today we have 32 locations across the country, are in six states, and are still looking to grow. We're really proud of what we've been able to accomplish so far and looking forward to the future. In terms of recruiting we really try our best to look for people that want to create a long term relationship with us, or at least that's what we hope, that they're starting a career and not just filling a spot. So we talk about that all the time, let's recruit to find people interested in developing a long term. It helps us build out our bullpen strength and succession planning for our own thing, but I'm developing people's just good for our industry. It creates a kind of the next generation of talent. So that's kind of how we we try to go about it, philosophically.
How important do you think it is to spread knowledge about the trades and recruit young people to careers in trades?
I think there's been such a historical push in the last few decades to steer people towards college and it's great. I mean, it's fabulous but it's not necessarily for everybody. And so, there's been a de-emphasis on getting to work and contributing with your hands and learning a skill and a trade and so I think that there's a big opportunity that's being missed with young people right now who are just kind of thinking about the next step. So, I'm passionate about spreading the word, specifically about HVAC and Refrigeration. I think that the more people that understand that no matter where you start, there are endless opportunities in this industry to develop a long-term career, whether it's with a contractor, a supplier manufacturer, or distributor. So, I think any opportunity to talk with younger people, or their parents, about the opportunities that we provide are good, but even talking to other people from other professions looking to transition is important. We’ve been working the past few months with military organizations that work to place active military who are transitioning out and looking for new careers. There's just a great opportunity to refresh people's minds and perspectives about the value of going into a trade and what a difference it can make in the career path for somebody, even if you're later in your career or pursuing college. It's a good place to start.
Tell us more about your work with veterans.
We've been fortunate enough to run across some local coalitions for families that are connected with Department of Defense resources, who transition people and their families into to career path opportunities. So, you start to think about what about the airplane mechanic, who is really good with mechanical stuff, and really good at fixing things, but doesn't see a future in going out into the real world and doing that. Could they come and do an internship and learn about our trade and apply some of the knowledge and skills that they've developed as mechanically minded folks? It's just really something that we have been looking to explore. So, it's been good so far.
What have you done with local school systems to spread the word on careers in the trades?
In the in the last couple years, we've made a big push to invest in relationships with local schools starting with the trade schools. We've attended career days for community colleges and trade schools. We've hosted internships and started those programs. Every year one of my favorite things we do at ARS is an annual customer expo. We invite 40 or 50 students from the local trade schools in the morning before the expo starts, and I get to spend about an hour with them. Just talking to them about the career path opportunities that they have in this industry and all the different things they can do with the skills that they're learning today.
We've been working on building relationships with high school students, to try to create some resources around those kids that maybe want to want to learn HVAC and Refrigeration while they're still in high school. And then later stack those credentials to build a career path, without going into so much student debt, you know, that's been a been a huge problem. So, hopefully those things will come, but that's some of the things we've been working on.
What are the students' reactions after participating in the expo?
It’s really fun because they get to ask questions. They come up and talk to me about things that I said, or maybe some things they never thought of, like, “What do you mean I could go work for…”, or “I could go back to school and study engineering and work for Chemours or a chemical engineering company?” so it I think it does spark some interest, but what's been fun for us about the expo is to have that hour to spend with them. Get them all excited about the industry and then invite them to stay where we have vendors and contractors and they get to actually go out and talk with people. I can see the excitement building. That’s what we need to do as an industry is create a buzz. I mean just create a little bit of excitement around why HVACR is such a great thing.
Even in today's pandemic environment you're seeing the need for the industry. There are still people who are living at home, they need their air conditioning worked on. Businesses still need refrigeration technicians, there's always going to be a need for people in our industry. And so, it's just exciting to see that those things spark interest.
You talk about the pandemic, how have recruitment efforts changed since COVID-19?
We've experienced a challenge to traditional recruiting methods during this time and I think there's a lot of reasons for that. I think when we went into forecasting April and May back when the pandemic started in March, we thought maybe if we're fortunate enough to survive, maybe there'll be enough people looking for work and it will be easier to recruit and we found just the opposite. I mean, the normal channels just haven't worked well. It could be a combination of the stimulus packages and fear, but whatever it is, it's been difficult.
What we found is those investments in trade schools have really paid off for us in the last few months because we've called some of those trade schools and say, hey, we're having trouble finding people, do you have a student or two that's looking for some or work, or do you have somebody you could send us? It's really been a great return on investment to have them send us folks to help out and work and see some young people getting involved. So that's been great working with them, but it's been a big challenge overall.
How did you build those initial relationships with the trade schools?
It’s like any relationship, you express an interest and you start conversations and then those build on each other. The more demonstrated interest you have in what they're doing, they will reciprocate. We've even been working with our customer advisory board to talk through how we can partner together. They need technicians, we need counter workers. We're not looking to do this only for ourselves, it’s an industry wide effort so these things have a tendency to build on their own.
We also started having conversations with our suppliers asking if we build a program with the trade school, would they be willing to give the students a rotation as part of an internship, where they can get some exposure. Then asking our contractor customer, would you be willing to host them a week or two in the summer? I think those kinds of investments, early on, have really, really helped over time.
That's a great idea to get your supply chain partners involved.
They have so many resources of their own, so if you speak with some of these major manufacturers, they're happy to look at partnering. Whether it's equipment or resources or even sending some of their technical experts to provide classes and studies. It can be a slow process of trying to pull resources together, but I think the relationship building is the first step. And it's probably the most important.
What is your favorite part of the recruitment process?
I love sharing our story with anybody willing to listen, but especially young people, or those people looking to make that career choice. As part of our 80th anniversary, we have this theme, of celebrating our story by inviting people into right the next chapter. And so, as we've been doing this, we get to share our story, and then we onboard them. I can't tell you how fun it is to watch young people start in our warehouse and have conversations with director level people who 20 years ago who also started in our warehouse. That's the story we want to write, you come here to learn, grow, develop and pursue whatever you want. So that's the fun part for me.
What are your favorite summertime activities?
Professionally speaking, it's got to be sales. We all like sales in the summer. That's what we do. We like to sell when the weather is hot. Personally speaking, it's just got to be spending time with my family. I've got kids who are in school, so the summer is my chance to get to do things with them, whether that's hiking, or day trips to the lake, or barbecues. I feel like time slips by faster than I want, so taking every advantage, even the ones where we don’t do anything is a fun thing for me.
If you could sum up this interview and give viewers one key message what would that be?
Invest in relationships that will help you recruit to build careers and not just fill spots. I just think it's too easy for all of us. We get busy. We call an agency. We do the same old, same old. I know Hot Commodity is hanging out there in the process and that sparked an interest in me when I saw the clip even a couple years ago. That's what we need to do. We need to create a spark and be more intentional about creating relationships that will help us build industry career people and not just fill spots for our needs. If we can all do that will be better in the long run.
Check out our previous Member Spotlight posts here!
To nominate a member for a future Member Spotlight, contact Emily Frost at firstname.lastname@example.org.