Redefining Signing Days and the Definition of Success

BY Talbot Gee
10/3/2019 - HVAC Employment

Hopefully everyone has seen the recently-released eight-minute short of our HARDI Foundation’s documentary, Hot Commodity.  Later this year, we will release the final, full-length documentary to add to an arsenal of resources intended to help members and their contractor customers attract new talent into our fantastic industry.  Today, however, we still struggle with the next steps employers in our industry should take to leverage recruitment tools such as our documentary.  Our fabulous Government Relations team of Palmer and Alex had me in Washington earlier this month for several reasons. One of those was to meet with the Department of Labor to get their advice on what else we and our members could or should be doing to attract more talent.  Our discussion circled back to a familiar frustration:

not enough guidance counselors and parents view students entering the trades, rather than pursuing four-year college degrees, as success.

It was then that one of the DOL team members described one of the most exciting ideas I’ve heard in all the workforce development meetings in which I’ve participated.

Allow me to set the table for you first.  College sports fans and parents of college athletes enjoy one of the coolest traditions a rare few high school graduates ever get to experience: Signing Days.  Usually, a school gymnasium, cafeteria, or auditorium is set with a head table, cameras, lights, microphones, a press gallery, and parents and coaches beaming with pride while their star athlete announces their college commitment to continue their athletic and academic careers.  The school and community are so proud of one of their own being recognized to go onto bigger and better things, and it feels like a celebration of a life’s work to that point.  For athletes, perhaps next to getting drafted to play your sport professionally, it is the day you and your family will cherish the rest of their lives.

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Now back to our meeting at the Department of Labor. A DOL team member recalled an employer who had partnered with a local school to identify co-op candidates in their factory who would begin work and job training as soon as they could after graduating high school.  While certainly not common enough to fill the skilled labor needs of our economy, this concept is not new.  What was new, however, was that the factory organized a signing day at the high school to recognize the students who had been chosen to enter this co-op program.  The public school system was originally intended to churn out graduates who had the highest probability of meeting the needs of American employers. However, that mission has been lost over the decades to the point where celebrating high school graduates for having a well-paying job on day one after graduation, with abundant training and development opportunities -the original mission of said school- is today a rare and foreign concept. 

What could be better than shining a bright light on the accomplishments of students who graduate directly into a job that will likely pay 50%-100% of the average first year salary of four-year college graduates, with no debt, and ample opportunities for advancement or even ownership in the future?  Imagine a head table on a stage in that same gymnasium or auditorium celebrating 20 students who are about to collectively earn $1,340,000 in their first year out of high school without a penny of debt.  I love college sports, and I have daughters who dream of signing commitment letters to play at the next level, but I would feel as much if not more pride to see them in this kind of signing day ceremony. 

So here is my call to all the employers within our HARDI family: 

  1. Partner with your contractor customers in each of your local markets to create co-op programs for distribution and contracting positions
  2. Engage with your local high schools until you find someone there who will help you identify talent and promote your co-op opportunities to them
  3. Start hiring students before they’ve even graduated high school and;
  4. Sponsor terrific signing days so their parents, the school and administration, and the community can celebrate in these students’ success and extremely bright futures!

Drop me a line to let me know if you’ve accepted my challenge.  I’d love to go back to our DOL contacts and tell them I have more employers than I can handle wanting to do local signing days so let’s make this a terrific problem to have.