Who's got the right stuff?

Sept. 1, 2006
Finding qualified employees is key to running any kind of successful business, and it certainly requires careful consideration in rental. It's not as

Finding qualified employees is key to running any kind of successful business, and it certainly requires careful consideration in rental. It's not as though there are an abundance of programs and training courses preparing people specifically to work in this industry.

Recruiting is never easy in the rental business, as most people know. Not a lot of youngsters grow up thinking, “I want to work in a rental center when I grow up.” Neither do a lot of kids grow up today dreaming of being service technicians.

What potential job seekers typically don't know is that working in a rental business can be a lot of fun, even though it is hard work. Many will tell you they find a lot of camaraderie and teamwork at rental companies where the culture emphasizes working for common goals; that their jobs are challenging; and that every day is different.

As for service technicians, it's a lot different than it used to be. Equipment is highly computerized and complex, and maintenance and repair involves far more than just turning wrenches. Your service technicians are likely to learn a wide variety of skills that are interesting and challenging, particularly involving computer technology, which is very attractive to today's young people.

In the rental business, there are a lot of opportunities to work one's way up the ladder if you don't mind hard work, long hours and have a competitive spirit. And I'm talking about the kind of competitive spirit that comes from working hard to be the best, working to improve one's company, working to offer a better solution to the customers, not just a competitive drive to advance at the expense of others.

I know owners and CEOs of rental companies who started off working in the shop or working in the yard. At many rental companies, people start off in service or on the yard, work their way up into inside sales at the counter, outside sales, branch manager, and so on. The opportunity to advance often depends, to a great degree, on desire.

So of course recruiting is not easy. It's challenging enough to find people who are qualified, who have the training and required skills. And beyond that to find the right personal qualities, the willingness to work hard, to work well with other people, the ability to take initiative and take risks and be creative.

Back in the 1980s, Hertz Equipment Rental Corp., under the leadership of Dan Kaplan, revolutionized hiring and recruiting and training in the rental business by primarily hiring college graduates to be counter and sales staff. Kaplan's philosophy, well articulated in his groundbreaking book, “Service Success,” was to find “promotable people,” i.e., people with education and desire to grow and improve. You can teach people about equipment, you can teach people about construction and equipment applications, but you can't teach desire to succeed or a work ethic unless “the right stuff” is there to begin with.

How do you find people with that work ethic, desire to succeed and service-related personality? Some companies use personality profile tests as part of the hiring process. These tests can't give you all the answers, but they can be one component.

Some rental companies lean towards individuals with a background in retail, again with the view that a person can learn about equipment, but that it may be harder to communicate and transmit a service-related ethic that often is a by-product of retail experience. In other words, a person who has the basic orientation of knowing how to treat a customer, of making a customer feel welcome, of genuinely enjoying the process of trying to solve a customer's problem. It's harder to teach but rental companies can work on training their staff in enhancing a customer service attitude.

There really is no one key to successful recruiting. But one must start with a willingness to invest in people, to making people feel that coming to work for your company is a potential for a career, not just a job that will do until another one comes along.

So what happens if you invest in people, train them, and then they leave because they can get 50 cents an hour more somewhere else, or because they decide they'd rather pursue a different type of work? Well, that happens. It happens in my field, publishing, it happens in rental and it can happen anywhere. But if you put some serious thought into what kind of person you want to hire to begin with and how to train them, your chances of retaining your people and helping them develop into better employees will be much better.

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