The heating oil and propane gas industry is experiencing times that they have never seen. The pandemic creates an “essential” industry where workers are on the frontlines. Consolidation takes place at a record pace and finding and keeping talent is one of the most difficult areas of management from an operational perspective. A lack of talent in all areas of operations is hitting the industry hard. What this means for owners/operators is that there just are not people to fill the seats to get the job done.
Kendall Rawls, alongside Aimee LaBrake Allen who is a consultant to the energy industry, presented recently on next-generation, recruiting, and other topics for Women in Energy and their Fall Workshops, as well as two sessions at the 2021 HEAT Show. One thing stood out more than any other from the discussions they had with heating oil and propane marketers and that was, “Where are all the workers?” Talking with many about the talent shortage, here is what stood out the most and where we go from here:
- How do I even get people to apply?
Not only is there an industry shortage, but for those who work in the industry or who are entering it there is an intense amount of competition for talent. It’s creating challenges for an industry that is already tough to attract people but now it is even harder to garner interest in getting someone to apply.
- How do I ensure they fit the organization?
Due to the extreme shortage of workers, it is creating this unnecessary sense of urgency to hurry and get people through the door. The flipside of this is not knowing they really fit the culture of your business, or at a minimum, the personalities of your team.
- How do I keep them once they apply?
If you are one of the lucky owners/operators getting interested applicants who you believe fit the organization, congratulations. The work is not done, however. The next theme emerging is how to get them to stay. What we are seeing is that people are applying to jobs, however, they are applying to many jobs at the same time and taking the first / quickest offer only to then get better offers/incentives, forcing them to leave you.
These are questions and challenges that are forcing retail heating oil and propane marketers to make decisions more quickly, and often outside of the normal protocol of interviews. The decisions you make, have long-term effects. For example, a few owners we talked to mentioned they are simply offering more money upfront to start, sometimes doubling the original starting pay. We heard one propane retailer say they were offering seasonal drivers $50/hour. Yes, you read that right, $50/hour! Other owners are foregoing the worry of a cultural fit and just putting whoever applies and accepts to work. Although both will solve the immediate problem of filling a position, they are not viable long-term solutions for the business. Here are some recommendations we shared with retail heating oil and propane marketers at the Fall conferences around recruiting and retention.
Owners/operators must be more intentional about recruiting for positions within their branches/operations. It takes more than placing an ad in the local newspaper or telling friends you have an opening. You must be creative in what you have to offer and specific about what you will do for the potential new hire. Examples for drivers, techs, and tank setters include going to local high-school career fairs and offering to pay for kids to get their licenses to set tanks and clean boilers or maybe even get their CDL to drive for you. Sure, you may invest in them and teach them all they need to know only for them to leave, but then that means you have a retention problem, which is more costly than a recruiting problem.
More critical than recruiting, retention is essential to your operation. One of the costliest things for business owners comes in the form of turnover. Therefore, keeping what you have is critical, and the way you work towards keeping the talent you have is through building a winning culture. The heating oil and propane gas industry has a reputation for being a little rough around the edges. Alternately, it also has a reputation for being very family-focused and community-minded. These are huge value propositions that other competing forces on which most competitors cannot stand.
Build your culture around these things and build out programs that focus on family and community. Consider flexible work schedules for your teams, allowing them to work hours that work best for them and their family. Core hours, seasonal shifts, remote work, etc., are all options you can consider making yourself stand out. You are also in a unique position to do more at your local level in the community to bring everyone together. Donate to local causes, create annual/semi-annual events to celebrate your
There are a variety of factors at play here. There is a lack of kids coming out of school looking for jobs in the trades. The move is in part due to the incoming workforce wanting to feel like they believe in the culture of the company, or who want to work in more “environmentally friendly” industries. The other large part is to the large push from corporate America and parents pushing the “Bachelor’s Degree” requirement. Finally, there is simply just a shortage of workers, in general, for no real reason.
It may seem like a rhetorical question, but do you know how critical recruiting and retaining the right talent are to the future of your retail heating oil and propane gas business? It is a key piece to fulfilling your vision and goals for the business AND your future financial health. The net result for the industry is to look within and identify ways to ensure your culture is attractive, and that you are providing opportunities for a changing workforce based on their needs and motivations.