Daniel Smolenaars heads Laser Plumbing sale and Laser Plumbing Traralgon with a progressive attitude to recruitment that’s a welcome breath of fresh air. The company employ around 35 site staff and seven office staff on a broad range of construction and maintenance projects, including a large civil division laying pipe for land developers, local water authorities and an substantial job at the sale RAAF base. Although the business is thriving at the moment, times haven’t always been so forgiving. but of the back of the economic downturn came a new attitude which bore renewed success.

‘We like to do business a little differently,’ says Daniel. ‘Our new approach came off the back of bad times. We have gone through some significant hardships. There was some bad decision making, mostly due to employing staff who are weren’t aligned with our vision. We have learned a lot of lessons about business and staff culture. As a Manager, you have to take responsibility for the success of the business and
satisfaction of our clients and staff .’ Daniel attributes his second wind of success to a reinvigoration of working values, which have become mantra- like in their importance to how his business operates. Perhaps you could take away a few tips from this holistic approach to procedure – you might nd their ideas useful food for thought when you next consider your staffing situation.

RESPONSIVE PLACEMENT

It’s crucial to play to an employee’s strengths and harness those within the business. If someone is good at their job, a common mistake is to ‘reward’ them by making them managers and sticking them in an office. Often misplaced, they will not flourish, but flounder. Our advice is to allow people to grow within the environment they naturally succeed in. Staff want to grow in their profession, so provide them with the opportunity to move up technically.

A plumber thinks it’s far more important to lay pipe in the ground properly rather than sign o on a project or invoice – it’s important to learn to play to people’s skills.

To get around the problem, hire someone else with expertise in that eld. We have just employed a new project manager, Chloe to come in and manage our projects and support our high-end technicians to deliver our projects – it’s working really well.

ENSURE CULTURAL ALIGNMENT

Most importantly, we employ people who have the courage to act and are passionate about people and enriching lives. We give as much as we gain and operate a fully collaborative workplace, where ideas are always welcome on the table.

We employ two business coaches who both hit different marks through working with our team across different strategies and projects. But we don’t force staff to all be the same – we allow them to flourish while staying aligned to our core values. We try to reward those who aren’t afraid to step up and take on a new challenge.

NURTURE AMBITION AND CREATIVITY

Always mentoring staff to think of others and be aware of their surroundings, we encourage freedom and flexibility. Within our workspace, we nurture ambition and capability, breeding a sense of belonging and purpose. We honestly want people to look forward to coming to work, it helps to encourage a team culture, this is not an unrealistic goal. High staff turnover is expensive in business. We give the staff opportunity to provide feedback about what bothers them and we do our best to change that. If your staff feel valued, they will value their work.

LISTEN AND LEARN

No matter what a person’s age or experience, we can always learn from them. We promote this democratic culture in our workplace, which encourages a willingness to learn through curiosity and ambition. It’s important to listen to the ideas of young people today and get them on board. They can even rescue you from a technology or ideology rut. The future leaders of our business are all from the Y Generation.
We invite the young people we recruit along to the Master Plumbers meetings and awards nights to meet inspiring industry veterans like Kevin Shinners, Peter Jensen and Scott Dowsett. It’s invaluable to understand where the industry has come from and that they understand the importance to continue the legacy and take it in any direction they choose. It works better when it comes from the heart. Some of our apprentices have risen up through the ranks to become shareholders. These kinds of incentives not only motivate them to feel a part of the business, but also underline our collaborative culture. Our staff have been known to push me out of the way when I am a hurdle to productivity and business efficiency. As a business owner I could be a hurdle to them and reign them in but for me, it increases efficiency and profitability to run with this level of initiative.

FAMILY ORIENTED CULTURE

We appreciate that our staff are much more than just their working selves. It’s crucial to promote a healthy work-life balance, where fathers can be fathers and mothers can be mothers. If a staff member needs the afternoon o to go to his daughter’s sports day, we do our best to accommodate that within the business. Believe it or not, when recruiting an apprentice we make the time to chat with the candidate’s parents before signing them up. If they are good, community-minded people, their kid is more likely to have a good culture. Perhaps it’s not for everyone, but for us it really works!

INVEST IN THE COMMUNITY

It’s been our mission for quite sometime to raise the profile of the blue collar work. Blue collar has always been viewed as a dirty job and not that appealing but it’s all about fulfilment. There’s no point going and becoming an accountant if it makes you miserable.

That is what we are promoting through educational outreach. To attract talent, you need to start in the secondary schools. We often have ‘come and try’ days at educational trade shows. There’s a broad representation of white and blue collar work. It provides the kids the opportunity to dabble in different types of work experience. 

We like to bring our younger employees along to engage with the students and they often end up building something for the day.
It’s not just about recruitment,
we also engage with not for pro t organisations.

I’ve never really considered myself handy on my feet but I somehow managed to win a charity Dancing with the Stars competition a few years ago where our score collaboratively earned $60,000 for a housing for disabled youth project. Not enough people get involved in not for pro t initiatives. We are making it our mission to guide and inspire people to get involved. It’s not just good for business – it’s good for your soul.

LEAN ON YOUR SUPPORT NETWORK

Our organisation has been a part of the Master Plumbers for 40 years. It has been great to have this support network on hand. The greatest bene t has been the accessibility to mix with industry peers. The Master Plumbers is a unifying voice of reason that binds the industry together. If all of the Master Plumbers members tried to implement change individually, it wouldn’t work; but together the strength is immeasurable.

I think a lot of people underestimate how Master Plumbers helped build and stabilise the industry. It’s great to have such a steady and progressive support network. What the Master Plumbers does is amazing. But you only get out what you put in. Attend the events, ask for help on OHS or Industry Relations. Be resourceful and dedicate time to the industry. But remember Master Plumbers is a conduit to the business; while they aren’t there to run your business, they will assist you.

PRACTICE RESILIENCE

We experienced some challenges in 2007’s economic downturn but were not ready to succumb to the fear mongering. I’m a firm believer in the power of positivity. We rallied our troops and instilled the ethos that we weren’t going to participate in the financial crisis – it was mind over matter and we were going to keep going.

It was our decision to run our own race, taking on as many jobs as we could to keep momentum. This worked to a certain extent, but
then started to fall short. While we seemingly grew and flourished, we made some misaligned decisions and didn’t manage our growth.

After a lot of staff left, we saw it as a chance to wipe the slate clean and recruit much more carefully so as bring the business a fresh start. Every dollar we made we invested back into the business. I never put myself first. The staff who stuck by us are good partners who have been with us for many years. I think every business owner could learn good lessons from these peaks and troughs. Now we’re well and truly back on top of things, it’s our job to teach future generations how to manage good times and bad.

I guess everyone gets concerned about workloads. As humans, we tend to jump at opportunities rather than back ourselves. With better planning, less reactiveness and recruiting the right staff, we are stronger and more unified now.

 

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