Industrial Utility Efficiency    

Filling the Gap for Air Compressor Service Technicians

As demand for compressed air use continues to grow, the future looks bright for distributors who design, sell, install and service compressed air systems. But perhaps only one thing stands in the way of continued growth and profitability for the vast majority of distributors throughout the United States: the shortage of experienced air compressor service technicians.

Yet despite the limited availability of seasoned service technicians distributors are finding ways to tackle the issue head on to ensure they have the right team in place to service customers – and keep them coming back. Here’s what leading distributors from throughout the country say about the importance of service technicians and their strategies to successfully overcome one of the industry’s biggest challenges.

 

Service Technicians: Unique & Highly Valued

Distributors everywhere view service technicians as not only a unique breed of professionals with specialized skills and talent; they see them as the lifeblood of their operations.

“We are a service company that provides equipment. We don’t have the capability of only chasing equipment sales. Service technicians are the foundation of our success,” said Phil Kruger, Vice President/General Manager of Harris Equipment, headquartered in the Chicago suburb of Melrose Park, Illinois. The company employs eleven service technicians.

Jim Timmersman, co-owner of Power Supply Industries (PSI), headquartered in Fenton, Missouri, said service technicians are highly valued for a very good reason. Their job is to keep customers’ plants functioning.

“If a plant loses air, it’s like the lights going out,” said Timmersman. “It’s absolutely crucial for our service technician to correct problems and satisfy the customer.” PSI, which also has locations in Peoria and Decatur, Illinois, employs 14 service technicians.

Zorn Compressor & Equipment General Manager/Vice President Jeff Carlson said the importance of service technicians is only growing. Zorn is headquartered in the Pewaukee, Wisconsin. It also has branches throughout Wisconsin, as well as Northern Illinois. It has a team of 30 service technicians.

“We’re seeing more and more customers with fewer and fewer maintenance people on their staffs. That means they rely on professionals like Zorn to take care of their equipment,” said Carlson. “Service is the backbone of our business.”

Zorn Technicians

Photo courtesy of Zorn Compressor & Equipment.

Finding a Needle in a Haystack

There is no single reason for the shortage of experienced service technicians for hire. Reasons vary from a general shortage of people interested in working in technical trades to the uniqueness of the occupation. The combination of factors adds to the difficulty of finding good service technicians.

Many like Robert Agnetti of Pye-Barker Engineered Solutions, Forest Park, Georgia, say the lack of experienced professionals could be a sign of the times.

“I think a lot of it has to do with the younger generation. Not many want to get their hands dirty. It’s just a different world we live in,” said Agnetti, Vice President of Operations at the company. Pye-Barker also has an office in Savannah, Georgia. It employs six service technicians.

Distributors like Agnetti say finding an experienced service technician is like finding a needle in a haystack largely because the job requires a highly specialized set of skills. Needed are technicians who can install and maintain all types of air compressors, as well as system components; read wiring schematics and diagrams; and diagnose air compressors and components using precision measurement tools. 

Atlanta Compressor Technician

The job of an air compressor service technician requires a unique set of skills, such as understanding the heart of a rotary screw air compressor-the airend. Photo courtesy of Atlanta Compressor.
     
Sal CalvoSal Calvo, Owner, MidState Air Compressor, Inc.

It’s also critical for a service technician to have accomplished communication and soft skills, making it even harder to find the right candidate.

“Obviously, they need to be technically capable, but they also need to be customer-focused. They’re the people customers see the most. They are ambassadors of sorts to our customers,” said Carlson, echoing the sentiments of virtually all distributors.  

“People have to look at what the title, ‘air compressor service technician,’ means,” said Sal Calvo, Owner of MidState Air Compressor, Inc., Berlin, Connecticut. Calvo is Vice President of the Association of Independent Compressor Distributors (AICD), and has spearheaded AICD educational initiatives aimed at service technician training.

“The job is not just about fixing air compressors,” said Calvo who employs seven service technicians. “It’s about talking. It’s about figuring out what’s going on in a certain situation. A service technician needs to be a detective to survive in this industry.”

 

Hiring Less Experienced Technicians Works

Nearly every distributor encounters the same reality: Experienced service technicians with a combination of rare and valued skills are gainfully employed. What’s more, the supply of highly qualified service technicians is small to begin with. It’s why most are fine with hiring less experienced candidates.

“There just isn’t a huge field of air compressor service technicians,” said Timmersman, adding that people who graduate from a technical school have a myriad of options beyond the compressed air industry.

“You don't see people coming out of school to be an air compressor technician,” said Jimmy Hamilton, President, Q Air-California, Santa Fe Springs, California. The company employs a team of 10 service technicians. “We are always actively searching for experienced service technicians, but your chances of finding someone with industry knowledge are small because any tech of value is not out looking for work.” 

     
Jimmy HamiltonJimmy Hamilton, President, Q Air-California, began his career as a member of the service team.

Distributors like Q Air-California say it takes an ongoing, strategically focused effort – and often a creative approach – to find, train and retain a qualified team of technicians. With a small pool of experienced candidates, many concentrate on hiring candidates with the potential to grow into the job.

A must for many like Harris Equipment is for candidates to have at least a few years of mechanical and electrical experience.

“We look for people that have some kind of wrenching experience in their background. This isn’t easy work. On top of everything else, they’re going to be physically tested. If they don’t have that mechanical aptitude we don’t look at them,” said Kruger.

Morty Hodge, CEO of Atlanta Compressor, LLC, Hoschton, Georgia, said some level of exposure to the mechanical and electrical work is essential for his company.

“We’re looking for folks who have basic mechanical reasoning abilities and who are already trained in the basics of electricity in a different industry, such HVAC or the automotive industry,” said Hodge, who also oversees affiliate companies Nashville Compressor, Nashville, Tennessee, and Charlotte Compressor, Charlotte, North Carolina. The three companies together employ 14 service technicians.

MidState Air Compressor Building

Service vans ready to roll out at MidState Air Compressor. Photo courtesy of MidState Air Compressor.

Hiring for Upside Potential Also Works

While many distributors concentrate on hiring service technician candidates with mechanical or electrical backgrounds – and train them on the specifics of the job – many are willing to start from the ground up.

Hodge said Atlanta Compressor and its affiliate distributors don’t focus on hiring seasoned service technicians. Rather, the goal is to hire well-rounded candidates with upside potential to help the company fulfill its vision.

“We hire based on the three C’s,” Hodges said. “Number one is character. We look for people who have the ability to care. Number two, we look for a cultural fit and number three is competency,” he said. “We’ll hire entry-level candidates based on that criteria.”

MidState Air Compressor and many others follow a hiring approach similar to Atlanta Compressor’s strategy.

“People need to be a little more open minded about hiring and training based on the times,” said Calvo. “It’s not like it was years ago. I basically hire on a person’s potential for the job, their personality and how they’re going to fit into a team. If they want to learn you can train them.”

Distributors like Calvo who hire service technician candidates with limited mechanical or electrical background follow a rigorous process to ensure a positive outcome – as do all distributors. The process involves careful interviewing, and in many cases: pre-employment testing.

As an example, MidState Air Compressor screens candidates with the help of an online testing service. Tests help determine whether a candidate has some level of mechanical or electrical aptitude. Those with acceptable scores then take another series of tests to pinpoint their strengths. If they score higher in any one area such as electricity, MidState Air Compressor begins to focus training on that area of strength – in addition to putting the person through its well-rounded training program.

Agnetti at Pye-Barker will also take a close look at inexperienced service technician candidates who don’t have mechanical backgrounds, but are willing to learn.

“If someone shows me they have the drive and are willing to learn, we’ll give him the opportunity for an entry level position,” Agnetti said. The new hire then starts with basic training, he said. However, Agnetti – like others – said it doesn’t work out for all candidates.

“If a person doesn’t have mechanical ability, it’s my job to tell him they don’t have what it takes, but if they have the drive we’ll find other areas of the company where we can use them,” he said.

Hamilton of Q Air-California said it’s fairly easy to know whether it’s worth investing in a candidate without any compressed air experience. It starts with good mechanical questions in the interview process.

“I’ll typically ask basic questions like, ‘Do you own a tool box? Do you work on your own car? Do you have any mechanical skills?’ If they can’t satisfactorily answer questions like these, we’re typically not going much further in the conversation.”

 

Teachers and Coaches, not Just Distributors

Distributors everywhere have found they are no longer only in the business of selling and servicing compressed air systems. Instead, they have become teachers and coaches who excel at educating and training service technicians regardless of whether someone is a new-hire or a seasoned professional.

Training typically starts with classroom and video training on safety and air compressor basics. Distributors also focus on essential industry certifications, including Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s OSHA 10-Hour online course designed to teach workplace safety and reduce jobsite hazards. Another is the Environmental Protection Agency’s EPA Technician certification. The EPA’s mandatory program requires all technicians to be certified before working on equipment that contains refrigerants.

Atlanta Compressor Training

Continuous education and training is critical for all service team members. Photo courtesy of Atlanta Compressor.

"Distributors also capitalize on online training courses offered by AICD and the Compressed Air and Gas Institute (CAGI). The availability of online training is invaluable", said Calvo.

“The younger guys eat up the online training,” he said. “It’s what they do. They grab a tablet and go right through it. It’s crazy to see how they come back to me two days later and say the online training is done.”

The next step after general training for most entry-level trainees with some level of experience – or none at all – involves work in the shop for several months where they work on air compressors and related equipment.

At Harris Equipment, for example, a dedicated trainer begins training a trainee in the shop using a curriculum that spells out clear objectives to be met. 

“Our trainers don’t just show a trainee how something is done. They instruct them on how to do it, why they do it, and review what’s been accomplished. It’s set up as pass/fail scenario and both the trainer and the trainee sign off. A fail involves more work until the trainee passes,” said Kruger.

At Harris Equipment and other distributorships the next step in training for less-experienced trainees is for a trainee to work side-by-side with a seasoned service technician in the field.

On-the-job training at all distributors involves multiple checkpoints and multiple team discussions about the trainee’s progress and ability to work independently at a customer’s site. The time devoted to training a newer service technician varies by person. Distributors say it’s only when all parties are comfortable when new service technician goes in the field on their own.

At all distributorships, training is ongoing regardless of a service technician’s experience. Training often includes informal training during the lunch hour, online training, in-shop training, and on-the job training. Distributors also take advantage of regular training offered by manufacturers of air compressors and related equipment.

 

More Than a Job

Like any occupation where the demand for proven skills outweighs supply air compressor technicians stand to make a good living. And say distributors, it’s a rewarding career.

“Service technicians are never going to be replaced by robots,” said Hamilton at Q Air-California. “If you’re serious about it and you can find a good company that will take care of you, it’s a job for life.”

Calvo at MidState Air Compressor could not agree more. His company, like others, works hard to ensure service technicians know they’re valued.

“We tell candidates MidState Air Compressor is a career,” he said. “It’s not a job. If you’re ready for a career, we’re the right place for you.”

Q-Air-California

The service truck fleet at Q Air-California. Photos courtesy of Q Air-California.

A Good Career, a Good Salary

Those looking for jobs as an air compressor service technician are in the driver’s seat in today’s marketplace when it comes to career opportunity. Not surprisingly, it’s an occupation that can pay well.

Compressed Air Best Practices® Magazine asked distributors from throughout the country to shed light on the annual salaries paid to service technicians based on varied levels of experience as part of an informal survey.

An entry-level candidate with no compressor technician experience can earn an annual salary of approximately $24,000 to $42,000. A service technician with one to five years of experience can earn approximately $40,000 to $62,000 per year.

Salaries climb significantly for more experienced and senior service technicians. Those with five to 10 years of experience working on air compressors and related equipment can expect to earn a minimum of approximately $46,000, and as much as $73,000 per year. A service technician with 10 or more years of experience can command approximately $60,000 to $89,000 per year.

The range of salaries described here does not include benefits normally including a company service truck and full healthcare coverage. In addition, many factors, such as such as the candidate’s background, previous certifications and personality, as well as the level of competition within each region for skilled professionals, greatly influences the compensation offered. 

Air Compressor Service Technician Salaries*

Experience

None

1-5 Years

5-10 Years

10+ Years

Salary

$24,000-$42,000

$40,000-$62,000

$46,000-$73,000

$60,000-$89,000

*Based upon an informal survey of Compressed Air Best Practices® Magazine subscribers.

 

 

To read more Air Compressor Technology articles please visit www.airbestpractices.com/technology/air-compressors.