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the challenge

Paul Switzeny set up a home repair service after his own poor experiences with unreliable contractors.Chris Young/The Globe and Mail

Each week, we seek expert advice to help a small or medium-sized business overcome a key issue.

Eight months ago, a labourer interested in a job at HandyForce walked into its Toronto office smelling like alcohol.

"He sat down on a chair and said, 'Okay, I'm here for my interview. I'm pretty drunk right now, so maybe it's not the best time, but let's do this,'" recounts Paul Switzeny, owner of the home repair and maintenance business.

Mr. Switzeny admits it's been a relatively common occurrence since he launched the company in 2010 after facing his own difficulties with unreliable contractors.

Upon the completion of his condo renovation, "I ended up with little finicky things I couldn't finish myself and couldn't get anybody to come back and deal with," he says. He decided to use his previous experience running businesses to develop a better model that hired reliable, "semi-skilled" employees who could take care of small projects.

"It's a notoriously transient industry," Mr. Switzeny says. "These guys are good at the trades but they're not necessarily entrepreneurs."

The goal was to build a reliable, well-branded business with a simple quote system for customers. HandyForce handles an average of three jobs a week, with prices ranging from $300 for smaller projects such as installing a display case in a retail store to more than $50,000 for larger home renovations. They predominantly operate in Toronto's East York neighbourhood.

The company has 15 employees, but growing beyond that has proven difficult.

"We still use Craigslist, but you get a very mixed bag of people on there," he says. "It's difficult to find people in our industry online, I think because the people looking for jobs like this aren't typically tech-savvy."

It's also tough finding young employees to take on roles in the trades, especially in a city like Toronto, he says.

"The younger generation doesn't want to do that. They want a nice, cushy job in front of a computer," says Mr. Switzeny. He tried setting up a trades-recruitment business to find the sort of labourers he's after – people without ticketed or licensed skills but with industry knowledge nonetheless – but it hasn't been as fruitful as he hoped.

Mr. Switzeny has ambitions to expand HandyForce's repair and odd job services into the commercial sphere, tackling more projects for companies such as Tim Hortons or the provincial liquor stores, both of which he has already worked with. But he can't continue pursuing this market without the right talent.

"We're short about 10 people," he says.

The Challenge: How can HandyForce find reliable and consistent labourers in the city?


Amanda Charron, managing partner at the human resources consultancy Salopek and Associates Ltd., Calgary

When you're recruiting, it's important you're marketing with a consistent message. With HandyForce they have a career page on their website but they're not actually posting their jobs on it. That would definitely be one of the first things I would recommend.

Secondly, in their job posting, they gave a little bit of information about the company but it doesn't say why they are a great company, why you would want to work with them. At the very top they list how much they pay an hour. For this job, you probably want to post the hourly rate but it should be included, not featured. That's not why you want people to come work for you – you want them to come because they like what your company is about, they're excited about the professional opportunities.

You should also address the other elements of compensation – training opportunities, the opportunity to upgrade skills. Do they provide compensation for getting your certificate? Do they provide benefits? Flexibility? Vacation time? An opportunity to give back to the community? These are all parts of compensation that are not monetary that people care about today.

Becky Reuber, professor of strategic management, Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto

HandyForce should consider hiring retired people. For their little jobs, I would recommend fairly young pensioners who are looking for ways to augment their money – they've got the expertise, and they probably don't want to start building a huge clientele, they probably don't want the hassle. The pensioners might be very happy to have somebody do all that for them.

They are also probably more mature, and if it's a two- or three-person job they could even train younger people. Plus they're probably less threatening when they show up at peoples' houses.

Brent Sharpless, managing partner of a Wow 1 Day Painting franchise, Toronto

Culture is cash. If you're able to create a culture that people want to be a part of, it has a knock-on effect in all sorts of ways, one of which being recruiting. The power of word of mouth is the strongest vehicle for recruiting.

Sometimes small-business owners forget about building a culture or don't put resources toward it because they've got bills to pay or a million other things to juggle. But I think it's one of the most important things you can do. Take your employees out to a Jays game, have barbecues – then you get people talking about that in their social circles. I think that's really powerful – like attracts like, so when you have somebody out in the world speaking about your business in a positive way, it tends to attract similar types.


Bolster job postings

Add more information to the website about non-monetary compensation and the business itself to attract applicants who aren't just focused on earning a quick buck.

Look to the senior community

Try to recruit retirees who may not want to go out and find their own work.

Build a stronger culture

Devote resources to team-building activities such as sporting events or barbecues.

Follow Report on Small Business on Twitter at @globesmallbiz.

Interviews have been edited and condensed.

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