Mechanical contractors serving Silicon Valley’s constant construction turn to a competitive sheet metal industry in the Bay Area, where competition for skilled labor is as stiff as it is for contracts. Unionized San Jose’s Acosta Sheet Metal is one of the leading sheet metal and custom manufacturers in the community, specializing in HVAC and building material products.
“Intense competition affects every industry here. There’s construction going on all the time,” says VP of Operations and Marketing Michelle Acosta. Since taking on new responsibilities in January of 2021, she has prioritized employee retention and training.
While benefits like paid time off and healthcare are standard, she says to set themselves apart, "maintaining a healthy, positive working environment really takes everything to the next level. It’s really what I feel talent is looking for right now.”
One of the best ways of accomplishing this, she’s found, is “empowering your experts.”
“We view our employees as our experts, and we really let them guide the business in that way and help determine where we go. They really get to own the projects, and with the changes we've made since January, they feel they're part of the growth of the business and that gives them drive to stay,” Acosta says.
By being part of the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors' National Association, or SMACNA, “many of our team members already come to us having the trade-required experience.” Journey and fore men and women that have been with Acosta for years train apprentices, though for software like what operates their Bystronic fiber lasers, it can take years to learn the ins-and-outs of the technology.
“We try to cross-train on that sort of thing as much as possible,” she says. “It’s hard to find skilled trade labor in Silicon Valley that actually sticks in the industry for a really long time and up to the caliber of some of the people in our shop. Some have been in the trade for over 30 years.
“When new workers land in our shop, being that we are a manufacturer only, we get to train them on commercial grade equipment that makes the material that they very likely already had experience installing at job sites,” Acosta says of their fleet of welders, roll formers, high-caliber press brakes and more.
“Many of the products we make, we make them time and time again,” she says, adding these tasks best suite new hires. “But there are a lot of our unique products, especially those that include architectural sheet metal. It's just something you have to do overtime to get good at.”
She cites an estimator in the administrative side of her shop that’s been with Acosta for about nine years.
“She's still struggling with the nuances of architectural sheet metal, because every job is different, and that’s okay,” Acosta says.
She admits herself, “I may not currently know the most efficient way to fabricate a double wye, but we have experts who do know. They educate those of us that are on the sales and administrative side and that heavy communication is something we didn’t have as much before we put this emphasis on company culture.”