Anatomy of a Tech

What to look for, and where to look, for your next hire

Illustration by Michael Berrelleza

We talk a lot about what techs should know, the tools they should use, how they should deal with customers and how to diagnose or fix things. Now I thought it would be a good time to talk about what makes a good tech, what makes them tick and how to understand them better.

If a tech has stayed at it for a period of time, no matter how cool they may appear on the outside, they are a geek at heart.

Their jeans or shorts have more pockets than a rabbit den and are loaded with screwdriver bits, sockets, Teflon tape, a pocket knife, fuses, barb fittings, spade connectors, wire nuts and other useful treasures to the tune of about 15 pounds.

Their clothes are stained with glue and primer, and they’re constantly picking dried silicon off their hands while chatting with you.

Their cell phone case is taped, glued or siliconed together in such a fashion that you can get it apart to dry it out occasionally from spa water.

They may be a motor head, a techno geek, a gamer or even a moonlight handyman.

If you look in their own backyard, their grill was probably thrown away by a customer and they rebuilt it.

They often have a doctor/patient relationship with their vehicle, fixing everything themselves. On the floorboard are extra parts, cans of bug spray and empty Coke cans or coffee cups.

Their house is bound to have electronic gadgets torn apart to recreate something that looks like R2D2, and they have an audio/video center that looks like a 1970s sci-fi movie.

Their computer is pieced together from several different desktops and screens and, although it may not look like much, could probably control space command.

As far as a tool box? That’s where different personalities collide. Some have an organized system with every tool in its place and a tool for every job, while others have an old cast-out canvas bag with a bunch of flea market specials piled in it. But the common theme is they all can make things work with whatever level of tools they possess.

Few of these unique creatures have the knack with people that they have with things. A tech worth his salt can fix just about anything, but most prefer repairing broken objects to getting stuck in a conversation with customers.

This isn’t to say all techs fit into this category: some may be the best salesmen around but just love to fix things. Years ago, I became a salesman because I was spending too much time talking with customers, selling things and falling behind on my service calls. My boss noticed my sales were starting to pass the company salesmen and asked me to divide my week up, selling three days a week and doing service for the high-profile customers. If you get a great tech who winds up being an even better salesman, your best bet might well be to start training another tech.

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The hardest thing is to know where to find people who have the skills to fix spas along with the stamina to deal with customer demands, weather, bugs, uncomfortable and often dirty conditions while being self-sufficient out in the field. That someone also must be able to communicate their parts and supply needs along with completing paperwork in an organized manner.

After all, how many people have a goal to become a spa tech? To my knowledge, there is no real curriculum of any vocational training towards this, nor any recruitment for it, although there should be. So we have to poach from other industries for our techs, or bring them up through the ranks and mold them into masters.

I’ve found several places to start looking:

  • HVAC schools are a great place to start. Many young people at this type of school have the skills and “geekitude” toward making things work and fixing them, yet often don’t have any clue where to go with it.
  • Apprentice electricians usually really want to come into their own, be recognized as a professional, yet they are low on the totem pole. Giving them a chance to use their skills and be their own person right out of the gate is often appealing.
  • Take a look at your local apartment complexes, hotels and motels, and you will often find a maintenance technician already doing much of what you’re looking for, but who is frustrated because of the nature of the position. They may even be CPO-certified and understand water chemistry.
  • Transitioning military: Now we’re talking! Here’s a group of people who have had some of the most intensive engineering training available and yet are low-paid. They’ve learned to work with different personalities and usually have been taught troubleshooting. These are diamonds in the rough with work ethic to boot. They understand the need to be on the job and to not let the team down.

I’ve often said that I can teach a trained monkey with a cell phone and meter to diagnose a spa, but that’s not to negate the need for experience. The majority of your service calls are often something simple that an experienced person can walk a customer through over the phone with ease. Not a heater or board swap, and certainly not replacing a cracked plumbing manifold, but diagnosing a blown fuse or bad GFCI is within the grasp of just about any beginner taking advice from a pro.

But the place for your top tech may not always be in the field; it may be on the end of a phone line talking other techs through troubleshooting and field diagnosis. This leaves lots of room for mentor-type training and allows you to hire from many places.

I recently hired a Navy electronics tech who, although he had never touched a spa pack in his life, has been out servicing spas from day one. He understands the circuitry down to board component level, and he can walk through troubleshooting easily on the phone with me.

I had him do a motor change this week where he thought the whole thing would have to be replumbed to get the new pump in because of a tight fit. When he hit this block, I ran out with him, put the sweep on the pump discharge first, then pulled the sweep and the heater out at an angle and pushed them together at once. “Guess that comes with experience,” he said, and he was right.

I’ve also hired a couple semipro football players over the years to help with delivery and component change-outs in the field. These guys are great to have around when moving spas and listen to coaching when doing repairs.

The bottom line: It’s usually easier to look for someone with the skill set to be a tech than it is to find an experienced spa technician.

This article first appeared in the September/October 2013 edition.


Robert Stuart

Robert Stuart has been in the spa industry for more than 20 years as a technician, store manager, factory representative, salesman and business owner.