John R. Hall

A while back I visited a conference and expo, sponsored by the National Association of Oil Heating Service Managers (NAOHSM), where I met a group of young students from an oil heat votech school in New Jersey. I was impressed by their enthusiasm for being at the show which was a reward for good grades. They also spoke highly of their instructor. I took a photo of the group in the lobby of the Hershey Lodge andThe NEWSpublished it along with their story.

The first hoop I had to jump through to get the photo published was permission from the school. The person making the decision wasn’t sure the photo was a good representation of the student body because of how some of the boys were dressed and the way they posed. But the instructor and I convinced the school to approve the photo because these were young men who looked and acted like many young people their age - they were simply being kids.

After the picture was published, NAOHSM forwarded me a letter sent to the instructor from an HVAC professional who took exception to the photograph being published and for the teacher allowing his students to appear in public the way they were dressed. Below are two excerpts from the letter:

“These students attend a national meeting, as invited guests, wearing baseball caps, jeans, untucked T-shirts and on a few of the faces the ‘proud street gangsta look.’ I would not hire one of these so called ‘leaders of tomorrow’ to sweep out my garage. I am shocked that you, an instructor, would dare allow students in your charge to attend a national meeting appearing this way, and I am mystified as to why anyone in the trade would take such a photograph, let alone publish it.

“You are to be condemned for allowing your students to attend a national meeting looking like hoodlums and your trade press is to be condemned for falsely glorifying their accomplishments. If they can make good grades, they can be taught the meaning of respect and professional attire.”


I put this letter out on several HVAC discussion boards on the Web. I have to admit that I was surprised by the number of people who responded at each Website. For the most part, the responses were along the lines of “let the kids be kids - didn’t we all try to fit in with our age group at one time?”

I take the same stance. I have teenage children, which allows me a little insight into their minds. I see kids trying to fit in with their generation, which is very harmless.

We should expect our young people to grow up to become mature adults when they finish school and meld into the job market. I’m sure many of you had to trade in your long hair, torn T-shirts, cutoff shorts, and flip flops for a company uniform or suit and tie.

Some of the people who responded to this letter were critical of the young men’s appearances and said they would not be welcome in a lot of their customer’s homes. That may be true, but these are young men in votech school. They aren’t going into customers’ homes right now, they are going to school and hanging out with their friends in their free time. Cut them some slack.


If this had been a photograph of a group of current service techs, I could see the uproar. But it isn’t. We are trying to encourage our young people to enter the HVAC trade, not discourage them. Thousands of service tech jobs go unfilled each year because young people are turning away from the vocational trades in droves.

So what do we do? We expect to pigeonhole them into our way of doing things or we cut them loose to work at a fast food joint or delivering pizzas.

These young men exemplify the look of a lot of young people entering the HVAC trade. We should expect them to eventually fit into a slot we have made for them in the trade - a slot that brings with it many conditions, including appearance, attitude, and education. I am confident that most will know the importance of shedding their old look for their new employer.

So for now let’s encourage them to succeed in a field where they are so desperately needed.

Publication date:10/08/2007