I’m ahugeHall & Oates fan, and not because of my namesake. So I couldn’t let this story go without using the title from one of their hits — “Sara Smile.” In the context of this story, however, Sarah is not smiling.

Let me explain.

I like to track the response to the columns I’ve written over the past year and a half. I try to hit some touch points that create reactions among News readers — and get them to stop and think.

Until early May, the column with the biggest response was on the “$29.95 Clean and Inspect,” where I discussed the rationality of low-cost inspections and what contractors should really be charging if they expect to be profitable, without actually setting a price (I don’t want to be linked to price fixing).

But along came Sarah Wyckoff, the woman I talked about in my May 7 column. Sarah is the recent hvac tech school grad who has been having a devil of a time finding an entry-level job in the Columbus, OH, market. Sarah believes that too many contractors are looking for experienced technicians or those who have their own tools; and don’t give an equal chance to people, like her, who want to learn the trade at a “reasonable” salary ($9 to $10/hr).

The response to the column has been remarkable. Contractors from California to Florida have asked to interview Sarah. Others have written supporting Sarah and wishing her good luck. Still others have criticized Sarah for not presenting the whole picture and suggesting there are other reasons why she hasn’t found a job yet.

I’ve been in contact with Sarah several times since the column appeared in The News and I have spoken to several contractors in the Columbus area. As of this publication date, Sarah is still looking for work in the hvacr field but she has temporarily gone to work in a maintenance department. As she put it, she “needs a steady income.”

She is admittedly discouraged and ready to give up on finding a career in hvacr, but is still willing to go on interviews. Because of family matters, Sarah prefers to stay in Columbus.

I know there are always two sides to every story and I have tried to paint a picture with more than one brush. It is possible that service managers who interviewed Sarah did not feel she was technically qualified to handle the position, or maybe they just weren’t taking on new, inexperienced hires.

Gender Bias?

It has also been suggested that there is a bias against female technicians, and that this bias is adversely affecting Sarah. She told me that another graduate from her class, an African-American woman, was also unable to land an entry-level job in the Columbus market. She has since dropped out of the hvacr trade and gone into maintenance work.

Several of the respondents to my column were willing to help with an interview but did not want to be identified. I believe in confidentiality and I’m sure all had valid reasons, but it does raise the possibility that a gender bias exists.

Don’t beat me up on this one; I’m raising one of many questions. Half of the respondents to this story believe there is a gender bias while the other half say that no such bias exists.

Are there other reasons why Sarah is still looking? That is the question.

I doubt that we have heard the last of this story. In fact, I encourage a healthy discussion about women in our trade. If we suffer from the same worker shortage as other service trades, I would think that hiring an eager worker, who is determined to make hvacr a lifetime career, is the smart move.

If a person fails, whether they are male or female, it should be from their own merits and not because they were never given the chance.

Hall is business management editor. He can be reached at 734-542-6214; 734-542-6215 (fax); halljr@bnp.com (e-mail).

Publication date: 06/04/2001