The Newsrecently received a letter from reader Sarah Wycoff of Columbus, OH, which appears in our Feedback section on page 6. Wycoff said she graduated from hvacr school in December 2000 and was excited about jumping into her new career. Her excitement turned to dismay, however.

She said that after contacting numerous contractors in her region, she has yet to secure a job. She said, “These companies don’t care if you are certified. The main questions are, ‘What tools do you have?’ and ‘How long have you been working in hvacr?’”

Wycoff concluded by asking The News to be more honest about hvacr employment opportunities.

That makes me feel a little dumb. I thought The News had been honest, totally honest. But maybe we aren’t getting a clear picture.

As a reporter, I usually keep my tape recorder with me during interviews, in person and on the phone. That way, I can quote a source with accuracy and fairness. I also give my sources the opportunity to review a first draft of my story; I want to make sure I am reporting what was really said.

Sometimes my sources will ask to change a quote because it wasn’t what they meant to say, or they didn’t feel comfortable with what they had said. I have no problem with that. I do have a problem with sources painting a rosier picture than actually exists.

I do believe in the honesty and integrity of the contractors I have talked to over the past three-and-a-half years. I know they need to find more workers, and not just experienced ones with tools.

But are there many contractors who don’t need help, or who will only hire experienced workers? Maybe I should travel to Wycoff’s neighborhood and get some answers. And maybe I should take a look at how I’m communicating that message through the written word to our readers.

A new friend of mine whom I met through discussions on “The Wall” at suggested that communication would be a good topic for The News to cover — and I agree. Gary Fereday responded to a topic that was discussed (and misinterpreted) on “The Wall.”

“Just about every post is read differently by someone and misconstrued to an extreme measure. On the monitors there is no feedback — of body language or eye contact or ambiance. If in the shops that was the same between the boss and the help, the whole business would come apart!”

I have the good fortune of talking to people in person, where using eye contact and body language come into play. I can usually tell if a person is being honest with me, or if they’re not telling the whole story.

I think I can do a better job of reporting the current worker shortage by using some key words that often aren’t spoken at in-person interviews. For example:

  • Rather than reporting that a business owner is looking for good help, I’ll say that he or she is looking for “qualified help.”
  • Rather than reporting if a business owner looks to bring new people into the trade, I’ll say that he or she “might be interested in bringing new people into the trade.”
  • Rather than reporting if a business owner is looking for a bright outlook and willingness to learn, I’ll say that he or she “will consider youth and enthusiasm.”
  • I don’t want there to be any misunderstanding of my reporting on the worker shortage, nor do I want the message misconstrued. There is a definite lack of qualified and unqualified (in training) workers in the hvacr trade.

    I just want people to be honest and open about the problem and communicate the truth. Drop me a line or visit our hvacr forum at to start the dialogue.

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

    Publication date: 05/07/2001