It’s The Economy

I am responding to John R. Hall’s request for feedback on issues affecting the HVACR industry [“A New Trend Emerges Among Contractors’ Biggest Concerns,” Nov. 25]. Here are my top three concerns:

The economy has to be No. 1. It impacts decisions across the board, and is probably the biggest concern on a year-to-year basis. This is obvious enough that it needs little comment.

Insurance pretty much has to be No. 2. Maybe a lot of your readers haven’t had the time or reason to follow this issue closely, but if they look at what their insurance premiums have done over the past two to three years, and ask their agents/brokers what they see happening next year, it is hard to imagine that this is not an easy “top three” choice.

Whether you are discussing health insurance, worker’s comp, or any of the other insurance components, the percentage increase in this area has to be the biggest increase being faced by any contractor this year. The idiots and crooks that go underinsured have a real pricing advantage, until a lawsuit forces them to close their doors.

The worker shortage is probably third. The union covers training — it is their single biggest benefit. But attracting quality people is just as big a problem for the union as it is for other employers, and the issues remain the same whether the work environment is union or nonunion.

In Los Angeles, we are getting a large number of apprentices who are not straight out of high school. Guys (and occasionally girls) who like to work with their hands, fix things, and enjoy being the focus of attention when they arrive at a comfort problem tend to end up being drawn to the profession. Many of these folks have tried other jobs before they found out about HVAC.

While the focus of “worker shortage” articles tends to be attracting kids while they are in high school, I suspect that this is not the answer. Based on what I’ve seen, it is more important to attract people who are 18 to 25, enjoy actually fixing stuff, and aren’t afraid of computers. Big egos and somewhat oversized personalities seem to fit well into the service tech mode, so long as they are willing to back up their ego with a work ethic.

Mike Gallagher, Western Allied Service Co., Santa Fe Springs, CA

The Copy Machine Guy

The day before Thanksgiving, I was working at a fine dining restaurant in southwestern Michigan. The job was going well when I received a page to call another client. The walls in the basement are such that you can’t make a cell phone call from the compressor room, so I went into a small office to use the phone.

When I entered the office, I saw a young man working on the copy machine. He looked as if he had just stepped from the pages of GQ.

After my call was completed, I could not hold back — I asked him, “How much do you charge to repair a copy machine?” His reply was $130 per hour. “Oh — OK. I was just wondering.”

Now I am wondering — I’ve got a van that cost over $25,000, I’ve got tools worth maybe another $25,000, I’ve got parts, licenses, I’m certified, insured, and I’ve got to go out and work in all kinds of weather, day and night, for a lot less than the guy who repairs the copy machine.

We in the HVACR game are maybe working in 2002, but we’re charging prices from 1902!

Dean Slowik, Slowik Refrigeration, Benton Harbor, MI

Simply The Best

I enjoyed Barb Checket-Hanks’ editorial in the December 2 issue [“Who Killed The Compressor?”]. I have attended many training classes/seminars through the years. Copeland’s COSS training was the best. It’s been a few years since I took the class, but the instructors’ knowledge, both book and hands-on, was amazing. I don’t know if the old guys are still there. I hope so.

I look forward to your series on compressor failure modes and detective work.

Martin J. Bruzzese, Design Verification Test Engineer, Liebert Corporation, Columbus, OH

Publication date: 12/16/2002