Everyone is entitled to a few mistakes in their lives. After all, aren’t the best-educated people the ones who have learned from their mistakes? I am a firm believer that life experiences are more valuable than anything learned from a textbook.

Don’t get me wrong; textbook training is vital and necessary. Learning by doing is taking that parchment knowledge one step further.

Taking this theory to the extreme, the smartest person in the world should be the one who has made the most mistakes. Obviously that’s wrong, unless you believe the prison systems are full of the world’s smartest people. But there are a lot of smart people out there who are probably paying too steep of a price for their mistakes.

For example, many service companies require job applicants to pass a drug screening and to have a “respectable” driving record. If you are a business owner, you know how difficult it can be to find a job seeker with impeccable personal credentials. I have talked with contractors who were certain they had found the ideal candidate to fill a field service position — a person with good mechanical aptitude and good people skills — only to find out that the applicant failed a drug test or had too many points on his or her driving record.


I’m not sure if failing a drug test or having too many speeding tickets would permanently ban someone from seeking employment as a service technician. I would like to think that applicants would be asked to retake a drug test or come back after some of the points had expired from their driving record. I don’t believe someone should continue paying for the same mistake over and over again, especially if they have shown the ability to rehabilitate and change their habits.

I certainly understand why employers are anxious about hiring someone with a questionable background. Taking a risk on a high-risk employee can have serious insurance repercussions. Naturally, there is a reluctance to increase personal liabilities.

At what point do contractors “forgive and forget?”


I always enjoy re-telling the story of a contractor friend in New Jersey who, upon learning that a new applicant had passed a drug test, bought a cake to celebrate. That may sound a little drastic, but he had experienced a string of failures and he finally had a reason to celebrate.

With the uncertain economy, maybe celebrating a drug test will become more far-fetched. Millions of Americans are out of work today who were gainfully employed one year ago. Perhaps many of them have filtered into the hvacr trade, looking for jobs that used to go begging.

I tend to think that contractors are still looking for trainable or experienced field technicians to add to their staffs or replace the stiffs who presently take up space and are more of a liability than an asset.

Is it better to have subpar workers or have those who are “damaged goods,” waiting for a second chance? How much different is it from hiring an ex-convict? Do you believe that an ex-con who has learned from his or her mistakes can become a model worker?

If I had these answers, I’d take up a spot high on a mountaintop and ask people to seek me out for advice. But I don’t — you do. And I’d be happy to publish your feedback. Please drop me a line.

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

Publication date: 01/21/2002