It was career day for the fourth graders at the elementary school my children attend in suburban Detroit. This is always a chance for moms and dads to talk to kids about their professions. In the past two years, I had talked about the career of a journalist and told the kids about some of the neat things that I do.

I decided to try something different this year and tell the kids about the people I write about: HVACR service technicians.

I figured if I could explain to them about the neat gadgetry that technicians use and explain how important technicians are to everyone’s quality of life, I might be able to plant a small seed in the minds of some of the children. My hope was that, down the road, maybe a few of these kids would become interested in a career in HVACR.

I use the words “might” and “maybe” because one is never sure how much of an influence a short presentation can make on the minds of impressionable children. But knowing that many kids, like my son, are sponges when it comes to absorbing knowledge, I thought it was worth a try.

On this day I asked for assistance from my friend Craig Jones of Slasor Heating and Cooling in Livonia, Mich. Jones co-owns the business with Jim Powell. He was more than happy to volunteer to show the kids what a service technician does. He even brought along some gadgets and an air cleaner demo.

Setting The Table

I began the presentation by talking about the importance of a service technician. I compared the work of service technicians to the work of policemen, firemen, doctors, and nurses. I said all of those people were lifesavers. Then I showed a graphic of a technician repairing a furnace and asked the kids if they thought of him as a lifesaver. They almost all said “no” in unison.

I knew I had ’em hooked.

From here I talked about the neat things that technicians did and about how many different things they had to know in order to be qualified as a service technician, such as computers, controls, and electronics. I also showed them that being a technician was more than just repairing furnaces and air conditioners; it was also working on rooftop air handlers and programming/maintaining building controls.

Now they were getting more interested.

I threw in a few “cool” graphics during my PowerPoint presentation and then turned the show over to Jones who, like me, didn’t know what kind of reaction to expect from the kids, especially since we were the only things standing between them and the end of their school day.

Students line up to get their “temperatures” taken by Craig Jones’ laser thermometer.

The Dazzler

Jones talked about his business a little bit and tried to shy away from any “high-tech” talk. But he did get into a brief discussion with a young boy who wanted to know what “amperes” were. I cringed a bit because I know that Craig could have given a long monologue on the properties of electrical current if he had more time. I wasn’t sure most of the kids were anxious for a lesson on AC/DC, unless it was concerning the rock group with the same moniker.

Jones discussed the various buildings that technicians worked in, including schools and hospitals. And speaking of hospitals, he compared his job to that of a doctor, stating that he uses various tests to check on the health of a building. Jones stressed the importance of good indoor air quality and how it is important to children who suffer from allergies and asthma.

He also stressed the importance of recovering refrigerants instead of releasing them into the atmosphere. “We are good stewards of the environment,” he said.

Jones also talked about the importance of knowing about computers and wireless communication devices, giving the example of how a technician can dial up the equipment in a home and change the temperature settings. “You can call up your house and ask it what the temperature is,” he said. “And your furnace can call you back.”

Jones showed them some of the gauges he uses to read pressures, explained how to check for electrical current with a voltmeter. He discussed how to use a laser thermometer — probably the most popular tool of the bunch. At the end of the presentation, every student wanted him to read his or her body temperature using the device.

He also demonstrated the workings of an electronic air cleaner, compliments of a Honeywell demo unit. The unit simulated air by using a cloud of smoke being filtered through the air cleaner, occasionally lighting up with electrostatic “zaps” when a particle was charged with energy. The kids loved that demonstration, too.

Jones also made sure that the children knew that the HVACR trade wasn’t just for people interested in being a service technician. He said there were all kinds of different career paths for people going into the trade, including engineering and sales.

Polling The Students

I took an informal poll of the 46 students that day, an “exit poll” of sorts. I sent a small questionnaire to each class and asked the teachers to have the kids answer a few questions and return the forms to me. I asked them what they liked best about the presentation and if they thought a career of a service technician is “cool.” Thirty-five students thought the job was cool; 10 didn’t think it was cool; and one thought it was “kinda” cool. I’ll take a 76% approval rating any day.

Here are some reasons for the “yes” vote:

  • “Because you save people’s lives, you help people breathe clearly, and a lot of other awesome things.”

  • “Because you can go on top of buildings and get to go in other cool places.”

  • “Because you get to work with a lot of neat tools.”

  • “Because I like fixing stuff and putting in stuff and going to other people’s houses.”

  • “Because I am a girl and guys say, ‘Girls can’t do anything.’ I could show them wrong.”

    Some of the “no” voters said:

  • “Because it is kind of boring and it is not easy.”

  • “Because you get all dirty and you could get sick.”

  • “Because you have to stay up late or be on call.”

    One student said he never realized how many things a technician does. Two others said they were definitely going to be service technicians when they grew up.

    I think we made an impression.

    Drop me a line if you’d like a copy of the presentation. For the complete survey results and comments, go to our home page, click on Extra Edition, and view the Web Exclusive titled “How Schoolchildren View An HVACR Service Career.”

    John Hall is business management editor. He can be reached at 248-244-1294, 248-362-0317 (fax),

    Publication date: 02/24/2003