When I started in the heating industry, there were no online websites that helped you search for new employees. Instead, we would place an advertisement in the local newspaper or hang a “help wanted” sign on the supply house bulletin board. One could also visit the local technical school and try to cherry-pick the best student before a competitor grabbed him or her.

Another approach that worked well for us was word-of-mouth. In fact, the majority of the employees we hired over the years were friends of the family, relatives, friends of relatives, etc. Most of the employees we hired on a full-time basis worked out quite well. Unfortunately, a few of them did not.

We used to take care of the heating and DHW systems at a couple of local public school districts. There was one town in particular where we did a lot of work in a large district for many years. One day, my phone rang — it was the school superintendent’s secretary. The woman asked if we were hiring for summer help as her son “Johnny” recently graduated high school and is not sure what career path he wanted to pursue. This would be his first job. I asked her if Johnny had a driver’s license, and he did. I asked if Johnny had work clothes and a pair of work boots, and he did. I reluctantly agreed to meet and interview her son the following Monday at 10 a.m.

Monday morning, I heard a knock on my shop door and I saw Johnny standing there next to his mother. Johnny does not speak or offer to shake my hand, but Mom does. A little taken aback, I ask them to come inside my office and take a seat. Johnny is sweating and Mom is making small talk. Trying to break the ice, I ask Johnny a few simple questions.

First question, “Johnny, what do you do in your spare time?”

Johnny answers, “I’m into World War II stuff.”

I ask, “What kind of stuff, memorabilia, battles, generals, heroes?”

Johnny responds, “Mostly just tanks, my dad and I are rebuilding one in our yard.”

This should have been a clue, but I was trying to be open-minded at this point. I assumed that Johnny was at least a little bit handy, after all, he was rebuilding a Sherman tank in his backyard. After about 15 minutes, I agreed to give Johnny a chance and asked him to come in the following Monday. I was hoping his mother was not going to show up with him!

On Johnny’s first day, we were on a job that was a complete gut and rebuild of a large house. My lead guy was showing Johnny the ropes for about a half hour, trying to get Johnny to understand how heating systems work. After the grand tour, he asked Johnny to sweep the basement floor and put the garbage in garbage cans while he wired the pumps, boiler and the zone panels. He tells Johnny there are a couple few push brooms in the house, just grab the first one you see. The entire basement floor was covered with scraps of PEX, nails, 2x4 scraps, pieces of wire, water bottles, etc.

Johnny left the boiler room, and the lead tech started wiring. Fifteen minutes passed and there was no sign of Johnny. The lead guy goes and finds Johhny walking around aimlessly on the second floor and asks him what’s going on? Johnny claims he cannot find a broom. The lead guy finds three brooms on the first floor and hands one to Johnny. Johnny follows him down the stairs to the basement and starts sweeping.

Most of the employees we hired on a full-time basis worked out quite well. Unfortunately, a few of them did not.

Somehow, Johnny manages to break the horizontal part of the push broom in half after one minute by slamming it into the steel Lally columns. Confused, the lead tech decided to run upstairs, grab another broom, and gives Johnny a lesson on how to sweep a floor and to avoid pushing the broom into steel columns. Johnny appears to understand, goes to the other side of the basement (outside the boiler room) and comes back two minutes later with yet another broken broom in his hands. I guess Johnny did not realize walls do not move either.

Frustrated, the lead tech now has two large piles of debris that he had to step over, so he asks Johnny to go grab a garbage can from upstairs or the backyard. This time Johnny disappears for 30 minutes. The lead guy stops what he is doing and goes upstairs to look for Johnny. Johnny was walking around in the front yard and claimed he could not find any garbage cans at the site. Lead tech brings Johnny inside and points to the three empty garbage cans sitting in the corner of the first floor and the two sitting in front of the garage. They go to the basement and the lead tech shows Johnny how to use a dustpan and broom. Johnny spent the rest of the day on his phone, looking up parts for his Sherman tank.

Johnny only lasted five days. Ironically, Johnny works at the school his mother recently retired. Last I heard, Johnny is the head of maintenance. We no longer work at this school district.