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One Of 'Us' Responds

I loved [Ellen Rohr's] article "Us Vs. Them" (March 2003). I am a Stationary Engineer at a hospital in Pittsburgh, Pa. I sort of have the same problems as you did. I am apart of the "Us" group and sometimes have difficulties understanding "Them."

I try to do the best I can. This is sometimes not good enough. When I have a suggestion that might help out, it seems that if it helps "Us," "They" do not want my suggestion. But if "They" come up with the same suggestion it's OK.

I don't want to be a part of "Them" because I like being apart of "Us." But your article helped me understand that the grass is not always greener on the other side. If someday comes and I have to make the decision you did, I will keep you and your story in mind.

Also, please tell Ray to keep up the good work. No matter how bad the customer treats him. Good quality of work is hard to find these days. The day will come when someone will give him a pat on the back.

Thank you again for helping me understand "Them" a little better.

Mark Carone
Stationary Engineer

Pittsburgh, Pa.

Normal Operating Conditions

The other day, I sent my highly trained, licensed technician to a no-heat call. The customer was complaining of intermittent heating problems.

Upon arrival at the call, my technician diagnosed the issue as an electrical short at the breaker, due to a problem with the fan motor on the system. He proceeded to give the customer our up-front price on both the repairs needed and the maintenance work that should be performed on any system under normal operating conditions.

The customer was gathering quotes, and called a competitor of our company that charges a higher diagnostic rate since they are a T&M company. The competitor's technician was significantly older than mine. He proceeded to tell the customer that there was nothing wrong with his system. He told the customer that such systems "require no maintenance whatsoever."

This is alarming to me. I am of the thinking that all working equipment requires maintenance annually. The fact that my tech is younger, and has had extensive training is a non-issue.

The customer called my company for a reason. My technician found legitimate problems, and offered legitimate solutions to these issues, both repairing and replacing.

A week later, after my competitor's tech responded to the same call, and said nothing was wrong, I received a call from the customer. He was incensed about my tech's diagnostic, and furious that the other tech told him nothing was wrong. He threatened to call the Better Business Bureau, and the Attorney General's office for consumer protection.

My question was why did he call? What was the problem in the first place? Why would someone say there was nothing wrong with a system with obvious issues? The answer? Outright laziness and utter lack of training. If a company wants to be thought of as progressive, training technicians is an integral part of business.

The fact that I, as the owner of this company, have to answer questions regarding why my tech found problems is frightening. What are we in this business for? I know I'm just another business owner trying to provide exemplary service by truly trained technicians able to properly serve my hard-earned customers.

It's a sad state of affairs. I can't help but wonder why we're in this business. Is it customer service, or hurrying to the next job?

We have a duty as knowledgeable techs to do the right thing. Telling the consumer -- who knows nothing of the dangers of heating equipment -- that nothing is wrong with their system when, in fact, there are several issues, just doesn't sit right well with me or my techs, and I'm proud of that.

John Wood
Hub Plumbing and Mechanical Co. Inc.Boston, Mass.

Modern Day Conveniences

I just wanted to drop you a note to tell you how helpful your Web site was. My daughter had to do a report for school on the history of the shower, and we were stumped on where to find information and pictures.

After several unsuccessful attempts, she found everything she needed for her report at your site. We all learned a little bit. It was interesting to see the origins of the shower and "water closet." We all realized how much we take our modern day conveniences for granted!

Thanks for a great Web site.

The Dodds Family
Newmarket, N.H.

'Old Timers' At Work

There are well-established and tried-and-true answers to getting enough new recruits into the trades. These methods were fostered and disseminated through the efforts of the National Old Timers' Association decades ago and much of the original program is still producing new recruits through associations, vocational schools and media.

NOTA members began vocational schools throughout the continent through contributions of equipment and training to the vocational education systems of this continent.

As your editorial states ("A Two-Tiered Trade," February 2003), there are much fewer actual classrooms today in vocational schools with the programs to start new recruits in the trades, and that is a serious disadvantage to companies in need of replacements and more skilled tradesmen.

In the past decade many companies have started or expanded their own in-house training schools. There is a more organized and easier way. That method has been adopted for 50 years, called work-study.

Money is still ear-marked for the Manpower Development and Training Act started in the 1970s. I taught the first classes for this act in HVAC at Passaic County Vocational Schools then. The name has changed several times as the elections changed parties; but the federal education department still has people in place to administer the programs.

Students are much more interested when they receive pay along with their education. It has the benefit of keeping the student in contact with professional educators under fair supervision and close contact with community trade leadership.

Many students are now in these programs, but much fewer than needed. It is not coordinated at a federal level for each trade, so local adoption is spotty. The federal funds are there, the method is there, the vocational schools have had past experience with it.

It is possible to drift along with the best of the industry proposing local solutions; but national coordination through associations offers an organized solution.

Harold Kestenholz
Lido Beach, N.Y.