To be fair, as I begin this segment on the subject of paying technicians I’ll make it clear that I’m in favor of a commission-based system rather than an hourly wage. Actually, I’m not in favor of an incentive system just for technicians; I’m an advocate of that philosophy in any employee/employer situation. And the reason I believe the way I do about this topic is because of what could be referred to as my overall opinion about money in general. So, I’ll spend some time here on the subject of money, and the right and wrong ways that people think about money.
I often hear employers express the opinion that they can tell that a potential employee (especially if there is an age difference between the applicant and the interviewer) is really interested in nothing beyond how much they’re going to get paid. This opinion is often expressed as “You can’t find good help anymore,” or, “This generation only cares about how much money they’re going to make,” or, “It’s not about doing a good job for them, it’s just money.”
Well, I’ve got some news for people who think that way. You’re right about one thing relative to this issue. You’re right about what you’re going to encounter when you’re processing applications, interacting with potential employees, etc…. And the reason that’s what you’re going to get is because that’s what you’re expecting. For some, this idea may sound like a bunch of baloney, but in my experience, it’s a reality. If somebody decides to write off an entire generation, then that’s the experiences they’re going to have with that generation. There are plenty of GenX”s, Gen Y’s, or Gen whatever people out there that have a good work ethic, understand that you need to put something in before you take something out, and can be enthusiastic about their careers. I know many of them personally, so I’m not just speculating here.
What does it take to find and keep a motivated, enthusiastic employee?
Be the kind of employer who understands, and is willing to invest in the idea that HVACR technicians are just like every other human being when it comes to their work and career.
People like to be in an environment where they know (notice I said know, not just think or believe, but know) that they are respected, and they have an opportunity to learn, grow and develop as a professional. If the person who runs the show makes a habit of telling their hourly wage people that they need to be doing their job better so there will be more revenue, which may or may not result in a pay bump six months or a year down the road, that’s not respect and opportunity. That’s telling people that they’re just being used.
And, what needs to be understood about people who foster this type of environment is that their actions are rooted in their belief (actually fear) about money in the first place. People who live in fear that the money might run out, or think that business in general is a zero-sum game, meaning that there is only just so much money to go around and that they need to struggle, fight and claw to make sure they get as big a piece of the pie as possible, are always thinking about lack and limitation rather than abundance and opportunity. And that mistaken belief and attitude shows in the way they treat their employees.
Is it possible that in some situations the above doesn’t really apply and somebody is really just a greedy jerk?
O.K., following the philosophy that anything is possible, I’ll give you that. I could consider the idea that this might be the case one, or maybe two-percent of the time, but even that’s pretty iffy as far as I’m concerned. The fact of the matter is, people act the way the do because of their beliefs, and those beliefs came from somewhere, even if, in the final analysis they’re just trying to be as nice as possible while they’re living in fear, or they come off as a real live greedy jerk.
By the way, this fear-about-money attitude isn’t reserved for employers only. We’ll talk about that next time.
Learn From Yesterday…..Live For Today….Look Forward To Tomorrow
I noticed that the subject of how to pay HVACR technicians came up again (likely for about the 1,000th time or so in a recent history) on an Internet thread. It’s always a discussion about the best way to pay technicians for the work they do so they will be fairly compensated, while at the same time allowing for the company to make a profit on their activity. And, of course, the two schools of thought are to either pay an hourly wage or pay them on a commission basis according to the amount of labor they bill, along with some compensation for add-on sales and other revenue-generating activities…often referred to as a “spiff”.
On one hand, some of those who advocate an hourly wage system may decide to follow that path because they’re concerned that technicians might wind up selling customers something they don’t need, replacing more parts than necessary during a repair, or selling them something in regard to add-on products or services that they’ll later regret buying, all in the interest of nothing more than a bigger paycheck or bonus. In other words, out-and-out greed; customer service and ethics be damned.
Those on the other side of the compensation fence advocate a commission system that pays a technician a certain percentage of the labor they bill on a given service call, along with other possibilities for earning more income from the sales of products and services the company offers. Of course, one element of a commission-only system is that if a technician only completes and bills a couple of service calls on a given day rather than the five or six that would be considered the norm, it means a lower-than-desired income for that day. Also, if a technician has to go back because something isn’t right (or is perceived to be wrong even if everything is OK) and there is no billing for that activity, then the technician receives no income from that re-call.
So, from a company perspective, a commission-based compensation system seems to have its advantages when it comes to minimizing labor expenses and maximizing profit. And, from a technician’s perspective an other than hourly wage system could come with some risk if things are slow, or if they miss something, or if a customer is being difficult, or if a part fails within a warranty period and no labor is billed.
And, of course, also from a company perspective, an hourly wage system presents some challenges. One of those being the technician’s perception that the company is billing a whopping amount of dough on every service call while paying what appears to be a comparatively tiny hourly wage to the person who is doing the work. This leads some technicians to think, “Well, heck, why am I working my butt off to make somebody else rich when I can just go on my own and make more money by noon than I do in a whole day now”, and, sometimes, they actually follow through with the idea….(they may have no idea about the actual reality of things, but that’s a subject for another day)…., quit their job, and wind up being, on some level, competition for the company that used to employ them.
From a technician’s perspective, the hourly wage system offers a sense of security. It’s pretty much a given that they’ll be taking home a guaranteed amount of money unless their work situation is drastically affected by things beyond their control. But, once they feel secure, a technician sometimes, as I mentioned above, winds up thinking about what they perceive as a disparity between what they’re being paid and what their employer is collecting from a customer. All of which leads them either to ‘going out on their own’ or pretty much constantly on the hunt for a wage increase, which has a lot of effect on them and their workplace.
My, my, my…lot’s of things to consider here. And, like everyone else, I’ve got my opinions (not always popular with technicians or employers) on the subject, and I’ll be sharing them in upcoming segments here. In the meantime, if you have an opinion on the subject, feel free to express your thoughts either by using the reply form you find on this page or getting in touch with me directly at my email.
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From what I can gather, it seems as though many residential HVACR service technicians and service companies are of the opinion that there’s not a lot of opportunity when it comes to offering blower door testing to customers. I disagree.
The number of homeowners who are interested in having their HVAC system and their home evaluated to make sure they’re not wasting energy (money) is growing steadily, and technicians who understand the fundamentals of testing a building envelope for tightness can explain the benefits of blower door testing to their customers while they are there either on a service call to solve a problem, or if they are there for a regularly scheduled preventive maintenance check.
I’m not saying that a technician will be able to sell….there I go, I said the four-letter word, but it’s a reality that shouldn’t be looked upon as a negative….a building evaluation on every service call. After all, in some cases, the customer can barely afford the service call, labor and parts cost of, say, replacing a failed condenser fan motor. But, in some cases, the customer has the resources, and they are willing to entertain the idea of a blower door test if they understand the benefits of it.
They key to this is to first educate the technician on the fundamentals of the procedure, and the second step is to put together a simplified information sheet that explains the process of blower door testing to the customer. In the simplified graphic below in Figure One, the concept of a building envelope is illustrated.
With this simple illustration, a technician can show and explain to a customer that cracks and problems regarding their building envelope can allow unwanted air into the conditioned space from either the outside or through unheated areas adjacent to the conditioned space. In our illustration here, the bold line shows the building envelope and its possible exposure to both outside air directly, or through the unheated attic space.
This just makes simple sense to me. If the outdoor ambient temperature is somewhere in the 90s and the humidity level is 70 or 80 percent, having even a small percentage of that outdoor air being drawn into the building in an uncontrolled manner through cracks and past whatever insulation, tar paper, etc… that are elements of the building’s construction materials, will have a negative effect on both the performance of the system from an unnecessary heat load perspective as well as the indoor air quality in the conditioned space.
And, another element of that simplified information sheet can show what blower door test equipment looks like. (See Figure Two below.
As this illustration (equipment manufactured by Retrotec) shows, the technician can explain to the customer that the testing process involves positioning a blower assembly in a doorway, then using an electronic device that is capable of accomplishing very precise measurements in order to evaluate the tightness of the building envelope and identify potential problems that need to be solved in order to make sure that the HVAC system is operating as efficiently as possible.
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In Part One of this series, our discussion was about answering one specific question in a job interview. This segment will also be about questions…not ones that are asked during an interview, but rather four questions that a graduate of a training program should consider.
1. What do some graduates of an HVAC training program think about getting hired?
2. What should graduates of an HVAC training program think about getting hired?
3. What do some employers think about graduates of an HVAC training program?
4. What should employers think about graduates of an HVAC training program?
When it comes to question #1, some students about to graduate from an HVAC training program are of the opinion that when they get their first job, they should be paid a starting wage somewhere just a tad South of the amount that a senior or journeyman technician earns. Their reasoning is that since they have invested a given amount of time and money in completing a training program, they should expect to start out at an earning level much higher than someone who “just walked in off the street” and hired on as a helper or on-the-job trainee.
Regarding question #2, the answer is, well, different than the answer to question #1.
While it’s true that a person who has graduated from a well-structured, effective (from an administrative perspective) HVAC training program that also involves dedicated, hard-working, skillful instructors has a good deal of information about the fundamentals of refrigeration, electricity, and air flow; and some degree of experience due to lab work in their training program, what they should understand about getting hired is that their starting wage isn’t going to be somewhere in the neighborhood of the top money earned by experienced technicians.
The graduate of a training program is considered to be an entry-level technician.
That’s not to say that they won’t be able to increase their earnings at a faster pace than that of the “off the street” hire…..once they prove what they can do….. meaning, generate revenue for their employer. (Refer to Part One of this series for clarification on this issue).
Moving on to question #3, the answer is that some employers just don’t think much of HVAC training program graduates.
The reasons for this vary. Perhaps they’ve had an unpleasant experience with a graduate in the past, discovering that their new hire was unable to perform certain tasks without a lot of assistance. Perhaps, they themselves never had an opportunity to attend an HVAC training program and they are intimidated by somebody who has. Or, they’re just of the opinion that trade schools and colleges take up a lot of time to “teach a lot of stuff that a technician doesn’t need to know” when it comes to running service calls, evaluating equipment operation and performance, and troubleshooting problems in order to accomplish the proper repair.
Which brings us to the answer to question #4.
From a technical perspective, an employer should consider a graduate, even though they are fundamentally entry-level on the day they are hired, as being much more knowledgeable than an “off the street” hire because of what they have accomplished by completing an effective training program. They have gathered the background information they need to understand about HVAC equipment, and while they have demonstrated an ability to perform certain tasks without any help, they will need some guidance in order to accomplish others while they develop into a fully fledged, revenue-generating technician.
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Once a technician has a grasp of the basic structure of the the psychrometric chart (understanding that there are six separate sets of lines as we discussed in previous segments here), the next important concept to know is that the chart can be used to evaluate the performance of a comfort cooling system in regard to the removal of sensible and latent heat.
Sensible heat, since it is simply defined as heat that can be measured, relates to the change in the temperature of an air sample. Latent heat, since it is defined as heat that brings about a change in state but not a change in temperature, is related to change in the level of water vapor in an air sample.
One simple way to get a grasp on the concept of the removal of these two kinds of heat and how the psychrometric chart can illustrate the level of a performance of a system relative to comfort via both temperature and relative humidity is to consider something known as State Point, shown in Figure One.
The two temperatures plotted in this example are 80-degrees dry bulb (red line) and 67-degrees wet bulb (blue line), and the point at which the two lines converge is just above the 50% relative humidity line.
The idea to keep in mind here is that once this baseline is established, the psychrometric chart can be used to illustrate the amount of sensible and latent heat that is being removed in a given situation. If the level of sensible heat removal is too high and the removal of latent heat is too low, that won’t result in maximum comfort. (See Figure Two below)
In this example we’ve achieved a significant drop in dry bulb temperature all the way from 80-degrees down to 60-degrees, and from the state point of 67-degrees wet bulb down to 56.3-degrees, but what we haven’t accomplished is a balanced removal of heat. This is indicated by the fact that our relative humidity is now 80%.
In Figure Thee, though, we have a more balanced removal of heat that will result in a more comfortable situation.
In this example we have only dropped the dry bulb temperature from 80-degrees down to 75-degrees, and the wet bulb temperature from 67-degrees down to 61-degrees, but in the process, we have accomplished a more balanced removal of heat because our relative humidity is now at 45%.
Learn From Yesterday, Live For Today, Look Forward To Tomorrow,
OK…you’ve completed your HVACR education and now you’re looking for a job. And, maybe one of the elements of your training program was on the subject of a job search, which covered things like going beyond the classified ads to find leads, writing a resume, and wearing the right clothes for an interview.
No doubt, all that stuff is important when it comes to finding and securing a position as an HVACR technician. And, I’ll get to those things in this series, but for this segment I want to zero in on one issue relative to interviewing and understanding what the person on the other side of the desk may be thinking about you as you’re sitting there trying to make sure that you come up with the right answers to questions.
One thing that’s on their minds is a concept known as wiffimm…actually WIIFM, which describes the idea that everybody spends a good deal of time being tuned into their favorite radio station, WIIFM…What’s In It For Me.
Selfish? No, just being human, and just doing good business. If someone is considering hiring you in order to install equipment or run service calls, the bottom line is… well, they have a bottom line. And they are trying to figure out if what happens when it’s all said and done is that you’ll be a profit center for the company.
So, once you come to an understanding that this isn’t just evil, sinister greed on the part of an employer who only thinks of you as a number and would toss you out in a heartbeat once they’ve used you up (c’mon, you know better than that), you can wait for an opening during the interview and let them know you understand how the world works when it comes to an employer/employee relationship.
Often, this opening comes in the form of that question that service managers often use during an interview, “Tell me about yourself” (a question that I, like everybody else, used to ask when I interviewed someone, but I soon learned that I could do a lot better in the interview process… but, I digress), and then they sit back and hope that they’re going to like what you have to say.
When you’re presented with this opportunity, here’s one suggestion on how you can respond:
“Well, I’m no business expert, but I’m confident that I know what it takes to be a good technician and do things right the first time so that the revenue I generate for the company will cover what I’m getting paid and then some.”
And, once you’ve responded with an answer along this line, be prepared. It’s likely that nobody has ever answered that canned question in that manner, so it will take some time for the interviewer to digest the idea that you understand what your job as a technician is: To do the work that needs to be done, serve the company’s customers in the best way you know how, and, in the end, contribute to the quarterly profit margin for the company.
Learn from yesterday….Live for today….Look forward to tomorrow
In Part One of our discussion on the psychrometric chart we discussed three sets of lines; the Constant Dry Bulb Temperature Lines that run from the bottom of the chart to the curved top, the Constant Wet Bulb Temperature Lines that run from an angle of approximately 30 degrees from the curved line to the right, and the Constant Relative Humidity Lines that follow the pattern of the curve line.
In Figure One below, we’re showing a fourth set of lines, known as the Constant Dew Point Lines.
The Dew Point Temperature numbers are the same ones used for the wet bulb temperature scale, but the lines coming from the numbers run directly horizontal rather than at a diagonal.
The Dew Point Temperature lines also correspond directly to another listing to the right of the chart which expresses moisture level on the very fine scale of grains per pound. This scale is also known as the Specific Humidity Scale.
The fifth set of lines on the psychrometric chart, shown in Figure Two, run down from the curved line at an angle of about 60 degrees, and they are the Constant Specific Volume Lines.
These lines represent the idea that air has a certain density that changes as the temperature and water vapor level changes.
This scale is built on the fact that 1 lb. of air at a saturation temperature of 65-degrees F has a specific volume of 13.50/ft3lb (13.50 cubic feet per pound).
The sixth set of lines on the chart that run from the curved line to points on a numbered scale above the chart, are shown in Figure Three Below, and they are known as the Constant Enthalpy Lines.
The term Enthalpy means “total heat content”, and these lines are simply extensions of the dew point temperature lines.
The scale shows the total heat content measured in BTU/lb (BTU, British Thermal Unit, which is the common measurement of heat content used in the HVACR industry, per pound). One BTU represents the amount of heat it takes to raise the temperature of one pound of water, one degree Fahrenheit.
The two kinds of heat that make up total heat are Sensible Heat, which is heat that can be measured, and Latent Heat, which is also known as “hidden heat” and is defined as heat that brings about a change in state, but not a change in temperature.
And, when we bring together all the lines we’ve discussed so far, the complete psychrometric chart appears as shown in Figure Four below.
In Part Three of this series, we’ll look at how the psychrometric chart is used to provide the HVAC technician with information they need to know about the properties of air as it is being handled throughout the conditioned space in a comfort cooling application.
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You can be surprised by anyone at any time when you least expect it, but you can always gain something from the experience.
For more than fifteen years I’ve been doing troubleshooting contests for HVACR magazines. As a part of those contests, individuals who make the correct diagnosis of the problem presented have an opportunity to win a prize if their name is chosen in a drawing. In some cases, the prizes are provided by sponsors. In one particular situation, the sponsor wasn’t able to provide the listed prize, and, after several emails back and forth over an extended period of time with the individual who was waiting for his prize, I got a message that said…”Is this just for publicity or what?”
Uh….what? It was the first time I had ever been accused of lying to someone in print. I was surprised. Then, I remembered a fundamental philosophy, so I was able to gain something from the experience.
I remembered that if someone accuses you of something despicable or is suspicious that you might cheat them in some way, then you have just learned something about that person…if they had the opportunity to do something despicable or cheat someone else in some way, they would do it. It’s a simple philosophy, really. If a person thinks of others from a negative perspective, it clearly illustrates that they are capable of doing the same thing. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t think of such a thing in the first place.
So, even though I could have been insulted by a totally unwarranted, outrageous accusation, I went ahead and figured out a way to solve the situation. And, when I sent this person his prize, I made sure that receipt of the package would require a signature, because… well, because I had learned something about this person. And knowing the character of anyone you’re dealing with is valuable. It helps you to make the right decisions about what to do in any given situation.
Learn From Yesterday….Live For Today…..Look Forward To Tomorrow
HVAC technicians in training are often intimidated when they see a psychrometric chart for the first time since there are six separate sets of lines that are used to plot conditions once temperatures in a given situation are established. However, the chart can be demystified by reviewing the sets of lines individually in skeletal illustrations.
In Figure One below, are the dry bulb temperature lines of a psychrometric chart.
These lines are properly referred to as Constant Dry Bulb Temperature Lines because any point on any given line has the temperature listed on the scale.
The lines shown below in Figure Two, are also constant temperature lines, and they are identified as Wet Bulb Lines.
These lines run down from the temperature scale on the curved section of the chart at an angle of approximately 30-degrees off of horizontal.
The next set of lines shown in Figure Three are the Constant Relative Humidity Lines.
The top curved line on the chart shown as the 100% relative humidity line is also known as the saturation line, meaning that we no longer have water vapor in the air, but liquid condensing from it. In most situations, many people are comfortable when the humidity level is around 50%. It is usually recommended that the humidity level in a building remain between 40% and 60%.
These first three sets of lines are the basic ones that allow a technician to take both a wet bulb and dry bulb measurement in a given area, and then plot the relative humidity conditions in the space.
In Part Two, we’ll look at three more sets of lines on the psychrometric chart.
Learn from yesterday…Live for today…Look forward to tomorrow
One of the things that technicians-turned-service-mangers-turned-trainers will discover is that once they’re in the training mode, they will notice things that they didn’t see before….things that help them better understand the process of training overall. I stumbled upon something recently that I didn’t know about training in the restaurant business. Take a look at the illustration below:
Can you guess what it is?
Unless you are familiar with Cracker Barrel restaurants, you probably can’t. But, if you’ve ever eaten at one of this chain’s locations, you may be able to figure this drawing out due to the reference to “Peg Game” near the left side of the illustration. And, if I explain further that the “7 and 8” numbers represent “spot/seat” and the two blank boxes to the right represent “Drink/Appetizer” and “Meal”, you might be able to guess what this partial illustration is representing. I say ‘partial’ because it’s a bit too large to show all of it here and make sure you can make out the important part of it, which are the numbered boxes, standing position and the circle.
What you’re looking at here is the bottom section of a page from the tablet you don’t pay much attention to when you are ordering in a restaurant. The entire page is numbered from 1 through 8, which means it’s designed to accommodate up to eight guests at a table. Note the “You Are Here” reference and the positioning of the feet. If you are the server, and you’re taking care of a table that has only two people, the diagram shows how you number the guests based on how you’re facing the table. And, if it’s, as they say in the restaurant business, a four-top, the illustration shows how to list the four guests there correctly. And, if a server is taking care of a table of eight…well, you get the idea.
So, what is all this about? It’s about preventing something that shouldn’t happen in a restaurant when the meals are being delivered. With this simple system, the server is not only training when they start work, but they have ready reference every time they approach a table (until it becomes a familiar habit). And, what is being prevented here is a server, or a server being helped by other servers in a situation where there are several guests, mixing up the delivery.
Think about it….you’re out for breakfast, lunch or dinner, and you place your order. Then, while you’re enjoying a conversation with your partners at the table, the food arrives, and the server sets your order down in front of somebody else, and what winds up in front of you is the order for somebody else, and….now, you’re not enjoying your experience at this restaurant.
However, with the graphic reminder at the bottom of the order ticket page, the odds of this happening are reduced, not only if your server is new on the job, but also if they have more experience, and they make it habit use the graphic they are so familiar with to keep themselves on track as far as not mixing up orders.
For a service manager who is tasked with maintaining a proactive in-house training program, the same idea applies. Presenting a training session is one thing….making sure that technicians have access to information they need in the field to keep them on track and doing the best job they can do is another.
Learn From Yesterday…Live For Today….Look Forward To Tomorrow