Making mistakes means better technicians
In an industry that that has a recruitment field that is slowly diminishing in size year by year, HVAC technicians entering the field need to know their hopes of being a good technician won’t be demolished if they make a mistake. Making mistakes creates better technicians in one way or another. Sometimes it removes them from the position of BEING a “technician” altogether. One thing’s for sure, everything has a way of working itself out and no one is immune to that fact.
It’s funny. Today on social media, most people will only post their positive achievements. God forbid should we post any of our mistakes in front of a world that will likely bash us with replies that drive the point home even further than the mistake itself. Making mistakes is going to happen. Generations before us in the HVAC industry as well as others have made many mistakes that got us to where we are now. Best practices and technology have improved greatly since the first waves of this trial and error began.
In actuality, some people do post their mistakes on social media. And bless those brave souls who do. One electrician posted a picture of himself in the hospital wrapped in bandages head to toe after he received second and third-degree burns when he touched the wrong piece of metal inside an electrical panel. A great learning experience for everyone.
Another posted a picture of himself in the hospital with a disgruntled, almost painfilled face after he touched the wrong part of an electrical component he’s worked on hundreds of times in the past. This time, touching it in the wrong place, caused his heart to stop, his body to seize, and blackout until his partner on the job site literally had to kick him off the live part.
This leads me to my first reason why making mistakes creates better technicians in one way or another.
#1 – Mistakes help us slow down and pace ourselves as we get the job done.
Those of us who have done an HVAC maintenance on a furnace or air conditioner can probably go through the routine of it with our eyes closed after just one season of doing them. Although most systems throughout the day are made by different manufacturers, they operate pretty much the same.
I remember a mistake I made on furnace tune-up in my first year on my own. I was working on a rooftop gas package unit when I was checking the outlet pressure at the gas valve. When I was done with it, I sort of just moved on to the next item on my list without screwing the pressure port screw back in. So, when I went to fire up the system and the flames ignited, about three seconds later the flame rolled out towards my face and actually singed my eyebrows a little. Mmmm, nothing like the smell of burnt hair in the morning.
Obviously, this taught me to be more purposeful when I work on equipment and ultimately made me a better tech for it!
#2 – Mistakes point us to something we didn’t already know.
They teach us little nuances in different equipment. I see so many technicians just blow through the installation of a new part or full HVAC system and not even read the directions. Then when the system doesn’t fire up correctly, they don’t know why.
A prime example of this is on the White Rodgers 50 A 55843 control board. It’s a universal replacement that we like to use for most single-stage gas furnaces in the residential field. Most of the time, control board change out are like-for-like changeouts. Plug and play.
Well, when you use this board to replace a Trane XB80 gas furnace control board, there is an adapter you have to use from the box to include a couple of roll-out switches into the Molex connector that plugs into the board.
Almost every time a technician has called to tell me their problem with the start-up after changing the board, I ask if it’s a Trane furnace. A lot of times they say yes, and I tell them about the paragraph in the installation instructions that speak to this adapter. And… that technician never calls again about that issue. In fact, they likely become someone who can be called by junior techs in the field that incur the same problem.
#3 – It humbles us
Making mistakes can bring even the most experienced techs back down to reality very quickly. It keeps us humble when we make mistakes. Admitting these mistakes can add some humility back into our lives that will ultimately make us better technicians in the long run.
I’ve heard of some technicians and DIY homeowners who screwed up wiring something as simple as wiring a capacitor wrong. When they finally realize what they’ve done, whether it’s burning up a compressor, causing the fan spin backward, or something else, they’ll say, “Well, that was a humbling experience.”
Some people just don’t know when to ask for help, or take the time to read the directions. As the saying goes, it doesn’t matter who’s right, it matters what’s right.
#4 – Mistakes create change
Technicians who have made mistakes in the past and then went on to become great technicians have all asked themselves some internal questions. “What went wrong?” “What did I learn from this?” and “What could I do better next time?”
Nothing is more humbling than putting your foot through the ceiling while working in the attic. It’s easy to learn from that mistake. Watch where you’re stepping, make sure it’s wood that you’re stepping on. And even then, step squarely onto the wood.
People who have improved their skills by making mistakes reduce the chances they’ll mess up again. They develop a plan that will help them avoid making similar mistakes. Ultimately, that might not be the most perfect reaction to your mistake, so be flexible and forgiving to yourself and others who make mistakes on the job.
#5 – Mistakes reveal our true passions. Is it time to move on?
Not every mistake is going to relate to making us better technicians, but rather better or happier people. Since I’m in the mood to make myself the example here, I’ll tell you another quick story of a mistake I made, which led to another path.
Before I was an HVAC technician, I was a bartender for 15 years. I started when I was 20, and by the time I was 35, I had a family, didn’t drink anymore, and didn’t even go out to bars anymore. But it’s all I knew how to do. And I was pretty good at it.
One night I asked the wrong person to leave the bar for the night after he called me a not so nice name that involved a couple of cuss words. My boss had always let us stand up for ourselves and our co-workers who were abused in any way. Drinkers can get a little feisty sometimes. Apparently, this person I asked to leave the bar for the night (in a not so nice way) was the wrong person to kick out.
A few days later my boss and I agreed to go our separate ways. It was likely a culmination of things, like I wasn’t the party guy I used to be, which might have led me to not be as understanding and forgiving toward intoxicated name-callers. Either way, my final mistake there made me realize that this might not be the job for me anymore.
I started a new job in HVAC and became very passionate about it, which has led me to where I am now. Funny how life steers you in the direction you didn’t even know you were going.
So why can’t we be more forgiving of those who make mistakes out in the field? Maybe it’s because we don’t have the patience for new apprentices trying to learn the trade. Maybe it’s because that mistake has been made by the same person more than once. I get it. I’m not saying extra training, disciplinary action or removal from a certain position doesn’t need to happen. Because it does sometimes.
But, we should all recognize that mistakes will be made by today’s technicians, which is just another generation to make mistakes as we plow forward in this game called life. Realizing that mistakes are going to be made, we can relax a bit more. By doing so, we might make fewer of them.
Each one of us is a part of that human tradition of learning and experimenting. As our pool of future technicians grows smaller every year, we as the journeymen need to recognize that we made mistakes as we came up in this field, which has led us to where we are now, as valued members of our teams.
Thanks so much for stopping by, and we’ll see you on the next blog post.