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When You're Afraid To Ask a Question at work, you may want to ask yourself, is it time to move on? But where too?

The Skilled Trades are saturated with those in roles of authority whose management style is nothing more than FEAR based, so writes former tradesMAN, HVACR Contractor, and award winning College Professor, Dave Archer (pictured below, left, with a 2007 Gas Fitter 3 Student).

In the Spring of 1979 I began my career as a 1st year apprentice in the skilled trade of Refrigeration and Air Conditioning (HVACR). I was 22 years of age. I had just completed my 1st year of University and decided, a skilled trade would better suit me.

By then I knew what kind of learner I was. I had been in the workforce since leaving high school in the Spring of 1975. I had worked for a few reputable employers at this point in my early working career. Dave's Fish and Chips. delivering... Fish and Chips for Dave on my bike. I was 12, "Dave" of Dave's Fish and Chips was an angry, cheap, two faced old English prick to work for. I quit after being there 2 weeks. Dave died later that year. Good riddance to him you unhappy prick. Cheating a 12 year old out of my tips. You scum bag. Then, Laura Secord's, scooping ice cream, selling nut meats and chocolates. I was 15 and 16 years of age. I recall having the flu so bad one time I had called into the manager to let her know I was sick and she yelled at me on the phone to come IN. My mother, god bless her resting soul, drove to Jane and Finch mall where this white, over weight, fat assed English scum bag witch of a manager worked at and, as the story goes, chewed the woman out in front of numerous shoppers. She told them I will not be returning to work for such an amateur group. Hey, I was pulling down $1.35 / hour BEFORE taxes baby! Thanks Mom.

Then, I started at Shoppers Drug Mart stocking shelves in Weston, Ontario, on Weston road, near Lawrence Ave. I was attending Weston Collegiate at the time. Weston was a lovely community at that time. Now? Hmmm. Murder-ville. I moved up in the world working part time at the old Eaton's warehouse, near Hwy 400 and Sheppard Ave west in Toronto. I was in the appliance division. Graduating from high school, I decided to take a year off and go to work full time and make money to pay for my University tuition. As I rode the TTC and met some of the wonderful people we meet on public transit (this was 1975 and trust me, NOTHING has changed about the TTC, it remains to be a ride-at-your-own-risk public service), so I quit Eaton's as I had applied to Ma Bell, Bell Canada. I started connecting phones out of their now defunct Bayfield shop. I served the North West Toronto area; Brampton, Mississauga, and part of Toronto. I met some great people at the age of 19, and I also met some whack jobs as managers as well.

I moved on to join The Ministry of Transportation, on a horizontal topographic survey mapping crew. I travelled the Province of Ontario, or, as I discovered, I was introduced to life on the road where drinking alcohol, yelling at one another when the math didn't add up and getting shit faced every night - was NOT for me.

Moving along, I tried out for a professional hockey team in Holland. I got cut, and and came home. I went to University. Ryerson as a mature student and in the Spring of 1979 I left the University program and now began working for a Mechanical Engineering firm installing, maintaining, and servicing commercial and industrial HVACR applications.

After 1 week, working mainly outdoors, with really cool people, I was given my own service vehicle to drive and care for, all expenses covered, working uniform, shop tools, great pay, and I do mean great pay, and I fell in love with the HVACR mechanic opportunity.

I was an apprentice, and I was now in the Trade Union. Local 787 to be specific. Whom by the way, have a 1st class training facility with 1st class teachers, instructors, professors, and the one thing money cannot buy; the camaraderie of the fellowship of Refrigeration workers, everywhere in the world.

I learn best when things are explained to me lucidly, cognitively, intelligibly, in a fun, funny, upbeat environment by someone I can “follow”, by someone calm, interesting, and interested IN teaching others. As well, someone whom I respected their opinion and their moral values.

I do not learn when the lesson meant to be taught is performed loudly, in anger, with false authority, is arrogant, ignorant, impatient, disrespectful, boisterously by an idiot, a thug, a clown, someone asleep internally, someone with zero emotion, by someone who does not know what they are talking about, and/or by someone classless and/or CREEPY.

It is only my experience to suggest the latter type of learner makes up about 95% of all human’s being human. We do not learn as we - shut down - emotionally. We stop listening and hope for an early dismissal from being forced to listen to such an unfit "teacher."

On a positive note, you could say what people do learn in those situations is to not be taught by that kind of teacher.

So now, let’s chat about the Natural Gas industry – the heating side of things. Let’s say, you're working on Piece Work in a domestic home heating market. The more you do, the more you make financially. And now let's say, a licensed and insured Gas Fitter 2 is working on say, a gas piping run and runs into a technical snag in that they don’t have the required room to complete their pipe run – and now review their B149-20 gas code rules and regulations and naturally thinks, "I’ll call my immediate supervisor for help / assistance and talk with them on the matter."

And when the Gas 2 field tech gets his supervisor on the phone, or Team Lead say, using Face Time, the supervisor begins to get aggressive and a heightened  audible level on their voice volume is noticeable, their hands start to flail, the Supervisor or Team Lead angrily yells; "I told you about this stuff before, we've shown you these procedures before, and add's the insult; what are you, stupid? Are you retarded?" This is how it is suppose to be done, now get it done, and call me when you’re done, I have other calls to take care of, let’s go, hurray up", and hangs up.

Hmmmm. Have you ever watched the TV series, Mayday? Forensic audits of plane crashes where lives are lost, planes are destroyed, properties are vapourized?

Rules and training are in place to prevent such "accidents" from reoccurring - BUT - in the HVACR trade, a volatile supervisor?, well, let's not be too hasty, they may have been on a deadline. (read that word again.... a DEAD line.)

Mix this situation with a young submissive gas fitter 2, licensed for sure, but green enough to know, and smart enough to know, call in their question and get clarity BEFORE doing something you're unsure of.

On top of this, whose to say this Gas fitter 2 is looking at getting married, settling down, buying a home, having children of their own, becoming a PARENT. A teacher to their children. Do we yell and scream at our own kids? This Gas fitter 2 doesn’t want to lose his/her job so he/she continues to guess as to the correct procedure. Hey, it's Friday afternoon? He/She has plans for the weekend? He/She was scolded and told to hurry up and finish so he can be dispatched elsewhere while working with an equally explosive and volatile fuel called Natural Gas.

Now we have the volatile mix of a Skilled Trades person trained to perform their skilled trade by Unskilled Management personnel. Actually, more accurately labelled, amateur hack managers who think raising their voice in haste and anger is "management".

My question is; "how many natural gas explosions / or delayed ignitions have occurred in "piece work" environments, or environments laced with haste to complete the task have occurred out of FEAR to get the job done, and stop asking questions?

In the mean time, have a listen to this. Below an interview regarding what was left of a home located at 21 Harper Gardens, Toronto, Canada, February 14, 2007 and below that, is my finest group of students I have ever had the privilege of teaching. The 2007 pilot program introducing women into the Pre-Apprenticeship program for HVACR.

Unless someones life is in immediate danger, YELLING AT SOMEONE when they ask for guidance or clarification or HELP is 100% UNACCEPTABLE, and the person yelling or insulting or intimidating the questioner should be immediately FIRED! On the spot. GET OUT!

I dedicate this article to anyone who is managed by a classless oaf of a manager in the HVACR markets.

Ask your questions. If you work at place that yells and makes you afraid of asking a technical question, quit and move onto a more professionally run HVACR contractor.


Leave the trash contractor for others to work at. Take care of yourself. Good contractors are out there. You just gotta keep looking.


Good luck.



p.s. the Natural Gas explosion that occurred at 21 Harper Gardens, Toronto, Canada on February 14th, and the posted audible copy of my interview, is in the public investigative report conducted by TSSA, the Fire Marshall's office, and the legal authorities having jurisdiction, as there was one life fatality. I have no comment or direct knowledge of how the explosion occurred. Perhaps read the report and/or ask the surviving Gas Tech?

My point is, don't stop asking questions if you are unsure. Don't do anything that could put people and property in HARM's WAY!

"Don't make the problem worse by guessing".

Arrogance KILLS!

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