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Should the trade 'pigeonhole' its young talent?

DanHolohan Member, Moderator, Administrator Posts: 16,528
the folks from Orange County Choppers and Miami Ink to consider. I wish all of those people would stop by my house. :-)
Retired and loving it.


  • John R. Hall
    John R. Hall Member Posts: 2,246
    A jaded view

    I was sent a copy of a letter to an instructor at the Burlington County Institute of Technology in New Jersey, where young people entering the oil heat trade are given a solid education and encouraged to attend industry events, such as this year's NAOHSM meeting in Hershey, Pa. I wrote a story about the young people and their instructor, Jeff Babbitt. I also included a picture I took of the group at the Hershey Lodge.

    The author of the letter expressed his disgust with these young people. Here is an excerpt (exact wording/grammar) from his letter:

    "These students attend a national meeting, as invited guests, wearing baseball caps, jeans, un-tucked tee sheets and on a few of the faces the "proud street gangsta look." I would not hire one of these so called "leaders of tomorrow" to sweep out my garage. I am shocked that you, an instructor, would dare allow students in your charge to attend a national meeting appearing this way and I a mystified as to why anyone in the trade would take such a photograph, let alone publish it. You think I am going to show a potential investor this photograph and say "yes, the current and future HVAC industry is a wise investment?""

    I was disappointed to see that someone who claims to have so much knowledge of the trade is so far removed from what the look and attitude of young people are today. Some people may object to how our youth dresses and acts -- that's their right -- but to not look beyond outward appearances and see where their hearts and minds are toward their careers is what is most disappointing. The HVAC trade needs young people who are willing to learn and grow. I think the last thing we need to do is discourage them because they wear a baseball cap sideways or baggy pants.

    The letter author needs to spend a day with these kids to get the real story.

    Here is a link to the article and photo. If you can't get to it, e-mail me and I'll send it along. I think we need to voice an opinion or support or protest.


  • Ted_9
    Ted_9 Member Posts: 1,718

    I had helper/installer that was right out of high school/trade school. He was into the "Skater" look with slightly long hair. It was no problem. Sometime It was required that he wear boots or a hat. He is an excellent mechanic is is very bright. He was 1st in his class. I was very lucky to have him work for me.
  • Eric_8
    Eric_8 Member Posts: 66

    OK, let's assume for the moment that it would be good to "lose the look". (I happen to think it would.)

    So we have two ways to go about it demonstrated here.

    We can either develop relationships with these young people, teach them skills that will give them a true sense of self worth (as opposed to the pablum they are fed in today's schools), and maybe, just maybe, they will come to respect them selves enough to care about dressing in a manner that shows some self respect. Ya think?


    We can crap all over them and state we would not hire them to sweep our garage. Nothing like telling them they are worthless mistakes is there?

    I KNOW you cannot judge a person by their appearance. Especially in a picture. But when I look at that picture I see some awesome potential. Nah, not just potential. That looks like an awesome bunch of kids. I would love to give any one of them the time of the day to encourage them in the trades or whatever they choose to do with their lives.

    On a related note, many kids today are sadly lacking mentors. Imagine hiring a kid like that with the "spark" in his soul. Now imagine, instead of throwing him to the wolves, we coach and mentor him as a person WHILE we train him in the mechanical skills. WOW!

    Let me share a personal story with you. Keep in mind that during the time period of this story I was not doing well myself due to some mental illness issues. So this is not about me being some wonderful guy. It means, if I can do it, ANYONE can!

    I hired a 16 year old kid to work for me for the summer. When I went by his house to talk to him about working for me his dad mocked me for wanting to hire him. "I can't believe you want to hire A---. Why, he is so clumsy I am surprised he can even put his shoes on in the morning." And his brothers were even worse.

    I hired him and wow, what a journey! One day we were in a crawl space and he simply could not put a screw in a pipe strap. "I guess I AM just clumsy" he said.

    "WHOA. Stop right there. Put your drill down and listen to me." And I proceeded to give him a pepe talk/butt chewing about believing lies about himself, etc. (a butt chewing as only someone that truly cares can give. not the harsh kind.)

    "Now pick up the drill and put the stupid screw in."

    Zip. Done.

    With a sheepish grin: "I see what you mean about it being whatever I believe about myself."

    When I went with him to get his parents permission to open a savings account him own mother cruelly mocked him for even thinking he could do anything with his life. But they relented and I helped him open his first savings account.

    I let him hang out with me some evenings and weekends.

    I constantly reminded him that he has to honor his parents even if what I was teaching him contradicted what they taught him.

    Summer came to an end and A--- went back to school. I was bogged down in my own health troubles, moved away, and lost direct contact with him. Then earlier this year I heard he was on drugs. Meth no less.

    But about 2 months ago he called me. Said he had kicked the drugs cold. Got all the druggies out of his life. Was going back to school. And get this...

    "I just couldn't get all the stuff you used to tell me out of my mind and I finally decided I didn't want to live like that. I would have been dead within 2 years."

    We are staying in touch on a regular basis now.

    Guys, listen to me. That was one of the proudest moments of my life, AND one of the most humbling. Now listen again. I ain't no hero. Man, I was messed up myself during that time. But I cared enough to take a troubled kid under my wing and the rewards are rich!

    Look, if I, messed up as I was can do it, YOU can do it too. (some of my friends claim I always was "messed up" but we ain't going there! -grin)

    Find a kid like A---. Hire him. Mentor him. Coach him. You may get burnt. So what? Start over again. In the process you might change some lives, plus you will be a better person for it.

    And... what if the kid works out? Can you imagine a more loyal employee and "company man"?

  • DanHolohan
    DanHolohan Member, Moderator, Administrator Posts: 16,528
    Look in their eyes

    That's where I look. Everything else is just current fashion.
    Retired and loving it.
  • Steamhead (in transit)
    The only problem is

    if you send these people into a customer's house looking like that, many times that customer will never use your company again. Doesn't matter to them how proficient your people are, or that they don't do drugs or have criminal records- their "look" makes people assume the opposite.

    John et al, I'm not saying this is right and proper, but unfortunately that's the way many people think. And I doubt it will ever change.


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  • I think the author of the letter deserves to reap what he sows, when he misses out on smart young talent that doesn't think you have to wear a tie to be good at what you do.

    Wonder why corporate bureaucracy is so mind numbing? Attitudes like that.
  • Steverino
    Steverino Member Posts: 140
    Is it me?

    I see a picture of 10 young men who are on "their time" attending a trade show. How many times have we attended trade shows in jeans & a polo shirt? Would anyone expect a suit & tie, Khaki's & polo shirts, cut-off's & flip-flops, from young men/women? It's a trade show! Yes, when they present themselves to their customers they should dress differently.
    I see incredible potential from 10 young men in this picture. I could rant on and on...their choice of attire is a NON-ISSUE.
  • Bob Bona_4
    Bob Bona_4 Member Posts: 2,083
    I can see

    both sides here, but having employed more than a couple of young men that favored the "rapper" look and fringe lifestyle, I can say this: I don't need it, don't want look at it, don't want to expose my clients to a less than professional look. If they want to "express" themselves, do it somewhere else.

    You have to wonder about young guy's self awareness and the way they want to present themselves.

    Who in their right mind could work a white collar job dressed like a punk? Why is it any different in the trades? And we wonder why we have a tough time getting respect.

    When someone comes to my door, to work on my house-my largest investment that contains irreplaceable heirlooms, etc.-with fire and electricity, if they don't look like they care enough about their appearance, what are the chances they care about anything else?

    Of course, there are exceptions. But why lower the standard and leave the client uncomfortable?
  • John R. Hall
    John R. Hall Member Posts: 2,246
    Putting it in perspective

    None of these young men are working in the trade yet. I would imagine that once they are hired they will put their 'gansta' clothes in the closet and put on a uniform or pair of khakis as required by their employers. Let them be kids now and express themselves. Weren't we all young once?
  • DanHolohan
    DanHolohan Member, Moderator, Administrator Posts: 16,528
    Some of us

    are still expressing ourselves. :-)
    Retired and loving it.

  • Seriously. Dress nice when you go to a client's house, sure.

    On your own time, do what you like. Sure, maybe someone like mr. letter writer won't be a good contact for you, and that's the price you pay.

    Personally, I'd rather not work with people with such irrelevant criteria to judge people by. I like to work with people who are interested in the actual merit of the people they work with.
  • lee_7
    lee_7 Member Posts: 458

    If those kids have the desire to take "their free time" to go to a trade conference and learn something, congrats to them. Like none of us rebelled against the norm when we were in our teens. Anyone here from the 60's? Me, i'm an 80's kid but we all rebelled in our own way and look at how we turned out. Their dress will change as they get older just like ours. Just my two cents. I would hire anyone of them. A lot of the people I know won't even read a training pampflet on their own time, let alone drive to a training conference.
  • Steamhead (in transit)
    Yes we were

    and I'm old enough to remember a saying that went something like "Never take a job that requires a new suit".

    I agree that a person's character is what matters most- look at all the "suits" at Enron and elsewhere who were completely unworthy of our trust- but many customers simply will not accept people coming into their homes with that sort of appearance. If we send this to their homes, they'll call someone else next time. And if people don't call us, our companies go out of business. It's just that simple.

    With that in mind, if one of those kids came to me looking like that, I wouldn't hire him. They would have to demonstrate to me that they not only know their stuff but can look and act in a professional manner before I'd send them to our customers.


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  • Robert O'Brien
    Robert O'Brien Member Posts: 3,541
    As someone

    who was there and not basing my opinion on a picture but over 2 full days at the show.Not a majority but a substantial percentage were misbehaved and inappropriate in appearance and demeanor. These kids are not there on their "own time" this is a school day for them,a field trip.
    I blame the teachers/schools for not setting or if they did not enforcing dress and behavioral standards for these trips.
    That picture was taken in the Lobby where I sat on many occasions to make phone calls and I remember seeing this group and in fact they were well behaved,I can't say the same for many others

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  • Dave_4
    Dave_4 Member Posts: 1,405
    Dan, i like the way you think !!

    I spend a lot of time helping kids,They try hard to fit in with each other while they try to find who they are... what you see now will not be what you see latter in most cases. I have worked with some kids that the world rejected for they way they look and was amazed to see what they became!!!

    Yes people will judge them thats the world... but we need to show them what they can become!

  • Eric_8
    Eric_8 Member Posts: 66

    And I totally agree. Doesn't change what I said though.
  • Daniel_3
    Daniel_3 Member Posts: 543

    All life repsonds to care and that's the maxim.
  • G.S.Burch
    G.S.Burch Member Posts: 2
    Both views easily understood

    I can certainly understand expecting our young men to respect themselves by dressing a certain way. However, I also think it can be agreed that there are many other issues involved. What if, for example, they were beautiful women wearing flip-flops as was (I can't remember what school)the case when some young ladies went to the White House and met President Bush and a big Deal was made. One more thing, for years I worked at a placement for juvenile offenders and we had to constantly reinforce the rules on thier dress code. Many adopting the rap culture and dress. I recently entered this trade because I also was told all my life that I was not mechanically inclined. Long story short, I love my vocation and I regret listening to those people, many of whom were my family.
  • Joe Billow_6
    Joe Billow_6 Member Posts: 69

    I have to agree that no matter how these kids are dressed it is not a true reflection on there ability/character. Wh My 16 year old son dresses this way but he also puts on the company shirt and works 10-12 hours as hard as anyone. when I was a kid I can remember my father telling my uncle that there are more important battles than the way a kid dresses. I am now almost 40 and dress like my Dad. If you are worried about it make them wear a uniform when dealing with customers.
  • Rich Kontny_5
    Rich Kontny_5 Member Posts: 116
    Making a statement

    Please take these kids age into consideration before you judge them. I come from the anti-estabilishment generation that tried oh so hard not to conform. My son's generation surprised me with ear-rings and tattoos. These same kids have been in the Marines, the National Guard and the Army.

    Way too soon to pre-judge and condemn, I would look through the wannabe looks to the substance of these kids and truly enjoy mentoring them into quality mechanics and maybe even service techs.

    My drill Sargent son Justin just got back from Fort Benning and I can assure you that he did not find the new recruits dressed like Patton when he greeted them on the bus.

    It is role models that are needed here! (positive role models)

    Rich K.

    Make Peace our Passion (Support our Troops)
  • Mitch_5
    Mitch_5 Member Posts: 102
    I have a photo of my grand father a plumber

    they always had on a proper hat, dress shoes, slacks and vest. I came along 25 years ago. blue jeans, sneakers t shirt or tank top, summer cut off pants and shoulder length hair.

    Now my hair is alot shorter.

    The younger generation always will be a little different.

    Mitch S.

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  • clammy
    clammy Member Posts: 3,112
    it ain't looks it's attuide

    Great post and i believe alot of young men and some older ones occasinally need a mentor or better yet a guide and some a swift kick you no where,and i've had to work with all kinds in the past the rappers ,skaters ,punkers and yas hippie freaks but i have always been a firm beliver in not judging a book by it's cover and to judge each and every human on there own merits and action if some one is a slacker and looks at the work we do as a pay check and not a proffesion and shows no interest or go get em movation well them what they look like does not matter,in the past few years sorry for the expression every young guy who has come to work always follow this creatia takes off days shows up late does not call you know just plain and simple lazy and always wants more money or better yet a job doing nothing for 20 bucks a hour ,i personally work alone and i usually get the whole job done solo but my friends in the business say to me clam i wish i could find and hire young men to learn the trade but they grow tried in a 1/2 day and split in no time i belive thats why you see so many workers from south of the border i know i know differnt subject ,as for mentoring i had done it for years and outta countless partners (not helpers )i had one who got it all he now is # 2 mech at a semi large company (25 to 40 manshop)it's hard out there image is nothing it's a person moral fiber and work ethic 2 things that are going the way of the dinosaw JMHI peace and good luck clammy
    R.A. Calmbacher L.L.C. HVAC
    NJ Master HVAC Lic.
    Mahwah, NJ
    Specializing in steam and hydronic heating
  • John R. Hall
    John R. Hall Member Posts: 2,246

    One thing I didn't mention here or in the article is, that after speaking to the young men in the lobby that day I learned they had a real passion for the oil heat trade and a great deal of respect for their instructor. They were polite and well-mannered. If I had a business and they were applying, I'd look past the garb and look into their minds. As Dan said, look into their eyes.

    If they were good enough to work for me I'd explain that they may have to wear different clothes and take the earring off. But I bet you that most would comply and then put them back on once they got home, until they eventually grew out of the latest fashion fad.

    I probably would have been quick to judge if I was an empty-nester or never had kids. But I have two teenagers and I know a good deal about today's generation, whether I like it or not. And actually, I kinda like most things that kids do. At the end of the day I hug them and tell them I love them -- and they do the same to me. That's what is important. Show kids respect and they will return the favor.
  • joel_19
    joel_19 Member Posts: 931

    The author of that note note is living in a dream world. The super clean cut bright sons and daughters of the Yuppies are all going to College where they think they will graduate and instantly get 100k$ a year. We have what's left so get over it and get on with it.

    We have rotated in and out lots of young people through Co-op programs who look like those guys. When on our time they are clearly told what we want them to look like. Very quickly you learn who has the right attitude and who is "moldable" Some have many challenges that the older generation never faced. For instance over 50% of marriage ends in divorce and many have never really had their dads around.

    Just yesterday I was at a clients house His and her lawyers.We sold them A/C earlier in the year very difficult to do,now they want a boiler. They confided that i was back because they loved our team,how repectful they all where and how well thier home and belongings where treated. Many on that team we have molded they had to be taught how to talk to a homeowner,how to dress,how to clean up,how to be respectfull. The person who wrote that letter would have rejected them all. Hopefully he compete's with me because that's one more competitor that I won't have to wory about much longer.

    Some of those so called rejects started working and saving in our retirement program right at 18. One now married just bought a little house with money we payed him and taught him to save he beamed with pride when I was there recently. He will retire a millionare if he stays on track. The guy who wrote the letter would have never hired him.

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  • Mike T., Swampeast MO


    Don't get dismayed by a old codger stuck in the 1950s. He should be HAPPY to see some pride in their faces!
  • larry salvatore
    kids to day

    our apperence rules are few and easy to follow shoulder length hair or longser in pony tail while working well groomed beard or clean shaven Razors and shaving cream are available in bathroom. We provide uniforms and shoes most of the lads wear hikers and to old timers with sore feet switched and won't go back to boots. Its just the way kids dress now. Don't forget when they get off work they still want the girls to look at them. When we were 20 what was the primary motivating factor in our lives? If you;re not somewhat independant you won't go far in this industry. My dad hired our best mechanic who came in off the street shirtless, barefoot in cutoffs accompanied by his dog. Now he has two kids in college and one almost there and looks like **** cheney. He has trained many mechanics including myself and probably generated 4 or 5 million dollars in revenue single handed over the last 20 odd years.
  • mtfallsmikey
    mtfallsmikey Member Posts: 765
    Need to encourage

    Their passion for oil first. There is a REAL shortage of good oil service techs (not to toot my own horn, but I have several standing job offers to get back into it). As they are mentored, also encourage them to improve their manners, demeanor, and appearance. I went to IBR school in '71 (I think?)with long hair, and tie-dyed shirts to wear, along with other like-spirited individuals, long before the days of jokes about butt cracks.Dad didn't like it very well, but he allowed it because of the level of work I could do.
  • Joe Staib
    Joe Staib Member Posts: 4

    I agree that you can dress and act however you like on your own time, but I have found that when the young person shows up dressed inappropriately to work it also accompanies somewhat of an attitude. I believe that when you apply to work in a job of any kind you would adhere to either a dress code of some kind or of uniform and the person that hires you sets that pace. In dealing with clients and customers at home respect and consideration is a must, our business is dependent on that. I understand that we all were in different places when we entered the business, but you have to also consider that the image they are portraying looks to most people like a gangsta hip hop culture thats responsible for alot of the bad things that are going on in the world today and you can't expect them to open there homes to them with the notion that they might have potential. If their teachers in their trades schools aren't making them aware of this maybe they should. The other thing I would like to mention is that oversized clothing, untied shoes or no work boots, and a hat that you just paid $50 dollars for and don't want to get it dirty because you want to look cool, or my favorite, the jeans down around there hips with 8 inches of underwear sticking out, all this can be quite dangerous on a commercial job site and I don't know about anyone else but my workmans comp payments are high enough. Listen, I am all for giving any kid a chance, just like a kid that goes to college for that high paying job, I offer a job with education and the potential for promotion and licensing which can lead to just as much or more than a college education. The opportunity is here if you want it, you have to want it. Although there are some good talented kids, my experience has been that the kids I've hired have expected high pay with no experience and show little motivation, and no longer have a job.
  • hot_rod
    hot_rod Member Posts: 22,158
    Too bad a savy manufacturer didn't

    provide them with some shirts and hats before they boarded the bus :)

    I agree with not judging a book by it's cover. But also with the dress for success motto. I would think the school and instructor would want to present his class in the best possible light to prospective employeers. It really has little to do with their desire or technical talents. Nothing but employment opportunity at an industry trade show like that ;)

    On your own times anything goes. Sounds like they were on school time, maybe their parents nickel, or a tax payer funded class?

    In a way the instructor set them up for some second looks. I'd wonder if he would have an anything goes dress code for an industry event next time?

    I'm curious how you would like to see you child dressed to attend a event like that, John.

    hot rod
    Bob "hot rod" Rohr
    trainer for Caleffi NA
    Living the hydronic dream
  • ScottMP
    ScottMP Member Posts: 5,884
    I'll say two things

    1) And Most importantly, Richard said he wasn't a Hero. You are in my book Richard. I really hope you read this. Your story made my morning.

    2) Those of you who would'nt hire these kids should all get your yearbook photos and post them here. How about we all decide if we'd hire you ? I know my hair was too long and the pants to wide and my Dad was right about how I looked.


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  • ScottMP
    ScottMP Member Posts: 5,884
    Hey Steamhead

    WHat if a customer decided he did'nt want to hire someone with a ponytail who drove a Mercedes ?

    Would'nt they be missing out on some good talent ??


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  • Darin Cook_5
    Darin Cook_5 Member Posts: 298
    Don't be too harsh in judgment

    My boy is one of those kids who wears the straight bill ball cap and baggy jeans but when he worked for me over the summer he wore a company shirt and a belt with those jeans! He got the old military haircut with Dad also. Young men can be molded into the adults of tomorrow. The military does it everyday. We all had "tudes" when we were young. If you hire someone who will not be compliant in your company rules then get rid of them. That is a real life lesson that will wake a few up. This trade is a career choice that is not for the lazy or the spineless. Give someone the chance to show that they have some promise before dismissing then based upon their choice of wardrobe.


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  • John R. Hall
    John R. Hall Member Posts: 2,246
    Overdressing, too

    I've been to conventions where young students have been dressed in shirts and ties, probably as instructed by their teachers and/or parents. I think they looked too obvious -- trying too hard to make an impression. A happy medium would be to find a local company that would be willing to loan them a uniformed shirt and cap. It would be nice advertising for the contractor and a nice gesture towards the young students.

    Would I want my son or daughter to show up at a national meeting dressed like those young men? To be honest, I can't answer that. I can't generalize the answer because circumstances are always different. These boys weren't offensive in their dress or manners. That's what impressed me.
  • Joe Staib
    Joe Staib Member Posts: 4

    Not being judgemental, just simply responding to the conditions presented to me at the time. I'm not saying that there aren't any good kids out there, the whole construction industry is a potpourri of guys and girls ranging from inmates to graduates, if the person comes to me for a job I would expect him or her to have a desire to adhere to basic criteria set before him. When I came into the trade I did what I had to do to hold that job because I wanted and needed it, I don't feel that there is a sense of urgency with todays youth as much, most I've seen seem to have a sense of entitlement. Kids are very different today then when we grew up, my father would have straightened me out if I showed disrespect, my comments are not aimed at anyones son or daughter, it is a reflection of what I have experienced hiring & firing (and it's been many that I have given a chance) over the past ten years. Also, depending where you live and work and trying to pull the talent from makes a big difference.
  • singh
    singh Member Posts: 866
    Good judgement

    and guidance is all that is needed.

    How many times , I've taken a seminar or go to a trade event, First Thing in the morning, and guys show up in their work clothes from days before, work boots that look like they been through hell.

    A clean pair of ( properly fitted ) jeans or kahki's and a polo shirt is all that is needed.

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  • Dan Sedens
    Dan Sedens Member Posts: 48
    Give the youth a chance!!!

    I may be new to this, but I have been in business of a fairly small plumbing/heating firm in MA. Maybe it's just my outlook or maybe it's just that I am a small firm but, I find that your customers opinion about the way your employees dress is less of a reflection about your company than it is about their feelings towards the owner/company. I have an employee that dresses in the so called gangsta/rapper look, shaved head & possibly shirtless depending on weather. He has been with me for 6 years. In that six years his attitude has changed from someone who thinks that he is owed something to someone who knows he needs to work for something. This does not reflect his cloathing. I have never once lost a job because of how my employees dress. I am fairly lax in a uniform rule although my employees are expected to be clean shaven(with or without beards) and are given shirts, sweatshirts, and jackets. I don't however enforce that they wear them. As I said before I am a small company and personally do service, billing, and estimating. I find that it doesn't matter what I or my employees where to a job, as customers need to feel a certain comfort level with your knowledge and expertise. I personally meet with every potential customer as well as do 85% of our service work and I probably don't dress how my dad may have. What is really important at the end of the day is that the customer feel comfortable with me and the level of service that I have promised him. When was the last time you were asked for a company photo with your estimate? I bet it never happened. The fact of the matter is, if the customer is comfortable with the owner/representative than they will be happy and secure with the technicians that show up at their house. I would probably spend more time looking at oneself than others in this situation. However like I said I own a small business. Although, I will never stop meeting my customers for the first time, if only to get a feel for them.
    Sorry for the rant,
    Dan Sedens
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