Welcome to the site; I hope you find it informative. I'll discuss a wide variety of trades-related topics that reflect my own path in the trades, and issues relevant to what is happening with the new "College of Trades" here in the province of Ontario. Be sure to check older posts, and I'd welcome your comments


Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Physician turned Tradesman!

Here's an interesting article on a highly trained doctor who fulfilled a life long dream by retiring early and teaching welding at a local high school! The article emphasizes the satisfaction derived from seeing visible results from work, the feeling of accomplishment.


Monday, March 30, 2009

The Craftsman by Richard Sennett

It may seem odd to strongly recommend a book before having a chance to buy or read it, but this one promises to be a worthy exception. I have used two of his previous books to great benefit, Respect in a World of Inequality, and Corrosion of Character, and am certain that this rare treatment of what it is to be a craftsperson will be a welcome treatment on this important topic.  Sennett has demonstrated profound and timely sociological insight throughout his prolific writing career.

Here's a comment from one reviewer, as found in the following link;

"As Richard Sennett makes clear in this lucid and compelling book, craftsmanship once connected people to their work by conferring pride and meaning. The loss of craftsmanship-and of a society that values it-has impoverished us in ways we have long forgotten but Sennett helps us understand."-Robert B. Reich, Professor of Public Policy, University of California at Berkeley, and author of Supercapitalism: The Transformation of Business, Democracy, and Everyday Life (Robert B. Reich 20080523)


I'll discuss further when I've had the opportunity to get a copy and read it- all 330+ pages!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Shoe Craft

Here's a link to a blog for very expensive shoes that illustrates how diverse craft issues are:
http://stylecrave.com/2009-03-27/most-expensive-mens-shoes/ . Speaks well to high regard of craft accomplishments.

New Visitor?

Thanks for dropping by my new blog!  A lot of ideas will be shared here, mostly centering on learning skills and on promoting craft-related issues. Reading one of the published articles in the sidebar would also be helpful since although they talk about issues related to Ontario's community colleges and the place of vocational training, they also are concerned with what craft is and why it is important.

Several years ago, when I starting researching and writing about craft, a major concern was lack of respect for trades work. Since then I've changed my view, as there has been considerable moving away from emphasis on degrees toward skilled training and apprenticeships.  Also, I have been very suprised to learn three trends in skilled trades work; the high numbers of older tradesmen still enjoying working in the trades (I'm 60 and intending to stay in for ten years), the number of people who have been lisenced tradesworkers before moving into another field (attrition rate- another subject), and the numbers of new apprentices having university degrees (more than half in the shop where I work). This serves to illustrate both diversity and sometimes contradictions that arise when attempting to generalize when discussing trades work.

Please let me know if you find any of these craft issues of interest.  It's my hope that other craft workers are interested in what makes them tick and can share expereiences. As a matter of fact, does anyone know what a surgeon or nurse have in common with craft workers, in the area of mastery?


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Sunday, March 22, 2009

What Skills Shortage?

What skills shortage?
Now where are the calls of desperation about shortages of tradespeople in Fort McMurray?

When oil was $150 a barrel, exploration and development was booming in the oil sands projects and the worker sprung from annonimity to be the critical link in project success; since money certainly wasn't. It like a shop keeper glancing up at a dusty shelf and realizing the can goods were suddenly selling more quickly, and ordering several cases without concern about demand falling off and being unable to sell the product. Unlikely, but that was the mood, of the shelf being empty, forgeting that skilled workers are not items on a retail shelf but individuals with families. Some of those who relocated west in search of the big money may have found themselves in difficult straits as the price of oil fell to $40 a barrel and development and exploration projects were curtailed.

So skilled craft workers are individuals with varied abilities, families, hopes and obligations; not toy soldiers on a hobby shop shelf.  while this site will stress commonalities, they vary widely in learning styles, ability to lead or follow, replicate or inovate. They do take great pride in their ability to self direct, focus, and problem solve.

And they will be the subject, with all that makes them tick, of this blog.


Saturday, March 21, 2009

Automaticity: The boon and bane of the Skilled Tradesman

Ever been driving and had the sudden awareness that you have no recollection of having driven the past several miles?
We all have. It's the commonest experience of automaticity and yet one rarely discussed; to the best of my understanding few tradesmen talk about it.  I have worked along beside workmen for fifty years and never heard of it until research illuminated my own work experience of having worked away for a period of time while my awareness or consciousness was elsewhere.

Now the rub. It is fundamental to our success as human beings, since morning routines of brushing teeth and tying shoe laces would be insurmountably complex if they could not be routinized and done with relative ease. The degree of success that we commonly enjoy is illustrated by the fact that incidents of confusing toothpaste and shaving cream, putting salt in place of sugar in our morning coffee or wearing mismatched socks is rare. Yet discussing automaticity properly would take at least one book if not more on issues far from fully researched.  Like dealing with a tangled rope, I will unravel the topic over time in digestible segments that the average reader can deal with, aided by illustrations like the one to follow.

If you watch an experienced person at work, the task seems deceptively easy. Drywalling for example; there is nothing to it until you try it for yourself. Your respect for the professional increases a hundred fold. There is no substitute for experience, we all agree, but how we get from beginner's luck on the golf course, for example, past long periods of frustration and bent clubs to being sufficiently competent to accept an invitation from a colleague to play a first rate course?

Leaving the clubs in the trunk of your car will allow you to avoid the frustrations of gaining proficiency at golf, but a novice or apprentice can't avoid the wrath of the journeyman he works under for costly mistakes or struggling with simple tasks that he sees other doing easily.  The fact that ten thousand hours of practice are required to master (perform with ease at a high level of complexity) a wide range of skills such as playing a piano or violin or chess or becoming a journeyman plumber emphasizes the human capability aspect of automaticity.

The reader can see to momumental range of scope of covering the topic from the point of view of the master worker.  Suffice for this time to have whet the reader's curiosity and end by suggesting about why automaticity is the journeyman's best friend and worst enemy. First, enjoyment of performing music well results in a "flow-like" state, and being "good at what you do" is very rewarding, with similar results when at its best. However, for that to happen, the pianist must persevere arduously to master intricate chord arrangements, and the sheet metal fabricator must be able to conceptualize, layout, fabricate and assemble duct fittings to install air conditioning systems in large building that perform. The lay person in each case can only see the results; pleasing music and the right amount of tempered air in each office area. 

Thus by being able to "scaffold" on difficult but relatively less complex tasks, the expert gains the ability to tower over the average person in versatility and resourcefulness, and stay aware of broader but critical issues rather than narrow in on specific tasks. The pianist can both master and consistently replicate those difficult segments into a smooth performance and add expression, feeling, and subtle nuances that make an otherwise sterile mechanistic performance into an interpretation of what the performer believes is the composer's intention.  The same neurological mechanisms are at play in refining complex skills and allow the performer confidence that the results will be pleasing.

A while ago I was quizing my doctor about this subject during a routine visit. His only comment was that he didn't mind me studying the topic as long as I didn't show up in his office needing my arm sewn back on!  Some time ago I heard that the most dangerous time for an electrician is not as a novice when he is terrified of electrical shock, but between 35 and 55 years of age when he is too comfortable around live power.  The worker depends on the routinized subtasks but must still remain attentive on the larger task; both for his own safety and that of others. 

Much more to come on this topic. Stay tuned.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Welcome Visitors

Welcome to a brand new blog designed to communicate with others interested in what makes skilled workers able to perform with relative ease the complex tasks they are capable of.  It should provide valuable information to other skilled workers who left behind the overwhelmingly discouragements of the novice stage and went on to earn respect from peers (and wondered how they got there); and also to students of sociology of work who are coming up empty as I did when researching craft and skilled work. I'd love to hear from all of you!

As a Master Electrician and past educator I feel well qualified to speak on this subject. I've spent almost forty years in the skilled trades and taught building maintenance over a fifteen year period. I'll write more specifically about the long path of self-education that began with curiosity about mind functions and frustration with learning theories as they exist. I've read many of them and come up pretty much empty handed to find any relevance to my personal continuing path. I have looked- both in the several thousand books in my own library and in college and universities. The best I'll share with you in the coming months.

As a result of that research I've developed numerous areas of original insight.  From contacts within the academic comunity where I've been able to share my writing projects, there has been strong encouragement to get my ideas into print.  However, due to the constraints of full time work and part time electrical contracting I haven't been able to pursue publication as quickly as I'd like; to say nothing of the intellectual challenges of meeting the rigors of academic publication as a self educated person!

As you can see, there will be plenty to check back on!