Archive for the ‘Skilled Trades’ Category

Finding Satisfaction

Saturday, June 16th, 2012

I spent many years as a General Manager in manufacturing various kinds of machines from robots to packaging machines. The manufacture of these machines required people who worked with their hands in machining, fabrication, purchased parts, assembly, and testing. But I was the leader and never got a chance to put a wrench on a nut.

We had some real craftsman – particularly our service technicians who had to have many types of skills to be able to service all models still in operation. I always respected these people as well as the advanced assembly people who could test the machines for the customer. They were always able to troubleshoot very complex problems and save the day for me and the customer.

My job was to manage other people and departments and to keep the board of directors happy and supportive. In my job there were seldom moments of real satisfaction because progressing in our long term plan was achieved by incremental efforts over many years. Most of the solutions and decisions I made directly affected the employees, shareholders, and managers. But I did not go home very often with a feeling of satisfaction like the people who worked with their hands.

Building something with your hands like our shop people did everyday always had the potential for satisfaction. Even if you build a complex sub assembly for the machine, you could step back at the end of the day and say I did that. I did high quality work with my own hands and finished my part of the big machine.

On the other hand my job as the GM meant attending many meetings everyday, solving people problems and disagreements, and finding ways to motivate people. Many of the projects I monitored could take months or even years to complete and many meetings would simply lead to more meetings. As the leader I had to contend with the fact that many people did not like my style, my decisions, or the cut of my jib. So I seldom went home with a feeling of satisfaction, only a feeling of surviving another day.

I often envied the people who worked with their hands and had many chances at feelings of satisfaction. So when I was home in my own space, on my own time my hobbies were working with my hands. I built a wood shop behind my house and have spent endless hours building furniture, doing house maintenance, and repairing anything that broke in the house. These projects always allowed me to go to bed with a feeling of satisfaction. They were projects that required thinking, creativity, experimentation, and developing unique solutions. The process always made me happy

I was also trying to reach my potential as an artist In 1978 I found scratchboard drawing which is an engraving process on a thin board covered with chalk and the final layer was India Ink. By scratching through the India ink and revealing the white chalk I can make elaborate designs and drawings from photo realistic portraits to landscapes. Thirty-four years later I am still doing scratchboard and have not yet reached my potential. I just can’t tell you how much satisfaction these drawings give me and it is all accomplished with my hands and my brain.

Although I was good and rewarded for my corporate job, I must say that it was never a source of personal satisfaction. If you were totally focused on money and money was the equivalent of happiness I imagine that the job could be satisfying. But I found that the higher I rose in the corporation the job became more frustrating, more political, and more pressure. I feel that many people would simply have a lot less stress and lot more feelings of satisfaction by working with their hands. It just depends on what you want out of life.

Fear of Faucets

Wednesday, May 16th, 2012

The 18th Skills Canada National Competition just wrapped up in Edmonton. I really wanted to be there but going to Hot Docs was my priority. I did read about it and one article caught my eye. According to a survey conducted by Skills Canada almost half of Canadians admit they don’t know how to install a bathroom or kitchen faucet.

At one time when you went to the hardware store and puchased a part there was either no instructions or you needed a special tool to install it in place. Nowadays replacement products are a lot more user-friendly. So why the hesitations. I believe that if you don’t have an early-in-life familiarity with using your hands to build or repair you are going to be afraid of changing that faucet. If you have been raised your whole life in a rural setting and never ventured into the city, you are going to be nervous walking down the main street.

I recently replaced a toilet valve at home. I had never done this before and was a little nervous, partly because it was Saturday afternoon and the stores close at 5 pm. We could have been without running water until Monday morning. The toilet valve was straight forward but the connection from it to the wall was not that obvious. The recommended choice was to replace the gangly group of galvanized fittings with a flexible hose. Armed with tools and the parts needed I tried to loosen the existing pipes. They wouldn’t budge. I didn’t want to risk breaking the pipe coming out of the wall. That would definitely mean calling a plumber. As it turned out I could attach the new toilet valve to the old fittings after all and with no leaks.

What a great experience. I used communications skills to talk with the store clerk about what I needed. I used my brain to figure out the instructions for this application. I used my body to get in the best position to wield the tools needed for loosening and tightening.  I used evaluative skills to figure out a plan B when plan A failed.

Now let me think, I have wanted to change the bathtub… hmm?


Recent news in Skilled Trades

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

The more I research this project the more I realize how timely it is.

Skilled trades groups make pitch to students: Skilled trades organizations and companies are campaigning in Ottawa this week to get more young people into this type of career path. At the Canadian Museum of Science and Technology, there is a wind-turbine competition engaging teams from high schools across the city.

Vale hiring boom suits students well: Vale is trying to recruit for about 1,700 jobs at their nickel processing facility near Long Harbour and is short workers in a dozen trades. A steep demand for skilled trades workers at the construction site for Vale’s means excellent prospects for students enrolled in training programs. As well last week, the Newfoundland and Labrador government created a new department — advanced education and skills — to help address a looming shortage of skilled labour in the province.

Skilled trades cheer $8b deal: Ottawa announced North Vancouver-based Seaspan Marine Corp. would get an $8-billion federal contract to build coast guard and other non-combat ships. It was also announced that the Marine Workers and Boilermakers Union are scheduled to sit down with educators at the B.C. Institute of Technology in Burnaby and Camosun College in Victoria in the upcoming days to help create new courses that will be required to build the ships. It is expected that students will be flocking to these places for admission.

Lessons from Québec

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011

As part of developing the project I went to Québec City on June 2-3 for the 17th Skills Canada National Competition . Some 500 young people from across Canada competed in over 40 trade and technology areas. It was a great opportunity to do research and to get footage for the demo. There is one story that has stuck with me as a metaphor for the usefulness of hands in our lives. Gary Elbers who is an auto mechanics teacher and a volunteer at the competition told me about one of his students. At the start of the course he asked him what he wanted to do in life. He responded that he wanted to be a medical surgeon. Gary then asked why he chose to take auto mechanics. He said that if he was going to be working inside the human body he had to get use to manipulating parts that would be hidden from view. He thought that working on cars would be a great way to learn that skill. So Gary then made sure that his assignments would give him that opportunity. What a smart student to think ahead like that.

UPDATE It is now 2016 and I decided to resurrect the footage from my trip to Québec and turn it into a short doc called Skilled for LIFE. Seeing this footage brought back memories of the stories I heard then. I decided to look up the two young people I interviewed. Annabelle Mongrain is working as an aircraft mechanic at Premier Aviation, an airport in Trois-Rivières, Québec. Jonathan Sinke has his own company now which specializes in solid wood furniture, custom kitchen cabinetry, wall units and bookcases. I hope they are both fulfilled in their chosen profession. I also hope they will write a little note below reflecting on their career choice and their experience at the Skills Canada National Competition.