I continue to wonder what the future of craft is. When will working with your hands be viewed as a worthwhile way to make a living? It was at one time.
Then college was decreed as the path to success. Vocational classes stopped being offered at high schools.
Still, craft beckons.
In a recent New York Times article, Sridhar Pappu writes about people choosing craft over their white-collar jobs. “Matthew Crawford, a senior fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia and author of the book The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction, sees good sense at work among those who leave office jobs for something more concrete. The reason? Much white-collar work has become similar to assembly-line work, comprising a series of mindless tasks.
'The most important distinction, whether you work with your hands or in an office, is whether or not the job involves using your own judgement,'” Pappu writes, attributing that last statement to Crawford, who fabricates parts for custom motorcycles when he is not writing or researching.
“'You can’t have this separation from thinking to doing. In the assembly line, you dumb the work down to where everyone can do it,'” the essay continues, again quoting Crawford. “'And the logic of separating thinking from doing has seeped into a lot of white-collar work, too. To remain engaged, you have to be using your mind, and that’s certainly true when you’re diagnosing a machine like a mechanic does. Nothing is really routine.'”
Boy, you can say that again!
To make it easier for those of us who find joy being out of an office and solving problems, often with our hands, we need to expose young people to the magic. We need to show them that such work is rewarding both mentally and financially. How?
One of my clients had a daughter who was getting a degree in architecture. Our client knew our company well, having us do several jobs over 20 years, and she asked if her daughter could work as an intern with us for several months.
The daughter worked in the office. We took her out to jobsites. She sat in on company meetings. I believe she is a better architect because of those experiences interacting with those who build what is designed.
A Concrete Pour
When one of our sons was in preschool we were building a house for a client. To show the youngsters what we did, we had them come when the foundation was poured. Big concrete truck, lots of activity and noise, and then quiet, with the forms all filled.
I like to think that one of those little children began to think, “This is neat! Maybe I can do this one day.”
Topping Off Celebration
When we reached the highest point in the framing of a house, addition, or even a remodel, we had a topping off ceremony. The youngest craftsperson would climb to the highest point of the frame and nail an evergreen branch to it. We would toast that person, the clients, the people doing the work, and the materials, wishing long life to all.
We would get silly simple gifts for the key people in the project, like the client, the designer, and the lead carpenter. We would always get similar gifts for any little children in attendance. Again, we did this to let them in to the secret of how much joy and satisfaction can come when you are remodeling or building something.
A Summer Job
When I was 4 years old, I asked the contractor working on the house next door if I could get a job with him. He said, “Come back when you are older.” I came back when I was 15 and worked summers for him. I like getting paid, but what I liked the most was doing the work and seeing the results. What a thrill! And that is how my life in this business got started.
As people who “get” the magic of working with our hands and our minds, we need to expose young people and their parents to an alternative to college. Visit your local high schools. Talk with the administrators. Join with your fellow contractors and have a job fair. Let the students see what is possible.
You could give them a rewarding life they never knew they could have. What a great project that would be for you!