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The Extinction of the Craftsman

Perhaps instead of the extinction of the Craftsmen we’re experiencing the extinction of people who want to learn a technical skill, serve their time and work their way up.
Todd Finnegan
Todd A. Finnegan,
President
ACS Services, LLC
TFinnegan@acssllc.com

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February 2016 - Vol. 17
 
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One minute they were here; then Craftsmen sightings became as frequent as seeing Big Foot and Elvis. Was it an Asteroid? Global Warming? Pesticides in the food sources? I’m old enough now to remember when there were Craftsmen everywhere. They were the “King of Beasts” in the skilled trades, highly evolved and literally at the top of the food chain in all trades.

As a first year Mechanical Apprentice I was in the middle of a Darwinian struggle. I was being tested constantly, not unlike a “Try-Out” for the Varsity squad. As you progressed each year in the Apprenticeship it was more and more intense as the schooling became more strenuous and the work more technical. They were trying to weed out the weak from the strong. The men who trained me were intensely proud of what they did for a living. They were highly regarded as experts in their field and well paid for their abilities. They wanted to make sure I had the brains and grit to stick with a profession that is highly technical and one in which you actually got paid to learn. It was a privilege and they wanted to make sure I was worthy of it. I soon realized my good fortune and got to work applying myself. This testing is necessary to make sure the industry is filled with the best and the brightest. It happens in any field where the compensation is excellent and where performance is rewarded.

Once I got serious I noticed the testing stopped. I’d somehow broken through an invisible barrier. I had “evolved” and earned the respect of these Senior Guys and they were now teaching me all their best techniques and “secrets”. I learned the technical side of the business and this was crucial in attaining mastery of my craft. These Craftsmen opened up a world to me that has created enormous opportunities for my my entire professional life.

So where did all these highly evolved Craftsmen go? In truth, we’re still here, but perhaps a bit harder to find. I’ve thought about this a lot and have two theories that put the Craftsmen on the endangered species list.

THEORY ONE: I WANT “JANEY” AND “JOHNNY” TO GO TO COLLEGE TO STUDY COMPUTERS!

It’s every parent’s dream that their children will grow and surpass them in every way...evolve. It was my Dad’s dream as well that I would go to college. Ok, I did go to college but I’ve made my living in the skilled trades and did my time in the Apprenticeship and worked my way up as well before I got a college degree. We all want our kids to be better than we were, but the truth is that we’re sending some of our kids to college that might be better off learning a skilled trade, and we need these hardworking, smart kids DESPERATELY to take the place of more senior guys that are starting to move up into management or ownership roles and create a new generation of Craftsmen.

Perhaps instead of the extinction of the Craftsmen we’re experiencing the extinction of people who want to learn a technical skill, serve their time and work their way up. Our kids want to start at the top right out of the gate and skip the good stuff where you learn the business from the ground up. It’s our fault for letting them believe that somehow college is a substitute for experience and that it is the only path to success. In my industry there are a myriad of ways that this technical education can be applied. Who better to manage people or do the marketing and sales of technical work than someone that understands how the work is done, priced and how it gets bought. Apprentices turn into journeymen who turn into Senior Technicians and get exposed to every aspect of how many of these very lucrative and successful businesses work from the inside out. A Project Manager in a mechanical construction company was often an Apprentice in his or her early career and essentially runs a large business inside a business and needs to know what every Harvard MBA Knows...how to do what you do profitably and repeatedly. If they take their technical education all the way to the highest level of evolution in this field they can sit for a Master’s License Examination. If they pass the exam they have a license (just like doctors and lawyers) that enables them to pull a permit and if they are ambitious enough and smart enough, start their own company.

Some parents these days have certain ideas about the skilled trades and some of these ideas are ignorant of the facts. I still hear that “Blue Collar” jobs don’t pay as much as jobs you can get with a college degree. I agree to strenuously disagree on this point. I know plenty of college graduates that are working very low wage jobs since they have no technical skills or experience. Some of them need to work multiple jobs and still need to live in their parent’s basement since they can’t afford to rent an apartment on what they make. They are not evolving or progressing. Nobody I know in the skilled trades who is considered good at what they do needs to work a second job to pay their bills. Good people in the skilled trades can make REALLY good money and they’ve earned every single penny. They have a SOLID technical education and real world experience and this gives them an edge over the “herbivores” in the workplace jungle.

THEORY TWO: WHY SHOULD I PAY MORE?

This is essentially killing off the food source for the Craftsmen to extend our extinction analogy. I’m as guilty as anyone in falling into this trap. Why would I pay more to have my garage painted by a “Craftsman” versus some guy I met in the grocery store parking lot with a ladder tied to the roof of his station wagon whose estimate is half the price? Well, this guy skimped on the preparation work and used an inferior paint product. Now the garage looks worse now than when he started. I paid for a guy without the proper training to just get the job done fast and that’s what I got. I thought it was the “deal of the century”...and I am still stupidly looking for that deal.

Reliable Controls We have allowed unqualified contractors and service providers to over populate and crowd out the Craftsmen. After the project falls apart you bring in the Craftsmen and the best of them don’t “whack” you for being a Dodo Bird and hiring the cheap guy. These are classy people that don’t typically say “I told you so” though we well deserve it. The Craftsmen professionally goes at their work, they tell you what happened, matter-of-factly explain what the “cheap” guy did wrong or failed to do that put you in the position you are in and what needs to happen to rectify the situation. You are automatically put at ease by the Craftsmen’s command of his or her trade and how “safe” you feel to be in their Hands. The Craftsman also makes suggestions for how to cut some costs by looking at the job another way and suggests other improvements that will save you money and energy in the long run. You then pay the Craftsman what he or she wants and it lasts A LOT longer than the cheap job. The Craftsman is now on speed dial.

I’m constantly trying to find the right person to do the job right, but for the right price as well. I want that Craftsman to come back to the job in the event that something goes wrong. Good Luck finding the guy that painted my garage the first time. Given what I put into my own technical education you’d think I’d be better about hiring professionals that are qualified to paint my garage and stand by their work. I do now, but occasionally struggle to not be lured into trying to save a buck and pay to get it done correctly - the first time. A Craftsman is going to paint my garage this time; I’m evolving as a consumer.

Darwinism, prejudices about college educations and predilections regarding saving money aside, we all know that if a job is going to be done right, it should be done by someone with solid technical training and experience whether it’s a stock trade, brain surgery or fixing a plumbing leak. We need to be part of the natural selection process and choose quality over price. Seek out the Craftsman for the work you need done and if you know of some smart young person that is looking for career advice, suggest they look into an Apprenticeship so we have Craftsmen for the future.

That’s all for now and always remember, us SERVICE GUYS don’t care how large or small the job is, we just want to be the call you make!

Regards, Todd

Todd A. Finnegan

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