I’m of the age where I trained for my original trade working alongside and learning from Old school tradesmen who manually undertook every task by hand. As my career progressed, machinery helped significantly to lighten the load but being from an age that experienced and bridged both eras, there were some methods we had to drop because of the HSE and their lack of understanding of these techniques of my profession. There is a case that the old-school tradesman were often fitter and stronger, countering much of the gains modern machinery brought, many jobs today require far less effort which in itself can manifest negatively on production.
Unlike today where each trade sticks rigidly to specifics, I like so many others was trained to undertake at least three complementary trade roles that ensured an efficient completion of each project without bringing other separate trades. Similarly, you would see wet trade builders who could bricklaying, plaster, and undertake groundwork, some also went further, you had joiners who could make many things from scratch, install 1st fix, and second fix to buildings, fit kitchens, etc, etc. Plumbing & Electrics often was often performed by one person who also understood central heating for example. This obviously was always the case and there have always been specific trades that were brought in, usually as and when required when the work involved was significant enough to warrant it.
These highly skilled old-school tradesmen co-ordinated projects between themselves and history shows that production was efficient and quality was usually very good. These guys knew who they trusted to work with and recommendations were often based on who they knew.
In today’s world, we often see kitchen fitters, window fitters, Bricklayers, plasterers, groundworkers, etc specialising in their specific genre, coordinated by project managers who have taken an assembly line approach to things. Corporations that insist on management reports have obviously had an influence in adopting more paperwork like HSE to stifle the SME competition. Method statements are an example of the tosh these corporations adopted when a tradesmen’s reputation & competence was once enough, likewise the trend towards the madness of ESG. (Environmental, Social & Governance)
So as a result you now have many tradespersons working on projects who don’t understand the wider picture needed to produce a high-quality end product consistently. Jobs usually have many snags to rectify at the end often bodged and individual craftsmanship is less apparent in the grand scheme of things, hence the drop in standards and pride in workmanship and it’s always someone else’s problem.
Inefficiency is why the building industry, in particular, is unable to meet demand and why so many of these project costs spiral out of control requiring more management and more costs.
It’s true what they say “The more you do something, the easier it gets” This includes graft and pushing yourself harder than you would think possible which is fine when you are young. True also when someone says “they can’t be bothered with sharpening saws” as they can buy cheap disposable ones for a few pounds, this only diminishes their knowledge of what type of handsaw is efficient for the job in hand. Knowledge is lost through convenience but as a result, long-term higher costs are caused by lack of efficiency when needing to use a handsaw and repeat purchasing costs.
There will be many other examples across many trades I’m sure but this sounds like one step forward and two steps back to me, those gains are soon lost, especially when it comes to reducing effort which causes a loss of knowledge.
As many will attest when matching old furniture, and building details such as windows or stonemasonry, for example, having those old techniques and tools to replicate the work is essential.
Hopefully, there will be enough young blood dedicated to their chosen trade to step out of their comfort zones to continue what often seems to be left to those older hands. It’s not the easiest of routes to take and usually requires stepping forward where others won’t, sometimes it takes personal development and dedication in one’s own time.
This is not to say everyone is in the same camp as some still bridge the divide but certainly not all, it depends on where and who trained them and their willingness to retain those same work ethics.
As ever hand tools and their performance plays a pivotal role in one’s efficiency, accuracy, and workmanship.
These old skills and importantly old methods are important to preserve, especially when modern theory is now used to try and understand how pyramids were built for example. There will soon come a time when the new generation will be baffled as to certain projects that were undertaken and the massive costs involved to replicate them should they need preserving.
As so many others who left their main trade for new horizons, much experience and knowledge on methods disappears, often detrimentally and replaced by more inefficient management.
My final thoughts on why I left my trade:
Well, it’s important to understand I could not escape the large corporations who now run pretty much large projects and was directly impacted by the pursuit of madness they have adopted.
If people were trained properly gaining much valuable experience alongside those who have earned reputations the production line of skills evolves and flourishes. However, when corporations undervalue these skilled people with any option of progressive careers as they age the result is this, we simply walk away taking that experience, training, and knowledge with us.
No longer is my work building a reputation for management or large corporations that do not value the efforts in gaining my skills, I can no longer be used to rectify poor workmanship and do not have to abide by their incompetence.
What they don’t understand is that passion is part of your craft, or that the best is only good enough if you take it seriously!
Personally, work satisfaction and quality production are paramount to what I do, and that will never change due to my original training where I was insistently taught “never produce anything you wouldn’t be prepared to pay for yourself”.
Power tools & Machinery:
Whilst on site, I appreciate that this modern electric power-driven equipment has made many things easier in certain repeatable situations but there are times over-reliance can cause downtime due to their failure, everything also relies on energy, which as we know is becoming an ever-significant factor. Just wait for this ESG aspect to kick in to add to the PAT testing!
Within the confines of a small workshop, these power tools create significant dust that simply gets everywhere, including those lungs unless you protect yourself with extraction equipment or masks. One does have to wonder whether a craft for example is enjoyable with a little more physical effort using hand tools, especially when risks such as life-changing injuries caused by power tools are taken into account.