Thursday, July 2, 2009

Skilled workers and artisans needed!

Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work by Matthew B. Crawford.

This book was just released in May and it's fascinating. It espouses the return to good ol' manual labor! The author's conjecture: he likes to work on motorcycles and feels good when he does. But he takes that further and shows new studies regarding work that are surprising, especially considering what mainstream beliefs have been regarding blue collar work.

He finds in his own work, as well as informal study and in tremendous research that hands-on workers, such as plumbers, painters, mechanics, and builders report more job satisfaction than a white collar, 'stuck in front of a computer monitor' executive. And, even more interesting is that in most cases, these workers end up making more money too, and their jobs are less fragile in a bad economic downturn. Common sense really, as we will get our toilets fixed and our cars running even if we are broke!

The author has nothing against higher education, but he points out that most guidance counselors push students into colleges with loftier hopes than are generally realized; and in fact often sneer at students that take more humble ROP or trade classes. And he backs it all up with data that supports his belief.

He then dips even further into the mind set of a manual worker: the joy from hard work, and the ability to see a project progress right in front of them, start to finish. To start a project and finish it within a few days and realize his goals on a tactile, personal level. The ability to make decisions that directly impact his work space and work goals by being more in charge of his time and resources. He also shows that the typical "ideal" employee graph would show a worker starting at an entry level position (hands on) and then working into management and further up, yet the rate of job satisfaction decreases the higher up they rise! So the "ideal" promoted by schools and colleges needs to change.

He's not suggesting that an employee have no ambition or drive, but rather to excel in what they do and take pride in it, and not be pressed to promote himself at the expense of his craft. Even specialization, often looked upon as a negative, actually makes their work more valuable. He suggests that mechanics or other tradespeople develop within their skills even more specialized skills and focus on excellence rather than self promotion.

All in all, a fabulous read. Sort of along the lines of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, but it actually discusses more about motorcycle maintenance and about the world of a mechanics shop (camaraderie, dirty jokes and all!).

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