An Old-Timer Longs to Restore Skilled Trades' Pride

How today's tradesmen can help restore skilled trades: bring back the pride

Gen T

Editors Note: The following article is the first in a series written for Generation T by tradespeople sharing their knowledge and insights into the trades. The first article was written by The Trade Institute of Pittsburgh Founder Steve Shelton. In this short story, Shelton addresses how the skilled tradespeople of the past took great pride in their industry, and how the success of the next generation of tradespeople depends upon rediscovering that pride. 

I've always admired the way the Old Timers carried themselves years ago; they worked hard every day to take care of themselves and their families. They had so much pride in being an accomplished Bricklayer or Concrete Finisher or a master of any of the other trades. But somewhere along the way, the pride that people took in their work was lost– it vanished. Where did that pride go, and how can we preserve what's left of it?

I hope that after reading this, the craftsmen of today feel some responsibility to take an apprentice under their wing to both teach them skills and show them how to take pride in their work with a spirit of excellence. It not only will bring out the best is these new apprentices, but will help regain and preserve that dignity that we learned from the Old Timers. The idea that skilled trades are second-rate jobs is nonsense, and to change that, we lovers of working with our hands must reach back and give a hand up to them and pour into them what was instilled in us.

Raised in Pittsburgh during the ’70s and 80’s we worked hard. Real hard. I think back to the days when I was a young teen working for bricklayers mixing mortar with a hoe. Cappy lived at the end of our street and had a masonry company. In those days, my brother and his buddies laid brick. We worked seven days a week and bricked more houses than you could imagine. Each one of us was a little crazy in our own right, but we all worked and took pride in our work. Moreover, we made good money doing it.

I remember many mornings on our way to the job site, Joe Johnson and I rode in the back of a pickup over the 30 or so miles to the housing plan where we laid brick. Joe was 62, and I was 12. I would chop mortar all day, and Joe would carry hod and brick to keep the bricklayers supplied. I’ll never forget Joe teaching me how to throw a hod and how to do things the easiest way possible– as it's probably the most physically demanding job on earth.

As we look at the shortage of tradesmen and women in the workforce today, it’s time for the older generations to take a more meaningful role in developing and instilling pride in younger generations. We need to get the young apprentices working side-by-side with the “Old Timers” -  to help guide, train, and inspire them. It will transfer years of knowledge and safety skills, and instill the pride of tradesmen who have worked with their hands all their lives into this new generation of tradesmen and women. They'll learn about something possibly more important: work ethic.

This is what I would like to see happen today: Young men and women in our schools and communities learn a trade and are so proud of their craft that it impacts their families and environments. Young people don't have the opportunity to be trained in the trades the way we were back in the day. This is evident as we've seen the trades– people doing good work with their hands– become seen as less critical and dignified. That is so far from the truth, and we need to reverse it.

The opportunities are there for the taking. Today, a young person who wants to be part of Generation T can start by apprenticing/laboring next to a journeyman to gain the necessary experience for launching a career. There is an abundance of opportunities - and finding them is sometimes as simple as sending a text message or picking up the phone. Anyone able-bodied and willing to put in a good day's work will find opportunity, and if you develop a work ethic, you'll create a life you might not have ever thought possible. The resources for training and guidance are there, but you have to take the initiative.

For those of you willing to take the plunge, here are some words of advice: Always show up on time, no excuses; Work hard and leave your phone in the car, and never, ever stand still. Be eager to learn by paying close attention to the journeyman Old Timers–not only with your ears but your eyes– pick up on the tricks of the trade that can be learned just by watching. This will propel you forward faster than anything else because you are applying what a career Journeyman has been doing for years.

The time apprenticing/laboring under a journeyman who takes pride in their work will rub off on you for years to come and will restore pride and dignity in the trades for you to then pass on to the next generation.

2 months ago, in Partner Stories by Jason Burns
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