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FLwatchguy73

Watchmaker as a skilled trade and Skilled trades in general.

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Good morning Folks. I hope everyone is staying healthy and occupied in these difficult times. I'm going to write about skilled tradesman a bit here. If I get a bit wordy, pedantic, opinionated, boring or generalize too much, I apologize in advance. Some of what I say here are solely my opinions and observations based of the experiences of myself and others I've known.

There was a time in the world when skilled trades were respected and revered. During this time, If you weren't born into wealth or royalty, a trade was one of your only opportunities for a better life. Master tradesman would only take on a few new apprentices every few years, so the opportunity to be accepted as an apprentice was a great honor. Apprentices worked long and thankless days learning their craft from their tradesman. Master tradesman could be demanding, stern and harsh to their apprentices but they knew that people who needed the expertise of that tradesman would accept nothing less than the best. An apprentice would learn every aspect of the given trade and in most respects become an expert. An apprentice was bound to their master for the entire term of their apprenticeship which could be as long as seven years or more. When the apprenticeship was completed, they would become a Journeyman. They had enough skill to work for someone, gain more experience and were worthy of being paid for their work. As the name implies, a Journeyman could travel to many places and work for many tradesmen to gain experience and knowledge. In time, that journeyman could apply to become a Master Craftsman/ tradesman by applying to a Guild and creating a "masterpiece" If this masterpiece was accepted by the guild, the journeyman has now become a master. He could own his own business and take on new apprentices and journeymen thus continuing the trade. 

With industrialization and the advent of Trade Unions in the mid 19th century there was a modernization to the process. Unions organized trade schools that gave many more people an opportunity to learn a skilled trade and earn a living along the way. Worker health and safety began to become a valid concern. During this time new trades were added to the world specifically geared towards the many new industrial and technological achievements. Machinist, plumber, electrician and our own venerable watchmaker were added. All trades were still respected and valued and it was common to know families with multiple generations of tradesmen in one field or another. This system worked well and served society up until the late 20th century. 

I'm not sure anyone can pinpoint the exact fall of trades, but in America, many agree it began to unravel in the mid 1970's. Trade and labor unions gained a lot of power over the years and had exerted that power in excess. Pay and benefits were skyrocketing and the workers were safer and healthier than ever before but potentially excessive labor disputes and strikes began to cripple many of the industries that depended on the tradesman. Mildly skilled, non-union workers began to slip in and fulfill the tasks of skilled tradesman at a lower cost. Many unions were inflexible or too myopic and resisted the need to adapt to this "unskilled labor infiltration". In some areas, especially the southern states where trades and labor unions were never really strong, unskilled laborers out competed and underbid  for jobs. The inadaptability of trade unions nearly led to their complete extinction as a viable entity throughout the Southern United States. Corporations and the government, which had generally stayed out of labor disputes other than to expand labor unions began to take advantage of this change and in 1981, culminated in President Ronald Reagan decisively firing over 11,000 striking air traffic controllers.

I was fortunate enough to be accepted into an apprenticeship program in the late 1990's. It was a 4 year program that focused on several aspects of the machinist trades. I chose a specialization in machine repair. I had some difficulties during my apprenticeship but fortunately I was able to complete my entire apprenticeship before the program fell apart due to a corporate culture that had lost the understanding of the value of skilled trades. I have been very fortunate to work as a Journeyman for several good employers to help further my education in my trade. I currently work for one of the worlds largest defense contractors and it is truly a blessing. But, as with most good things in life, I earned my way here, I worked hard and learned a lot and became an asset for the company. I can absolutely relate to the value of a skilled trade.

Many here may be aware of the television presenter Mike Rowe. He was the host of the Discovery Channel program "Dirty Jobs". Mike also narrates many science and history channel programs including Deadliest Catch, Ghost Hunters and How The Universe Works to name a few. Mike has become an outspoken proponent of the skilled trades. He travels the country promoting trades, apprenticeships and craftsmen and has spoken before congress on the subject. Mike speaks of the skills gap, where employers cannot fill positions in their companies because of a lack of skilled workers.I believe it is because there is a pervasive attitude here in America that the skilled trades have no value. He points to the removal of shop classes from high school curriculum programs. As an example, the state college near me invested millions of dollars to build an advanced technology / trade school that now sits barely used. My high school dropped shop class a few years after I graduated. This has happened all over America.

 The failure in this is multifaceted. Schools aren't providing opportunities for kids to be inspired though a shop program. States are gutting education budgets to the point where school systems that are willing to provide opportunities are simply unable to. Add to that a general apathy by many employers to actually invest in skilled labor and the culture and infrastructure required to build it. It seems many companies have always expected there to be an unlimited supply of skilled labor that they would not be required to invest in. Now that it's drying up, they're baffled on what to do about it. Generally, there is a lack of interest in trades in america. We pushed college so hard that we lost sight of this need. Generally speaking, kids have been lead to believe that computers and technological savviness will be the only skills they'll ever need. They're sadly mistaken. It seems many of our young adults assume that if they can do some coding that they'll be hired by giant tech companies like Amazon or microsoft or others, reality proves otherwise.

The US government has invested nearly $700 million dollars in apprenticeship programs in the last 10 years which is great, but recently they have begun to restructure the standards to the point where the integrity of the system is being called into question. The article in this LINK goes into detail on this subject. Everyone from the government to corporations have to understand the reality of investment. You invest in money and time to produce a skilled tradesman or craftsmen. They are not simply created. And if you want Tradesman who meet a set of standardized criteria that you can count on their education and training being thorough and complete, there has to be cooperation with state and national programs like the US Department of Labor.

Other countries have not forgotten the value in that investment. Japan for example has a terrific trade and craft apprenticeship infrastructure and culture. Manufacturing companies offer 7 year apprenticeships. The companies provide for many of the needs of the apprentices including healthcare, food and lodging. There is still honor and prestige in being a skilled tradesman and craftsmen. I feel this is one of the reasons Japan is outperforming America in terms of manufacturing prowess. In Japan, our own venerable trade of watchmaking has a few devotees and a very small number of watchmakers and apprentices still ply the trade. Here is a link to an article that tells the story of 2 generations of watchmakers, one old and one young. Even there it is a very slowly dying skill. I do find it fascinating to know that there are women as in the article I linked to, who are expressing an interest in watchmaking, even if they are hobbyists. Several women have recently joined our forums here. Diversity is key to our future I feel.

In conclusion, I think it's a shame how we have lost sight of how valuable tradesmen and craftsmen are to the strength of our future. Hopefully, in my lifetime we will see that shift back the other way.

If your'e interested, here are some watchmaking educational rescources

https://www.awci.com/educationcareers/careers-in-watchmaking/

http://www.nghayekwatchmakingschool.org/The-Schools/miami/General-Information.aspx

https://www.britishschoolofwatchmaking.co.uk/

http://www.wostep.ch/fr

And many others from all over the world here: https://www.eternaltools.com/blog/27-of-the-finest-clock-and-watch-schools-around-the-world

Thank you for taking the time to read this, I really appreciate it.

 

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It's interesting that in Europe the general procedure in schooling is to sort of separate people into two groups around middle school age, one going towards university and the other going towards what is generally termed "apprenticeship". As the father of a 13yo girl (and coming from the U.S.) it is strange to me to see kids being separated out like that at such a young age, and it does cause many of them a lot of stress, but also many are perfectly happy going the apprenticeship route too. And it is possible to cross over either way down the road if they desire and have the grades (the uni route is quite a bit harder academically). In the end, those that go to uni are a fraction of those that go apprenticeship; and there is no tuition, just some fees and such.

 

The kids that do apprenticeship start on a given profession as young as 14. A fellow I work with did; by the time he was 18 he was a full fledged watchmaker with quite a bit of professional experience. By the time I met him at age 25, he had 10 years in the trade if you count his schooling. And he's a hell of a watchmaker!

 

Basically here to do just about anything you need a paper called a CFC that shows that you have been educated and passed some examinations to ply your trade. That includes something as mundane as a house painter. And there is plenty in place to make it possible to get that paper, the above fellow's mom decided to change trades at age 45, did night classes and got a paper as a low level watchmaker, basically assembly line worker, and is happy as a clam.

 

I don't think the U.S. was ever quite that organized, but the decline of "shop classes" in high school and trade schools in general, and the implied "shame" of going into a trade, not to mention the almost total evaporation of any apprenticeship program is a really a pity. The push to get a maximum of young people to go to college really gets me worked up, especially given the astronomical increase in tuition compared to 20-30 years ago, and that young adults start their professional life quite frequently in debt, debt that tends to actually grow over the years rather than decline. Ugh.

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I have a certificate similar to the "CFC" you mention. It certifies that I am a qualified machinist, what my specialization was, how many hours were involved in it and the dates everything occurred on. This certificate is maintained by the US department of Labor and I can get a copy of it any time I need. Sadly, not one single employer in 20 years has asked to see this certificate. They all take my word for it. They just assume that because I can can do the work and I interview well that I'm qualified. There used to be a time when all you needed to get a job was that certificate, no questions asked. There was no doubt you were qualified for the job.

I have 4 children myself and only one has expressed any interest in a skilled trade or career field. I do worry about my eldest 2 as they were not great students in school. My third son is the only one who has a clear plan, graduate high school, join the military as a diesel mechanic and either make it a career or get out and turn wrenches for a living. My youngest is my only girl, she is creative and artistic and wants to pursue a career in movies or television but behind the scenes. We can only hope we have done our best to prepare them for the realities of the world.

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Colleges and Universities are big business, nickelsilver, so it's in their best interest to enroll as many students as possible. At the top, the schools care very little about the students employability when they've completed their studies. And, from what I've seen, college graduates are less educated than they were 20 years ago. Of course, we've been convinced that without that $50k ~ $100k degree, there's no chance for success, and we want our kids to have it better than we did (American dream, as it were).

The problem with trade credentials, FLwatchguy73, is the certification process has become big business, too. I can't speak to the mechanical trades, but when it comes to IT, I can tell you that when I see certifications like MSCE or CIS on a resume, my first impression is "There's someone who can take a test, but can't do the job." That comes from years of the certification authorities pumping out unqualified people into the market just to collect the fees. I fear it may be the same in the mechanical trades.

 

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Just now, eccentric59 said:

Colleges and Universities are big business, nickelsilver, so it's in their best interest to enroll as many students as possible.

 

I know, it's a serious issue. On another forum I frequent the average age is well above 50, and fairly frequently there will be a moan fest about "millennials" and one or more folks will always talk about how they paid their way through college and when they graduated they had no debt and in some cases even owned a house, but the kids today... That was possible 50 or 40 years ago, less so 30 years ago, and has become more or less a total impossibility from 20 years ago.

 

I had the very good fortune to go to a college prep private high school (scholarship, we were anything but wealthy). I was the only kid in my class to not go straight to college. As I had zero idea what I really wanted to do and I would be on the hook for tuition I figured I'd work a bit and go when I knew. Ended up becoming an auto mechanic for a few years, which through a matter of chance encounters got me into watchmaking.

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39 minutes ago, eccentric59 said:

The problem with trade credentials, FLwatchguy73, is the certification process has become big business, too. I can't speak to the mechanical trades, but when it comes to IT, I can tell you that when I see certifications like MSCE or CIS on a resume, my first impression is "There's someone who can take a test, but can't do the job." That comes from years of the certification authorities pumping out unqualified people into the market just to collect the fees. I fear it may be the same in the mechanical trades.

The DOL standards were established by the government to certify trade and craft skills based on education and experience. This helped protect companies and individuals from shoddy, unskilled workers who claimed to have the required skills. The government has never been involved in computer certifications. Every software and networking company has established their own system for training and certification with little to no practical, hands on, OJT experience required before obtaining said certificates. Establishing that kind of infrastructure is very costly. It's easier and cheaper to build your coursework without it.

In America, specifically residential plumbers and electricians must meet several requirements before they can go into business. First they must have Liability insurance in an amount mandated by the state they work in. Second, they must have an occupational license in they state, city or county they perform the work in. (each area varies on the specifics) finally, in order to obtain an occupational license you must carry a state certified master license in the given trade. Not just anyone can become a licensed tradesman. 

That said, it does not stop handymen and the like from performing repairs. However, if an accident occurs and the evidence shows the homeowner or property manager did not use a licensed professional, the insurance company is not obligated to pay your claim.

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Many of the kids will tell you the "have to" go to college. Most probably shouldn't be there. We gave our son the choice of going to a state school or private school with a prestigious name (Drexel University). His academic record was excellent and he'd been accepted, with a large grant to go to Drexel. Still, even with the grant, we could only cover so much so he'd still graduate with over $100k in debt. The state school on the other hand was a free ride for him. We'd pick up the complete tuition provided he kept his grades up. He made the right choice.  He graduated with $0 debt, was president of his fraternity, met his wife there and since has a lovely house, good job and has produced the two greatest grandchildren in the world (although I might be a bit prejudiced on that last part ;) ) Many of his contemporaries are still living with Mom and Dad with nothing but oppressive debt to show for their 4 years. :( 

Back to the original point, there's little incentive for kids to go into any of the trades, at least as far as schools are concerned. I was lucky enough to have a look at both sides of the coin and make my own choices. My grandfather was a machinist in the Philadelphia navy yards in the '30s and '40s, then owned his own repair shop until he retired. Some of my fondest memories as a child were in his machine shop basement learning to make and fix things with him (hence the love of watches). He taught me to use and respect tools. But, he was a big proponent of formal education too. My mother (his daughter) went to college in the '40s and got her degree in art and fashion. My dad got his degree from Princeton and was about as far removed from my grandfather as you can imagine. When it came time for me to go to college, I didn't know what I wanted to study so I didn't go. I went to work for a little while and entered college a little later. I don't know that I'd recommend that for everybody, but it worked for me.  

 

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6 minutes ago, FLwatchguy73 said:

That said, it does not stop handymen and the like from performing repairs. However, if an accident occurs and the evidence shows the homeowner or property manager did not use a licensed professional, the insurance company is not obligated to pay your claim.

And many people don't know or consider that ... and unfortunately the trade associations haven't done much to promote that information either, at least that I can see being an average consumer.

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