Skilled Labor and Old-School Arc Drawing

The quickest path between two ideas is never a straight line, Einstein. January 2, 2012

We need to develop better training systems in our industry. The Woodlinks program is making good progress with respect to certifying skill. What are we doing with respect to creating skill?

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor R:
Great question. I look at this in many ways. Since I'm a baby boomer I've experienced many years of woodworking and found that there is no long term commitment to the people working in the industry today. The way to attract a skilled work force is to respect them and pay them a decent wage with benefits. Hire and train people with the ability (for) woodworking. Hire the older woodworker to do shop drawings, they have the ability to find then correct problems before they hit the shop floor. Give your creative people the freedom to think, then watch everyone excel.

From contributor M:
It seems as if the shops that are going to attract "skilled" labor would be the small to midsized shops producing custom work. Would you have wanted to seek out a career in our industry if the job description involved feeding boards through a molder 40 hours a week?

From contributor S:
Contributor M makes an important point. With today's automated shop, exactly what skills are we talking about? My skills are useless for the most part (no one swings a 20 ft. radius by hand anymore). So rather than a "craftsmen" oriented skill set, it seems the shift is to machine operator. The challenge, on one level, is to find a good machine operator who can think critically in addition to being content to perform redundant tasks eight plus hours a day - a unique combination indeed.

From contributor P:
Once again itís time to put down the magnifying glass and pick up the binoculars. Could it be that we just need to learn some stuff? Part of this I think is to see what other shops are doing to gain expectation of what you do. I toured some shops in Germany a while back. They raised the bar in my mind about woodwork. But here is the deal, Germany has a culture that is conducive to this training. The American culture is not.

From contributor G:
I agree with Contributor P about the culture thing. Sadly most people here won't pay for a high level of skill. There are exceptions but not enough to give many of us the chance to make a living being true "craftsmen". I think as we try to make our businesses more profitable and lean any true skill goes out the window. Sometimes I think when I retire I will practice my woodworking "skill", when I can afford the time.

From contributor L:
What skill is or isn't needed will always change. How good are you with an Adz? The implication is that by using a joiner plane you are less of a "genuine" craftsman , than the expert with an Adz. So the next generation uses a water powered planer, then a CNC something or other. I contend that it takes a great deal of skill to be a good CNC man. True enough it is a different skill set but if you are anchored in the past you will go the way of the cobbler. Producing more in a time frame means you can have more stuff. Not necessarily good I admit. But you could well do without your car, central heat, fresh fruit in the winter and nice sneakers if you went back to the good old days when men were hand craftsmen.

From contributor F:
Hereís a 28' radius.

Click here for higher quality, full size image

From contributor F:
My training class at Thermwood got a big kick out of the jig I posted above but if I were to do that job again (cutting radius for two arch bottom rails and panel cuts as well as the jigs to run them through the shaper)I would still use the jig. I have access to CNC now but it is 90 miles away. I can build the jig and have the parts cut in the time it would take me to drive to the CNC. I agree that mastering the software used to control a CNC is a great woodworking skill and one that is going to be in demand in the future. The ability to use hand tools is not necessary anymore except in serving small niche markets.

From the original questioner:
The posts on this thread remind me of a recent Paul Krugman editorial in the NY Times about the direction of labor opportunity in this country. Krugman was making the case that the computer was having the most significant effect on employment in knowledge industries, particularly the ones where constituted knowledge really just involved mere decision making rather than judgment.

He cited lawyers who, for example, spent their day in case law research. A computer algorithm could chase down instances of a specific phrase much faster and for lower cost than a human could with any amount of training. The take-away from this might be that we should think about which things in our industry require judgment and which things merely require decision making. The impact of this would be to free up some bottleneck resources and leverage the ones we do still need.