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“A parent who does not teach his child a trade teaches him to be a thief.” – Brahmanical Scriptures.
If I had my way every young man would be skilled in some useful trade, not that every person should be a tradesman all of his life, but that he should have the educational value which comes from being able to make a living with his hands should circumstances make it necessary or desirable to do so. The doctor, the lawyer, the merchant, the school teacher, and the farmer would all be better for experience in the handling of tools.
Many kinds of work may be classed under the general title of the trades. It is impossible to draw sharp lines, since the trades merge into the work of the artist, designer, and manufacturer, on the one side, and into the field of the unskilled laborer on the other. The work of the tradesman requires special skill and cannot be well done without a certain amount of training. This work may include the activities of the carpenter, mason, painter, plasterer, plumber, paper hanger, etc., in building; or that of the blacksmith, machinist, shoemaker, printer, tailor, etc., in manufacturing and other industries.
The number of kinds of trades is almost without limit, since practically every human activity has phases of work requiring the services of skilled operators.
Importance of the Trades
The importance of the man who does the skilled work of the world cannot be overestimated. About one fifth of all those engaged in gainful occupations in the United States are working at what may be classed as trades. These workers are the ones who apply to human comfort the various discoveries and inventions that are made from time to time. The genius of an Edison, a McCormick, a Bell, or a Steinmetz, could not come to full fruition without the work of tradesmen to construct the devices which mean so much to the comfort of man.
The machinist has, with the aid of his machinery, completely revolutionized every field of human activity. He has entirely changed the methods of agriculture, manufacturing, mining, and all of the other industries.
Personal Qualities for Tradesmen
Many diverse personal qualities must be considered by those who contemplate entering the field of the skilled workman. This field requires a strong, healthy body and demands of those entering it that they shall not be afraid of hard work. The tradesman should be able to get along with his fellow workman and be willing to be directed by others; he should have intelligence and originality in order that he may be more than a mere machine in his work.
Each trade makes its own special demands. For example, a machinist should naturally like to work with machinery and take an interest in its operations. He should be a close observer and should have a good idea of form, size, and weight as well as being constructive in his nature.
The variation of interest manifested by different individuals in the mechanical pursuits is illustrated by two brothers, who, though reared together on a farm, were not at all alike in their tastes. Henry knew all about each machine on the place, and he noticed closely every new mechanical device. During his spare time he was making things, and he spent a great deal of time taking machines apart and putting them together again. John knew very little about machines and cared less. He was interested in livestock and would never let a cow or horse pass unobserved. He was helpless if anything went wrong with even a simple machine. He would go miles for help rather than try to solve a mechanical trouble himself. As these brothers were riding through the country the train on which they were traveling stopped at a small station where cattle were being loaded into cars. The brothers got off the train to walk a few minutes. Henry walked forward to the engine and spent his time looking it over, examining wheels, cogs and pistons; John spent his time looking at the animals that were being loaded. The one had in him the qualities of a machinist; the other would probably have found it difficult to make a success in the use of any kind of tool.
Learning a Trade
A generation or two ago practically all trades were learned by apprenticeship. Boys were put to work with a master of some trade and there they had to remain as long as was necessary to make them skilled. Usually a certain number of years were specified in the contract. The apprentice received a very low wage during part or all of the period of learning.
During recent years the industries have developed on such a gigantic scale that the master and apprentice custom is no longer the rule. Young men enter the industry and gradually work up from helper to operator. The personal side of the instruction is much less intimate than under the old system. Many industrial organizations maintain special schools where class instruction is given at various stages in the trade-learning process.
Many public and private schools have developed industrial courses to aid in training for the trades. The time required in school is usually much shorter than that required in the old system of apprenticeship, since the student spends all of his time learning new things and does not attempt to earn money while studying. It is, however, usually necessary for students who graduate from these industrial courses to have practical experience after leaving school before they become master workmen.
One of the best ways for a young man to learn a trade today is to attend a school where instruction is given in the desired subject. He can acquire some knowledge of the trade during the school year while getting his general education; then during vacations he can work with practical tradesmen. In this way he should be able to go out as a workman by the time he finishes his schooling.
It is impossible to find schools for all of the trades, although for the most important ones schools are open in some part of the United States. Because it is not always possible to go to distant states to attend schools, and because the exact type of training sometimes cannot be obtained in any school, it is necessary in many cases to learn the trade by working for some practical tradesman. The disadvantage of this method is the length of time required. In a particular shop most of the work may be of but one or two kinds, which does not give the young man the proper breadth of knowledge concerning the trade he is learning.
In this day of hurry and bustle the young man may become impatient to get into practice; but the master workman cannot be made without long experience. In learning a trade thoroughness should be placed first. No young man should be satisfied with anything short of mastery.
Compensation and Opportunities
The wages received by skilled workmen is decidedly in advance of those paid to common laborers. The class of work and the hour are usually also more desirable. The amount received for work in the different trades and under different conditions varies so much that it is useless to give exact figures. The saying that “a man who has a trade has a fortune” is true in the sense that he can always make a good living under normal conditions. There is always a demand for men who can do special work particularly well, even when common laborers are out of employment.
If the man with a trade can make two dollars a day more than the unskilled worker, he will make six hundred dollars a year more if there are three hundred working days. Six hundred dollars is interest on twelve thousand dollars at five per cent. This means that the trade has a value to its possessor equivalent to the use of twelve thousand dollars. While great fortunes are probably never made in the ordinary practice of a trade a good honest income is fairly certain.
“An ordinary clerk,” writes Wingate, “is not so well paid as a first-class mechanic. He has far less independence, and not half so good prospects. The mechanic’s work is more healthful; he is less likely to lose his place in dull times, is only discharged from necessity, and has equal chances for promotion. The average clerk does not require special ability; but the mechanic must be intelligent; if he is industrious and observing he improves daily. A mechanic with a kit of tools and enough money to hire a basement or a loft may start on his own account or he may work at home. If he has energy and friends he will have but little trouble to get along. I believe that more mechanics than clerks own their homes; and, when they die, they leave their families better provided for.”
The opportunities open to the man with a trade are largely dependent on his energy and ambition. He may be satisfied to do just an ordinary grade of work and receive medium pay, or he may be determined to rise to the top of his trade and command the highest compensation. In almost all of the trades there is an opportunity for advancement. The carpenter through study and industry may become a contractor and later an architect. The boy who learns to be a printer may become a compositor, an editor, or an author. Infinite opportunities are open to the mechanic in developing new machines to meet the demands of an ever-advancing civilization; and there is original work growing out of most of the trades that calls for the highest type of inventive genius.
1. Enumerate all of the kinds of work you know of that might be classed a trades.
2. How can the knowledge of a trade help a person who is not actually following it?
3. Discuss the trades that are used in connection with the operation of a railroad; with the running of a sugar factory; in the making and repairing of an automobile; in constructing a building.
4. Discuss the personal qualities of those who follow the various trades you are familiar with.
5. Bring up for discussion a number of the most successful tradesmen in your town and consider their method of training, their value as citizens in the community, their income, and the education they are giving their children.
6. What trades seem to you to have the greatest opportunities in your community?