Grandma & Grandpa's Farm

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Craftsmanship - Still a Great Need

Craftsman vs Worker -- Caring vs A Job

Perhaps a "Skilled Worker" can do as good a job as a "Craftsman" can in many cases and perhaps the difference between "craftsman" and "worker" and "professional" are all semantics, but I am using them in a particular way for the moment and not really talking dictionary or vocabulary here -- so bear with me.

When my Father was buying his second house -- this one custom made to his specifications -- many issues came up that got me thinking about something. The same thoughts came up when my Sister bought her first car and when my Father bought his next house. When someone is making a major purchase of their lifetime doesn't it make you feel a little uncomfortable that the people working on it might just be considering it "another day's work"? In a factory making cars -- a young person's first car is a pretty important purchase to them of their lifetime -- the car is made by many people just putting in their hours. You here jokes that you don't want a car built on a Monday... or a Friday... because the cars would be substandard since the workers would either be tired from their weekend or not have their minds fully on their jobs.

Perhaps on a mass produced consumer product it "might" be acceptable since you can just take the car back and get any problem remedied. I do find that this is almost a bit too routine. I don't know of anyone who doesn't have to take their new car back for some fairly important work when they first buy it -- things that were wrong from the factory.

I understand that a car has many components and many relatively complicated systems. That means many more things that can go wrong. I think that for some reason it might be easier to do quality control on computers which might be more complex -- so the two really aren't comparable, although some might at first think so. Other products you buy are simpler and even if they do turn out defective you can often return them to exchange for one that is in good condition.

I think that when you are buying something like a house, you are seeking a higher degree of quality because you are making one of those lifetime purchases and you can't just take a house back for another. It is also an imposition to have repairmen coming and going for the months following the purchase of your home... It might be for months as well it seems to me.

The time imposition might seem like the big problem, but an equally large problem is that many of the tradesmen who build things for some reason have no concept of how to work in a home that is finished and furnished. That at least is how it seems to me or they would do simple things like wipe their feet or not wear their grubbiest work boots onto new carpeting. Some just seem not to know how to work where there is finished flooring installed and will do things that will gouge floors and stain and tear carpeting. I have seen construction tools tossed into bathtubs and shower stalls as well -- scratching the enamel and other surfaces. The installers of the flooring and plumbing fixtures aren't responsible for that damage, and even if the tradesmen are willing to pay for any damage they do it means that there are more tradesmen coming in to do repairs and more chance for damage being done -- not to mention loss of privacy and the pleasure to enjoy your home.

I wonder how many new home owners throw up their hands and say "enough" and just stop calling the contractors, subcontractors and tradesmen to call back simply because they are tired of these invasions?

It all comes down to the idea of craftsmanship. I think that the difference between craftsmanship and work is that with craftsmanship the worker takes pride in their work and their reputation as a craftsman is important. Their reputation as someone who does quality work is very important and not just that they will come back to fix anything that goes wrong, but a step further -- that things that it is unusual that anything is wrong with their work or will go wrong. A craftsman will not normally let anything that is defective go out of their shop or anything that is likely to go wrong. There are some products that are delicate and then a reputation as being quick to remedy problems is important. That reputation is important in any case even if it is rarely necessary.

I think that fine furniture was once made by craftsmen and that was what was meant. The furniture would not be going out of the factory if blemished or faulty or damaged. It would be made right in the first place. Now it seems to me that factories turn out products that are more likely to be faulty.

A friend once told me what he thought the solution to "automation" was. He said that instead of simply putting in machines and laying off employees, instead increase the productivity, but train the employees and put them in positions that machines can't do. Put them into positions of craftsmen doing hand detailing and hand work. Put them where the work can produce pride and products of value. Add that to the increased productivity and do more with the same number of employees instead of doing the same amount with fewer.

Perhaps that attitude might lead to a surplus of goods... It might be very naive, but I think there probably is something important there. I do think that we do need to train people for those quality craftsman jobs. I think that there is a need for more people for whom their occupation is not just a job, that they are not just workers, but craftsmen.

~ Darrell


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