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The perfect past.

The perfect past

What do you say to a high-school student about the advantages of a career in the machining trades? A vocational/technical school administrator asked us to write a letter addressing that topic. He wants to send our message to students, parents and high-school counselors, along with other material, to explain opportunities in a field that has had little popularity among young people for many decades.

People working in the business today got into it for a lot of different reasons; each was guided by circumstances that were appropriate at the time. Times have changed and so have the expectations and experiences of young people. In a span of less than two generations, going to college has changed from a "long shot" enjoyed by a few, to a necessity for most.

Greater career choice expectations for youth are also promoted today by both parents and peers. Society has stigmatized manufacturing as a "dirty" career. It's the blue-collar versus white-collar image; denim versus blue serge; shop versus office; manual work versus mental work; hourly pay versus annual pay plus bonus; shop-floor forever versus climbing the corporate ladder.

Unfortunately, much of this image distortion is caused by the media and popular press. Business executives are portrayed as wealthy, working in lavish offices. In those rare cases when shop scenes are shown, characterizations are always of greasy-handed dolts--hardly a role model for youth.

Getting back to the original question, there is nothing persuasive about a career in the machining trade if the student doesn't already have some prerequisite traits and talents. He needs class-room knowledge in math, science, and English. Machining involves calculations, an understanding of engineering fundamentals and the ability to read and understand instructions. Good spatial visualization also helps.

There's another talent that's a little harder to define. Work in the machining trades is more than operating a machine tool. There is that elusive thing called craftsmanship.

Perhaps all I can tell the high-school student about the machining trades as a career is what a reader wrote me a while back in a most eloquent letter on this very subject. He said an editorial of mine about the computerization of machining got him "stirring" about his trade. He said, in part, "Think of the great mechanical achievements that occurred prior to the information explosion brought about by computers. Man did much with very little. Tricks and techniques were passed on from mentors in the shop. Formal education was seldom more than a high-school diploma. On-the-job training was where one's skill matured. The shop foreman had the experience to solve almost any problem that might occur. Machinists could organize complex jobs and "trig" out a complicated set up.

"These skills took years to acquire, were taught by example, and were learned through repetition. . . My pride in my trade was based on having complete responsibility for the outcome of my work regardless of the tools available."

They say ask an old timer what it was like and he will tell you the past was perfect; things got screwed up when we forgot the basics. But no matter how computerized we make shop operations, machining skills will always be needed.

The high-school student thinking about a career in the machining trades will earn a good living, though not a fortune. Nor will he likely ever enjoy the prestige of other professions, but he will always find a need for his talent. If he can forego the urge for instant gratification so popular these days, he will enjoy the feeling of pride and accomplishment that goes with the title of journeyman machinist. It's just too bad we can't sell this to enough eligible kids.
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Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:advantages of a machining trades career
Author:Green, Dick
Publication:Tooling & Production
Article Type:editorial
Date:Mar 1, 1989
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