Our anonymous blogger laments the passing of the “migrant” apprentice
Without wishing to give too much away it is safe to say that my path into engineering wasn’t exactly conventional. However this has been offset – in my own mind at least – by the fact that I had to develop a “can do” attitude, something which has resulted in my having worked in many different areas and on many different products.
I have a basic character trait that means I have always wanted to avoid the tedium of working on exactly the same widget sub-assembly year in year out anyway, but I think there is a more far-reaching advantage that should be considered.
In previous eras it was expected that once an apprentice had received their papers they were expected to leave the company and join another.
The root may be found with a conversation I once had with Mr Sully, a fine old gentleman I used to work with at Dan Dare Aerospace. He was also the unwitting cause of some friction between myself and a good friend, Mr Smith. Upon the retirement of Mr Sully due deference was paid before descending on his desk like a plague of locusts to see what he’d left – i.e. at least fifteen minutes had passed from his leaving the building.
Due to a little devious chicanery I was ”the first in” and consequently secured his copy of the Machinerys Handbook, just acing it from Mr Smith. However I digress, the conversation concerned how in previous eras it was expected that once an apprentice had received their papers they were expected to leave the company and join another.
As far as I can see this had an advantage for both the company and the apprentice. The former had ready first hand access, from the incoming newly ex-apprentices, to techniques and practices in other companies. The latter developed a wider base of knowledge at a time where that knowledge was naturally relatively shallow. Although this practice seems to have stopped a large number of years ago I feel I have artificially garnered at least some of these benefits.
The migrant nature of apprentices was something that worked because we had a large and varied industrial base within which the norm was to be peripatetic
It was some years after leaving full time education that my engineering career began so I learnt a lot about life and work before I even entered the engineering environment. After my period at Dan Dare I was fortunate to have a few long term positions as a sub-contract design engineer. Being, hopefully, not an entirely dull fellow and obviously keen to learn I made the most of working with “old hands” who were happy to take the time to give me the benefits of their experience.
The migrant nature of apprentices was something that worked because we had a large and varied industrial base within which the norm was to be peripatetic. Today options are far more limited and in these uncertain times one cannot blame the youth for staying somewhere they know. However I firmly believe that our profession has lost a valuable tool in strengthening Britain’s industry as a whole, and as such I lament its passing.