Thursday, January 4, 2018

The Apprentice

"Show me an intern who will only triple my work, and I will kiss his feet."
---The Fat Man "House of God"
(Medical resident commenting on how much effort it takes to teach someone else your job, rather than simply doing it yourself.)

One of the few real failings of President Obama was his embrace of the idea that a college education is the key to success for the individual and for the nation.

Surely, for him, college, then law school, that academic track made his fortune, but this is not going to be true for the vast number of folks in the nation, certainly not for the class we call "blue collar" or "tradesmen" or "craftsmen" or middle class.

An NPR piece this morning about the apprentice program in Germany brought this into bold relief.
A German remarked: "When someone attains the status of 'meister' (master) from his apprenticeship, you see the notice in the paper, and they throw a party. When someone gets a Master's degree at university, nobody notices."
In Germany one of four workers works in production of products, as opposed to services. In America it's one out of eight.
apprentice wreslter

Of course for a German style approach to apprenticeship to take hold, or, more accurately, to reassert itself, in this country, we would have to overcome several obstacles. An article in The Atlantic explores why the Germans are so much better at preparing people for careers in industry, and much of it has to do with their willingness to accept "tracking" in public schools and centralized government control over the nation's educational system, two ideas which are close to non starters in America, where the Left abhors tracking and the Right abhors government in general.

Beyond those problems are others: 
1/ Industries, factories, would have to be willing to invest time and money (and profits) into training their own workers. 
In America, we cannot even get the NFL to invest in training the 3,000 professional football players they need. They want colleges to do that for them.

2/ Planners in what used to be called "Manpower" would have to accept the fact we need more craftsmen, blue collar workers.
Currently, the average "machinist" is in his late fifties with few younger men or women in the pipelines. The current factory machinist needs to use computers, his hands, his eyes, and his brain in new ways.

College professors and administrators are unqualified to be guiding students, and planning for the manpower needs of industry or of the nation, although their ignorance has never stopped them from seizing that role. One of the most obvious areas where you would think undergraduate college faculty would be valuable would be training preparing future doctors for their profession, but the opposite has been true. Undergraduate faculties have actually milked aspiring pre medical students mercilessly for their own purposes--insuring a captive audience for calculus and organic chemistry and biology professors--while adding little to the quality of preparation of future doctors. 

 With respect to the willingness of industry to invest in training its workers: 
When Henry Ford conceived of an assembly line, it was an effort to dispense with the need for craftsmanshp. It was a way of exploiting labor. You did not need to teach a man to make an entire automobile; you just needed to teach him to put a bolt in here or a tire on there.

In America,  community college programs have tried partnering with local factories to train students for jobs in those factories, only to have the corporate board move the factory to China and the students were left hanging.

Somebody either in government or industry or a working combination, has to be able to predict what kind of workers, with which skills, will be needed.
This is no easy task. 
Predicting the jobs of tomorrow is no easier than predicting economic or financial futures.
Most of the good jobs today involve computers and did not exist five, ten, fifteen years ago. 
Most of the people I meet today are doing jobs for which their college educations played no role in preparing them. They learned on the job or often on their own time, taking computer courses.

Before the Second World War, there wasn't much central planning of labor and industry, but when the United States decided to gear up to produce 10,000 airplanes a month, and tanks and jeeps and weapons and ships, central planning was no longer assailed as communism; it was essential for survival.

Where is all that sort of analysis and planning now? 

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