So you think you’re going to become a skilled laborer?

Just finished a phone conversation with my companion where he decompressed about his work week. Been made to train a new student, this having been their first week together. To say he’s frustrated would be an understatement.

Gonna pause there in this story-telling to say that I like listening to my companion’s rants and decompressions. He’s not a hot-head, not usually, but he has his limits like anybody. Kinda reminds me of my Papa’s bitchings, though Papa was a lot more animated and aggressive typically in his recountings. ha  Guess I grew up on listening to all that. And this got me thinking about how that was actually a good thing, especially since I tended to find Papa’s bitchings generally kinda humorous in their own coarse way. Just the way he told it. He could be such a jerk to people. haha  But they were sometimes fucked up toward him too. (For the record, Papa didn’t use the word “fuck.” He stayed old-school with lots of “goddamns” and “shit” and “sons of a bitches.” heheh) He could say some crazy things though. Couldn’t help but laugh sometimes. But Papa was a bit of a hot-head, and this apple didn’t fall far from that tree. heh

Listening to my companion when he gets really fired up like that just reminded me of Papa a little tonight. I just wanted to say that I think it helped me to come up being encouraged to listen to the man and try to be respectful. I wasn’t always, but his grumblings about his day provided a glimpse into his everyday life when he was out of the home. Even though he was usually irritated in his re-tellings, I felt it was valuable to take in. Taught me about a man, a working-class blue-collar man, and what all he went through to earn a living and navigate out in society. And I think coming up with that grumpy old man and listening to him so much, it definitely primed me for interacting with and listening to other working-class men I’ve met since. I consider that valuable, and listening to my companion vent his frustrations reminded me of why.

He’s super-frustrated to be bound to a student potentially for the next two years who turns out to only have book smarts and no practical, hands-on mechanical sense. Which is a seriously bad thing for someone looking to become a car mechanic. Most especially if they’re approaching age 30, which you’d think they’d know about their limitations by then. We’re talking about guys who either don’t know how to thread bolts properly (that was the last one he bitched about) or can’t assess how much torque to apply, and he says he can’t leave this one with any small job unattended. He’s probably vented across a 3 hour span this week, which is a lot for him to speak about any one subject. Boy howdy, he’s riled.

Said they were supposed to be removing rotors and the student was gently tapping it with the ball-peen hammer. Said he told him: “Put your purse down, Nancy, and hit the thing!”  LOL  Kinda ruffled the kid, but what can you do? Said when it came to grinding the rotors, the kid might’ve been faster using a sheet of sandpaper. ha  Said the kid started whining “ow” and walked off on a bolt he couldn’t get undone. Oy. Can’t do that. The student doesn’t know shit about working on cars. Nothing. Nada.

Yet he was sent to be trained at a commercial dealership by a working mechanic who is paid by the job and said he isn’t being compensated any extra for being harnessed with training these people who wake up one day and get the crazy idea that they’re going to go to school to become a mechanic even though they’ve never seriously worked on a car a day in their lives. That’s the problem, you see? You want to learn auto basics, you go take a vo-tech class in high school or maybe at a community college or you help out friends who do demonstrate mechanical aptitude. You don’t just go and sign up for a dealership-sponsored program and expect to be taught the basics there. TAKE NOTE OF THAT. Please. Do yourselves and everybody else a favor and heed what I’m about to tell any of you who entertain such notions of becoming a skilled laboring technician.

My companion possessed a natural mechanical aptitude right out the gate. I’ve listened to this man’s stories for nearly 4 years now and have enjoyed his insights, so I’m sharing in that spirit. He repeated tonight that he can recall mechanical tinkering by age 8 and was learning how to repair his go-cart at age 9. He was inspecting and fixing car problems his father struggled with by the time he was 10. (For the record, his father specializes in electrical and has a very high aptitude for that, just not general mechanics). Around age 13, he and a friend began working on mopeds and other small engines. He said throughout high school he enrolled in auto classes, partly because he figured they’d be easy for him, but they also fleshed out all the basics). And shortly out of high school, he signed on with a dealership-sponsored program where rather than being paired with a mechanic to train him, he was set up in his own stall and given tickets like anybody else. But he was on a different pay scheme due to being a student,  so he could work it all out as he went. I believe it was 10 weeks at school (local community college courses) and 10 weeks working at the sponsoring dealership, revolving over the course of a 2-year program. That was back around 1990. And he said he really didn’t have to ask for much help because of his background experience.

But he says students come in today with little to no background experience and expect to be trained from the ground up. Well, that’s not how it works. Which the student will figure out, since the training mechanic reports back to his college program director. Meaning many who aim to go that route wind up rejected or quit.

See, and this makes me think of all the guys I’ve heard out there who speak as though heavy laboring positions are something any and all men are capable of. It’s simply not true. Not all are cut out for it. Not all even possess the mental aptitude needed to understand these sorts of jobs. Not being mean, just being real here. I certainly lack that aptitude, regardless of how high I may score on any written exam. Just a fact of life, and not one I have any trouble understanding. Big difference between me and him and what we’re each capable of, both in mind and body. Very different types of people, plus differently sexed. None of that being a small matter. But some men get to thinking just because they happen to be male that that alone somehow makes them sufficiently equipped to perform skilled labor and be able to pick up on it quickly and efficiently enough to warrant being employed in such a job while coming into it possessing little to no background experience or proven competence.

You’d think these programs would do more to screen applicants. Winds up wasting everybody’s time, most assuredly the mechanic’s roped into training them when the students quite obviously show no promise in such a field.

His telling of it was both funny at times and a bit depressing. My companion should be better compensated, truth be told. Especially if he’s expected to stop and train students when these corporate dealerships already have their mechanics in a stranglehold enough as is. But whatever. He doesn’t even like me griping about that since it’s unlikely to change any time soon.

He then veered off into other talk that struck me as pretty profound. His simple and competent nature is admirable. And I’m being 100% straight-up here. Wish I could’ve recorded the conversation. Also wish I could’ve seen him for who he was and appreciated it more back before. But then we’ll get to crying over spilt milk, and there’s no point in that anymore. Just gave me a lot of stuff to ponder more on, in my own time. But he’s the kind of man you can honestly respect, even if you don’t agree with all of his lifestyle choices or whatever. We’ve had our differences, and it all is as it is, but I really can’t say anything terrible against the man. We all have our issues and flaws or whatever else, but that’s just life. He does try and he does care, and he is impressively high-skilled at what he does for a living. Just giving some credit where it’s due.

Anyway, time to head back to listening to the soulful tunes of Mr. Johnny Cash, because it’s that kind of evening.

Update Nov. 5th, 2014: My companion called last night and bitched UP A STORM about the student he’s now on his 3rd week of having to deal with. The kid managed to wreck a car yesterday and do over $3k worth of damage while trying to back it out of the repair shop since he figured it was a good idea to gun it, thinking he could trigger the garage door’s sensor quickly enough that stopping would prove unnecessary. Didn’t pan out as he hoped. True-blue idiot. Then he got caught in a lie when my guy asked him to explain what happened. My companion’s bossman was SUPER pissed when he found out too. Gonna have a meeting tomorrow, which I’m hoping will result in this kid being dropped from the training program since he’s stressing everybody the hell out. My companion was so animated in re-telling events of the day that I got worried for his blood pressure. The kid can’t operate a hoist properly, has broken several parts so far due to mishandling, and can’t be trusted to be left alone for any amount of time since he gets the foolish notion that he knows what he’s doing without first asking for instructions.

Which brought up the interesting topic about safety in the workplace in difficult laboring conditions such as this. Most people assume the biggest danger to be the equipment utilized, but my companion stated tonight an equal, if not greater, concern is working alongside idiots. This is a male-dominated work environment with no females working as mechanics, so the idiots in question in these instances invariably are male. I realize there are a bunch of male gender ideologues online who don’t want to hear that, but the truth is right there, plain as day. My companion has worked very adeptly (by all accounts) as a mechanic for about 24 years and actually is now fearing for his job and personal safety thanks to the recklessness of this particular student he’s been saddled with. At this point he’s primarily concerned with going off on the kid and violating company policy in the process. I feel for him and will be grateful when superiors pull this kid and send him off to study some other line of work. My companion’s patience (which he normally has a great deal of) is being worn dangerously thin.

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4 Responses to So you think you’re going to become a skilled laborer?

  1. Wyrd Smythe says:

    We used to call it “the touch.” For example, knowing just how much pressure you can apply in tightening a screw without stripping the threads or the head. I suspect it’s part of that “10,000 hour” thing… lots of experience in stripping and not stripping screws trains you over time.

    These days kids grow up with computers and other toys and never roll up their sleeves and dig into a machine. In many cases they can’t; I recently wrote a blog article, “No Serviceable Parts Inside”, about that.

    But even so, fewer computer games and YouTube videos and more real world stuff would be a huge benefit for young people today.

    • Byenia says:

      Nodding in agreement with you there. About to go read your blog post.

    • Byenia says:

      I’m of the impression that 10,000 hours of practice by itself isn’t enough. Mastery also involves aptitude, which perhaps is something best initially developed early on, the younger the better. There may be exceptions out there, but I don’t think we all can simply will ourselves to become masters of that which we aren’t sufficiently natured for.

      • Wyrd Smythe says:

        Totally! Some people just seem to have a knack for certain things. I was clearly destined for technology. I’m told that at a very young age I’d make “wires” out of clay and network all my blocks. I was a “designer” and “builder” and “tinkerer” from a very young age, and I definitely didn’t pick it up from my environment.

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