Skilled Craftsmen – Will They Disappear?

As our remodel project nears completion, I marvel at the warm woodwork that has taken shape before my eyes.  The moldings and book cases, the stained wood ceiling, the precision of the fine joinery – all have come together to create as much a piece of art as a room addition.  Tray, the master builder on our project, has spent days carefully measuring and fitting pieces of wood together in flawless miters and joints.  Sanding, measuring, and trimming, he so carefully looks over his work and feels the pieces he is working with – touching the wood to make sure it is smooth and perfect.

The same has been true of the young man who laid the tile.  On his hands and knees, one tile at a time, he created a completely random pattern which he placed carefully and perfectly.

As I watched the work unfold, I found myself wondering,

“Who is the next generation of skilled craftsmen?”

As I discussed this with Tray, he confirmed my fear that many of the men in his industry are older gentlemen.  He does not see this current generation rushing to enter the fields where working with your hands is a valued commodity.  The tech revolution, along with a media that claims that a traditional college education is the only viable path, could be leading us to a time when skilled tradesmen are few and far between.

In this world of instant gratification and virtual commerce, will we lose our appreciation of the hand-crafted?  Who will fill the need for future stone masons, metal smiths, and wood workers?  As I run my hand over the satin finishes which are nearly complete, I hope I will never need to find out.

Lynn

Photo credit: Mike Kenneally – Unsplash

24 thoughts on “Skilled Craftsmen – Will They Disappear?

  1. Retirementallychallenged.com

    I completely agree and have noticed this trend too. We have a tile layer who does exquisite work. He was a refugee from Cambodia (I think he came here with his wife). They have since had two boys and had dreams that the older one would follow in his father’s trade. Unfortunately, the son just wants to hang out with his friends and play computer games. He not only doesn’t want anything to do with tile, he really would prefer not to work at all. I think there will always be craftsmen who do the kind of work your master builder does, but they will be even more rare (and expensive). I’m glad you found a true artist.

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  2. Kate Crimmins

    They will probably be immigrants. Those kind of skills are valued and taught in other countries. I worry about plumbers and electricians. I volunteer at our local vo-tech school and there is a good crop of kids who prefer to work with their hands and don’t want to be locked in an office setting. Some have dreams of having their own business. They are our hope for the future.

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  3. dconnollyislandgmailcom

    Interesting topic, Lynn. I recently ran across a series of articles (both from US and Canada) stating that employers currently cannot find enough skilled craftsmen to fill positions. These articles have predicted that this skills gap will increase.They have cited many of the causes that you have listed ( technology, focus on other forms of education, lack of interest from younger generations in entering these fields). Many of these articles have also pointed to our school systems for increasingly eliminating shop classes from their programs (due to the costs of the programs, the programs not being necessary for accreditation requirements, etc). Of course, when I went searching for these articles to include here, I couldn’t find the more recent ones that I had read. Here is one from Forbes that is a few years old, but makes many of the same points – http://www.forbes.com/sites/tarabrown/2012/05/30/the-death-of-shop-class-and-americas-high-skilled-workforce/#24c249366d66
    Donna
    http://www.retirementreflections.com

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    1. Encore Voyage Post author

      Thanks, Donna. As an architect, Jeremy sees exactly this happening. The men in the fields of plumbing, electrical, mechanical, stone and tile, etc. are reaching retirement age. They will not easily be replaced without an influx of skilled craftsmen. He fears the building industry could get very expensive (even more so) very soon!

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  4. suzyjbarker

    Here in the UK there is a small army of young folk working with wood and metal. What once were dying arts are now slowly seeing a resurrection in popularity for training thankfully. My younger daughter’s partner runs his own furniture making business and he has recently featured in a Forbes list of young people under 30 to watch in the coming year. There were a number of “creatives” on that list this year – all good news. I’m sure that we will see a full on resurgence of crafts and hands on skills over the coming few years.

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  5. Dan Antion

    I have been working to pass woodworking skills onto my daughter. She in her early 30s and she is receptive. She won’t work as a woodworker, but she will make stuff for herself. She has a few friends who are also interested in learning skills like knitting and woodworking. There might not be as many craftsmen in the future, but I don’t think it will die off. It’s too much fun.

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    1. Encore Voyage Post author

      Oh my gosh…I’m honored! I’m even checking out your favorites this morning. You know, old dog – tricks…that sort of thing. I too followed a gazillion different blogs, then cultivated a List for myself that I call Blogging Buds…You’re on it! Have a beautiful day!

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  6. Bernadette

    I agree with Kate that I see the new immigrant taking up the skilled trades and filling those niche markets. The people next door to me are remodeling their whole home and all the skilled craftsmen are Asian. Thanks for taking the time to post at the Salon.

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  7. joanneeddy

    Lynn,
    My son-in-law can fix anything and does amazing woodworking, which he always did part time while he worked for an environmental engineering company. He was recently laid off, and now he is pursuing his passion hoping to create his own business…sure hope it works. I worked for a community college and went to a state conference last year where they said that of the jobs in the future more and more will be in the skilled trades, but that we had convinced everyone that four year college was a requirement. Many technical skill jobs are taught at community colleges…so I hope that will become the answer. Thanks for the post! Jo

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    1. Encore Voyage Post author

      Jo, I wish the very best for your son-in-law. After seeing what Tray was doing in our home, I found myself wanting more and more. My mind is spinning with the next potential projects. I’m certain if your son-in-law is persistent, his business will bloom! I know I certainly will be using the services of these fine craftsmen again!

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  8. aginggracefullymyass

    Thanks for giving voice to something many of us have thought of and possibly worried about… Most of the people we use for those skilled trades have been our age. It’s a shame that young people believe their only options are a 4 year college or working in the service industry.

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  9. Terri Webster Schrandt

    Lynn, you bring up a frightening point! My hubby was a Master Carpenter for 30+ years but after this last recession, he moved out of this trade into another. When we did our room addition last Fall, the contractor was very good at his job, etc. BUT, his son? shoddy craftsmanship, inferior work, not sure of his work ethic. Just a job for him. I hope things turn around, or these trades will go the way of teaching. These are foundational jobs, too! 😦

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    1. Encore Voyage Post author

      Oh, Terri, I so agree! And these jobs are so important. Working with College and Career Access, I’m the one who keeps harping that “Everybody doesn’t want to be a brain surgeon!” We need to continue to encourage the skilled craftsmen. And maybe I’m just old, but your story of the son resonates – is it just me, or does this generation think they will become millionaires sitting in coffee shops….?LOL

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  10. Pingback: Craftsmanship, Will This Be a Lost Art? - The Constructivist

  11. mommermom

    I couldn’t agree with you more. It seems that all kids are slated for college and frankly I don’t think all kids are college material nor all kids really want to go to college. It’s almost a stigma if they don’t. There is certainly young people that are more geared to using their hands and minds in a different way. I think schools and parents need to be open to allow and encourage kids to explore all possibilities not just one path. Perhaps there would not be as many kids who opt to do ‘nothing’ if they were encouraged to consider trades and/or if there were more apprentice programs. This is kind of a hot button for me having spent my last 17 years of employment working in the welfare system. I am also not talking about for profit schools who many times the rip-off prospective students and government programs that just to line their pockets… Oh I should shut up now!

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