I’ve gotten by so far with some great help by some great friends, mentors and teachers. They say a mind is like a parachute: it works best when it’s open. Sometimes we get stuck thinking there’s only one way to do a project or do an install. There have been plenty of times when I’ve been stuck on an install or troubleshooting and a friend in the trade has suggested something I just didn’t think of. Son of a Gun, it worked! Being taught something is much better than being told something.
My old shop teacher was the best at this. Bill Burroughs was an engineer who left the business world to teach young kids. He told me he wanted to do something that made a difference in the world. I know with my friends and I he made a big difference. He created a class called Industrial Techniques. He showed us how to weld, use a metal lathe, and use a Bridgeport machine (a vertical milling machine). He took us on field trips to factory and production companies. I remember going to a forge to watch them pour cast iron and do sand castings. We went to a business that did metal spinning; they made nose cones for small airplane engines... Cool Stuff.
Most important he took us to factories to show us how production lines worked. He would point out a machine, tell us how it worked and then say, “Some guy made that in his head drew and on paper and made it work …. He was thinking.” For 17-year-old kids it was mind blowing.
Mr. Burroughs had a great style of teaching … You could do any project you wanted. Just tell him what you wanted to do and get his OK. Some guys built things, maybe a go-cart. Some worked on their cars. Bill would stop by and say “How’s it going? “ He would look at what you were doing and say, “Well let me show you …. Maybe try this …. Give it a shot.” We would try something our way and it wouldn’t work, then try it his way and—Son of a Gun—he was right. No negative comments, just a push in the right direction.
When working with apprentices I find that style works well. Try this see and if it works. See if it isn’t an easier solution.
And sometimes a little humor goes a long way. Mr. Burroughs started his first day of teaching doing some drawing on the chalk board. While he drew what he thought was a very interesting drawing, the kids where acting up, throwing stuff, acting like 17 year-old boys. Bill came to school the next day with a package. He reached into the bag and brought out a shoulder harness he had made with coat hangers and two old motorcycle mirrors. He now could draw on the board and watch what was going on behind him. The kids got a big laugh and they all had a different respect for him. A little humor goes an awful long way.
Work is work. A little smile, a joke, a kind word goes a long way towards making an apprentice feel appreciated. As a boss you set the tone for the company. A clap on the back or a “Good job today, “goes a long way towards making someone feel like they are appreciated.
Teach your apprentices well.