I have just read a rather enjoyable short book called “Apprenticeship, The Necessity of Learning by Doing” By Lida Lopes Cardozo Kindersley & Martin Gay Ford.
At £8 for 50 small pages it is not a cheap book but I certainly had my £8 worth from it.
“In his Essay on Typography, written in the 1930s, Eric Gill observed that “tho’
industrialism has now won almost complete victory, the handcrafts are not killed and they cannot be quite killed because they meet an inherent, indestructible, permanent need in human nature.” In this Gill articulated the essential truth at the heart of the human artistic endeavor, the unique and mysterious need of human beings to satisfy emotional and spiritual urges.”
“I have long felt that one of the great tragedies of the latter half of the Twentieth Century has been the loss – and indeed, the denigration – of so many skilled trades in this country.”
I have many friends that have gone through traditional apprenticeships both in this country and through the rigorous German apprenticeship and journeyman system. I know many others that are highly skilled craftspeople that have taken different learning routes.
One of the problems with apprenticeship is that it works for larger workshops but not for many crafts skills which tend to be done by single craftspeople. These crafts were historically often passed on in the family but as they decline there is little incentive for a single craftsperson to bring an apprentice in to teach. There have been many reports highlighting the decline in crafts skills particularly in the building trades and many initiatives and much money spent on apprenticeship schemes in the heritage building trades. One of the best a 2008 report called “Heritage is in our Hands, a review of Heritage Trade Training” suggests traditional apprenticeship is not the answer “a new approach is needed to ensure these skills and critical knowledge continue to be available to future generations. It is strongly recomended that a new approach, based on teaching and learning flexibility that recognises the value of different learning pathways, holds the key to success.”
This is much in line with my own thinking, my feelings were that the traditional apprenticeship, has or had its place but we now need to find new ways to pass these skills on. I was expecting the Kindersley book to be backward looking and dated but it feels up to date and relevant and makes some very good points. Lida was apprenticed to her future husband David Kindersley who had in turn been apprenticed to Eric Gill, some of the best insights in the book come from the record of those two apprenticeships.
Kindersley had written to Gill enquiring about apprenticeships and been told there were no vacancies. He was determined though and went to visit anyway. Gill interviewed him, changed his mind and told him “I think if you come back in a month I can take you. You see the chap who is coming has been to an art school and I don’t think he will last more than a month.”
“What was it that passed through Eric Gill’s mind in that moment…Evidently he was impressed by this teanager who had a clear idea of what he wanted to do, and had already taken concrete steps toward doing it. This seemed to him much more promising, as a basis for an apprenticeship, than training at art school.”
I’ll finish with a little quote from the front cover which, if read carefully, really sums it up “In the right environment an experienced person can show almost anyone who really wants to learn how to do a particular job well.”