Why is it that we find a the last names Wainwright, Cooper, and a Fletcher in telephone directory listings today? Will it be long before we see the last name Millwright there? For those who are wondering what I’m talking about I’ll explain – a Wainwright was a skilled builder of wagons, a Cooper skillfully made barrels. An arrow only flew true because they were made by the highly skilled Fletcher. So before they became surnames, they were skilled trades that have all but disappeared. So why do I suggest that Millwright may go the way of the Dodo?
I’m sure everyone has heard about the skills shortage, lack of apprenticeship programs, and the difficulty in filling trade positions. Well, some people are suggesting that these are no longer as important as they used to be. Simply because we have YouTube and I-Pads to help fill the gap. They believe that if they sit someone in front of a computer screen and allow them to watch a video of someone rebuilding a centrifugal pump, or they give them an I-Pad to take to the field with the same video loaded, then they will not need the skills previously provided by a trained skilled millwright. How many companies have apprenticeship programs that will feed the need for skills- certainly not as many as there used to be!
When I talked with an organization that proudly boasted that they really weren’t concerned about the lack of skills in the future they explained that they had developed a program that used modern technology to replace or at least mitigate the need for skilled tradespeople. They have a video of how to overhaul a specific gearbox that was a major component of their equipment and they take people (sometimes from the street) and allow them to watch the video until they felt capable of carrying out the overhaul and then have them demonstrate the skill (albeit with the help of the video.) They are then considered ‘qualified’ and take their I-Pads out into the field to carry out an overhaul. When I asked what happens when the motor directly adjacent to the gearbox is whining – what does the ‘qualified’ person do or know to do, I just got a shrug of the shoulder.
So whereas technology will certainly help through videos etc., equipment that has inbuilt diagnostics, Big Data etc. I don’t foresee a day whereby a skilled trained tradesperson is not a value-added proposition. The challenge we face is where or how do we find these skills and how do we ensure that our people are kept up to date with the latest developments? We see case studies and conferences try and bridge the gap, equipment and service providers offer help on their specific topics but where can we find a more complete program that not only teaches but also evaluates the general skill requirements.
SMRP through their CMRT qualification are trying to play their part and offer a comprehensive course that addresses many of the items that equipment specific training misses – H&S LOTO etc – so that may be a good place to start.
Community colleges are starting to offer training again as the gap becomes apparent so checking one near you may work.
Anyway, I dread the day when I look under M in the telephone directory listing and find a host of Millwrights and people believing it’s simply a surname!