Tuesday, July 8, 2008


When I was in high school, we had three academic streams. There was the truly academic stream for students destined for university. There was a more occupational stream for those students whose goal was simply to get a high school diploma. Then there was the 2-year occupational stream, with a focus on trades.

I trust you can sense a hierarchy of some kind in the descriptions. There certainly was among the students, with the university-bound students looking down on the OC-squad, as they were called, as somehow inferior.

How things change!

When I was in school, as most other kids do, I took shop – and was terrible at it. I’m left-handed. My father didn’t really have a shop at home to practice, and I think I’m not especially mechanically inclined – hard to admit for an engineer!

When I moved into industrial/B2B marketing, I spent increasingly more time in the plant trying to understand how things were done.

I found I came to admire the skills among the personnel on the shop floor.

Pressmen who could make fine adjustments on a $5MM printing press to get just the right color. By eye, they could tell whether an image was too warm (red), too dirty (black) or too cool (blue).

Gluer operators who could transform a die-cut sheet into a complex carton. They had to work out how to make each fold and to do it at as high a speed as possible.

Technicians who could fix a laptop, or build a plasma generator or get your car started – sometimes all of these in the same day.

Carpenters who can make perfect joints, or get a smooth finish on a wood project.

Plumbers who fix leaky toilets, install new pipes and faucets (without leaking).

In the neighbourhood where I live, we have a mix of “professionals” – i.e., lawyers, accountants, etc. – as well as some very well off trades people. The trades people are mostly contractors who are kept busy doing renovations on high-end homes, and are being rewarded handsomely for their skills.

I now see ads promoting the benefits of entering a trade. The school system used to be biased towards developing students for university and failed to produce enough trades people to meet the growing demand in an era in which the long-term skilled workers were retiring or leaving the system.

I play in a blues band, and what I see in this is that we each have our respective instrument to play and, if we all do our part, it sounds wonderful. Notwithstanding the occasional one-man-band busking on the street, each of us has to be proficient in his instrument. No one of us could do it all. We learn a little bit about each of the other instruments – not so much to become experts, but to understand the language unique to each instrument so we can make intelligent suggestions about what might work.

The bottom line is we ALL have our roles to play in making the organization work. It really is hard to say that one role is more important than the others. Despite what accountants might try to do to monetize the value of each job role, the truth is that if one job is not being done well, it can ruin things for the rest.

So let’s respect what each other has to contribute and help them do the best job they are capable of. All of us will benefit.

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