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Lynn Spruill: The apprentice system


Lynn Spruill



The concept of an apprenticeship has always made absolute sense to me. I can actually remember when such skills as blacksmithing or carpentry came from a history of family work. My grandfather was a carpenter from Maben who learned his trade from his father. He supported a family and raised at least one high-maintenance daughter with the proceeds from that profession.  


I regularly took my horses to Sturgis to get them shod by Roosevelt. I would wait my turn to get their feet rasped and the shoes put on. He worked hard and seemed to love what he did. It was an honorable profession that offered a good solid dependable way to earn a living. Perhaps less so of the local blacksmith trade these days, since it has gone more the way of the buggy whip, but there is still a serious need for carpenters, plumbers and electricians, who historically have learned their craft through apprenticeships.  


Where are they? It is extremely difficult to find a reliable plumber for the average consumer. I have frequent calls from friends who are in need of various services, and were it not for my business needs, I would be as lost as they are.  


Have we gotten to the point that steady, reliable work has no appeal? These are the skills that don't necessarily come from the college campus, but from the trade school grounds. Has society in general so devalued these professions that they have become a scarce resource? Have we all too frequently derided the plumber or the electrician or even more generally the "working class" so that there are no children aspiring to be those foundations of our community? Have we reached the point that all we want to be is either movie stars or athletes?  


The construction trade hasn't yet gone the way of the cobbler. Evans, the last shoe repair shop in Starkville, closed his doors in April. The last one in Columbus closed its doors this year as well. I didn't do the due diligence to know, but my guess is that shoes have gotten so we do not resole or repair them; we throw them away and get new ones. Or maybe they both just retired and their sons and daughters went off to be movie stars and athletes.  


Even more disturbing might be the possibility that we don't actually want to work at all. The recent finding of the Policom Corporation economic study about the Golden Triangle pretty much says that 40 percent of us who are of working age want to sit on the porch and play checkers. How can that be? I can't believe that I am so much of a dinosaur that expecting a work ethic from the younger generation is outdated in our society.  


It is a frequent topic of conversation for those of us who need those crucial job skills. Even those without the more technical expertise such as skilled painters are difficult to find and just as difficult to keep. The value of reliability and just showing up is measurable. I kept someone on the payroll for two years in large part because he would show up every day and on most days offered at the very least an extra set of hands.  


Besides passing down a family business, where is there training for those types of jobs? We have Starkville High School's Millsaps Career and Technology Center, which has a Building Construction Technology curriculum and EMCC that also has some construction course work. The very existence of these schools and the course curriculum is evidence there is demand for an alternative to a four-year college. It is immensely satisfying to recognize your skills and where your interests lie and then work within those personal preferences. Though my father was an accountant by profession, he hated it and was always a much happier man coming home when he had put in a day on a piece of construction equipment.  


The salary surveys available on line show that the mean income for plumbers and electricians is about $50,000. That is work for a future. It can allow you to make choices of your own. It may not be glamorous, but it is steady and it makes a difference by creating and building something. Maybe it is time that we honored the virtues of a lifetime of steady work and not the extremes that come with reality shows. After all, even after your 15 minutes of fame you still have to earn a living.



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