THE CARPENTER’S APPRENTICE

I write to share a story that had us laughing, at first, and then got us talking about changes in the building industry, the culture, and in the generations. First the funny part:

Recently one of our master carpenters was installing a wood panel and needed to round the edge, so he turned to his young assistant and said "get me a router”. The truck was just down on the street, so he should have been back in five minutes, but an hour went by and no helper. It was getting near quitting time, so our carpenter was concerned and almost ready to leave for the day when up came the young man with a router - - a wifi router.

This story was retold many times, at the young assistant’s expense. But he had his defenders, who noted that given the importance of scheduling apps and timely permitting, that a wifi router was as critical a jobsite tool today as a woodworking router. And some suggested that certain senior craftsmen would benefit if they would more willingly adopt such essential management tools.

And finally we came to ask the question, why would a qualified young person today aspire to be a master builder, instead of following an academic, professional or business career? What does our life offer that the white collar life does not? Some of us had not considered that question for decades, since we first came into the trade.

Each of us had our own list, but among the most cited reasons was the daily satisfaction of achieving tangible, measurable results. Or that every day, we learn something new and significant about our trade, and our mastery grows. That every day, we are engaged in mentoring others, or being mentored, as part of a dedicated team of builders. And finally, that we never have to ask what is the purpose of our work, because every day we are producing something useful, enduring - - and beautiful.

This is not to deny that the building trades can be a hard taskmaster, demanding of us our full attention every minute. Mistakes are punished harshly, and often immediately, so we must always strive to bring our very best effort. That said, we could find nobody who regretted giving their life to seeking building mastery. Nor did we find anyone who would advise our young apprentice that by doing so he was settling for something less. By so doing, he will put himself on a path of growth and mastery that has no end.