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Questions answered #3 – Apprenticeship wanted

Q:

Paul,

First of all, thank you. Thank you for caring about the way things were done long ago, and bringing them to life in the modern era. Thank you for your books and DVD’s (all of which I own). Thank you for your blog. Thank you for caring enough about the art of woodworking to re-establish the ways of old. In this day, we simply assume that machines equal speed and precision. I have now been shown what I’ve always wished to be true–that a piece of furniture can be just as accurate measured in millimeters as it can in cubits.

That said, I have one burning question for you. I’ve been searching for an apprenticeship to woodworking for years, and to no avail. No one wants, as you said, to mentor anyone any more. They only want people with experience, yet experience they aren’t willing to give. So my question is this: do you know of anywhere, and I mean ANYWHERE, that someone would be willing to take an apprentice with minimal (but basic) experience? I don’t care if its in the US or London, Japan or Uganda. Please, any information would be appreciated. And never stop writing. Whether about grain patterns or dovetails or birds, a good writer never goes unappreciated. Thanks much.

A:

I must think this one through my friend. I understand the dilemma. So few altruistic opportunities these days. Everybody wants a piece of the pie and the pieces get smaller while the costs get higher. I would love for craftsmen to take on mature apprentices, anyone over 18 years old, and not pay them but not take advantage of them either. A reciprocal benefit can be readily achieved without money and wages being exchanged as long as all is agreed ahead. Do not pay an apprentice. The work with me not for me. They learn from me and I spend time with them setting out their work for the day and they are as a volunteer. They make nothing for me, but they work along side me for several months. They help me as I train them in their craft. None of this silly government apprenticing stuff like “you pay half and we’ll pay the other half”, NVQs  (not very qualified) and masses and masses of other unbelievable hoops to jump through and let’s not go down the health and safety road. This again real woodworking. It is flexible and athletic. At the end of a given period they can make furniture, we become friends and our relationship is long-lasting.

2 Comments

  1. Robin on 1 December 2011 at 12:50 am

    This is a sticky one. How is your volunteer apprentice living whilst working for free? I know many folk in the green wood world that effectively run their businesses with the help of volunteer labour, Mike Abbott, Ben Law etc. It can work well if everyone is happy but there is also the potential for the apprentice to be used as cheap unskilled labour and not get enough teaching in return, or to demand too much teaching without giving back enough.
    Health and Safety legislation is there to protect young vulnerable people from being damaged in dangerous workplaces. I have worked in dangerous macho places where H&S was viewed as being wimpish or simply getting in the way of the job, I would not want my children to work in that circumstance.
    At the Heritage Crafts Association we are working with Government to try to create an apprenticeship framework that works for small craft workshops. If we can do this we could potentially see thousands of funded apprenticeships. Entry routes to the traditional crafts and trades are currently problematic as your corespondent clearly shows. HCA are working hard to address the situation.



    • Paul Sellers on 1 December 2011 at 7:35 am

      Thanks Robin,

      You are right i grew up in some of that and it made me resolute against so that i assume absolute responsibility to go beyond the demands of the law and protect those who work with me. My point, badly made, is that I not the law, have responsibility for my own H&S and the health of everyone around me.
      My apprentices are not technically volunteers. I expect little from them. Clean up, help on specific pieces only for their personal growth in craft work. I realise this is not going to be the case in a money grubbing world, but it has worked through the past 25 years and have paid apprentices past a certain point. My concerns with paying apprentices is that they got into for6 months and then left to be firemen or bankers. That was a waste of my input.
      I think all of the laws surrounding for are important but they are developed for exactly the ones you say and have no problem at all. I respect the work that you are involved in and the distance you have come to achieve what you have accomplished.
      Best regards,

      Paul



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