Schools Training

Manual Trades Stand Strong in a Digital World

26 JUN 2012
Career Path : Apprenticeships

It is no surprise that certain trades are quickly diminishing with the incessant rise of digital technology. If we take audio technology as an example, any development grew to the point of washing out its predecessor. The vinyl was taken over by cassette tapes, which were then taken over by compact discs, which, with the introduction of the MP3, have become nothing more than dusty reminders of our youthful past.

It is true that many analog technologies have enough die-hard aficionados to prevent them from completely vanishing. There are still enough people actively using record players to warrant the production of vinyl records, albeit quiet the small production run.

Nonetheless, our digital preferences have not affected all trades. Sure, audio, instant cameras, and even letter pressing are hovering over their extinction date. But there still remain certain manual trades that, for now, seem to be up and running in the same manner they did way back when.

The vital difference between analog technology and manual crafts is that the latter chiefly relies on human skill, while the former relies merely on passive usage. The disappearance of dark rooms did not occur because no one practiced photography anymore; but rather, because a newer, more convenient way to practice photography was introduced. Instead of photography strictly being a specialized trade, it is open to anyone who can get their hands on a camera. The same does not go for manual trades. We will always need buildings to be built, concrete to be laid, furniture to be designed, and pipes to be assembled, and unlike the analog world, manual craftsmanship has yet to be overshadowed by digital counterparts.

That is not to say that manual trades have not changed with the increase of digital developments. Modern day mechanics, for example, must master all the digital gizmos—GPS, trackers, embedded TV screens, reverse-mode cameras—we have come to love, things their counterparts of fifty years ago didn’t need to know about.

Even still, manual trades seem to be of the few things that are safe from extinction in this digital world of ours. Even more reassuring is that trades-people continue to be trained through intense apprenticeships. Typically offered at a college or university, apprenticeship programs allow aspiring trades-people to learn their craft in a very traditional manner, viz. an intense mentor-protégé curriculum.  As students learn theory in the classroom, they then have to put the theory into practice by working alongside masters of the trade.

A student enrolled in a plumber apprenticeship will learn everything from layout specifics to welding the final touches. Similarly, a student enrolled in a roofer apprenticeship will be learning about various roofing materials one day, and will be actually laying out fiberglass shingles the next.

The very idea of apprenticeships is quite endearing insofar as it emulates a sort of camaraderie between generations. As the masters of today reach their peak, they pass along their expertise to the young professionals that will follow suit. Regardless of what digital developments come next, I don’t think anything can destroy that type of bond.



Visit Mohawk College for more information on apprenticeships in Ontario.