Mechanics Institutes: Helping the Working Man of the Past Learn to Become a Mechanic
Career Path : Automotive
Mechanics institutes began two centuries ago, as an effort to provide education to working men. With the limited social mobility, facilitated by a highly stratified class system, it was created as a way of bringing newly discovered, science based engineering principles to people who would otherwise never have had access to the information, one part philanthropy and one part assurance of a skilled work force. Men looking to become a mechanic, or already employed in the profession would have the opportunity to access libraries and lectures.
Programs began in the form of free, open lectures in Scotland and gradually evolved, over a century, into formal incorporated organizations all around the English speaking common wealth and the United States. They became part of a revolution in vocational training and social outreach that formed the foundation for the education system we know today. Much how libraries went from subscription based lending programs, to the free, technology boosted service found in most communities, these institutes adapted with changes of technology. Where horse power and steam engines would have been their initial focus, over time they adapted from wagon to auto mechanic programs, and from coal to diesel and electric. These were also copied for other offerings, as populations became less reliant on guild inspired systems of trade training, and career and business colleges for office work, as well as the broad offerings of community colleges descended from the same theories and ideas. Though the original apprenticeship system is still active today, modern apprentices looking for certification in everything from construction and tile-laying to auto technician training now need a preparatory course of study in a formal program, as well as learning on the job, to insure proper safety protocols are learned and standardization of skills is maintained.
The concurrent industrial revolution also facilitated the growth of these institutions. As well as rapid technological changes that demanded retraining, labour needs shifted to require more people to maintain the new machines that were dominating the economy. Many donors to these programs were captains of industry who saw them as creating a reliable pool of skilled workers, getting a solid return on their investment. It was also seen better that a person would become a mechanic in their leisure time than spend time in pubs or other idle pursuits, reflective both of problems with rampant alcoholism and the moral values of the period.
Today, though they may have changed names or upgraded facilities, many mechanic institutes are still offering classes. They now take students from every level of society, of course, as well as being equally willing to enroll women, but practicality and open access remain their guiding principles, whether a student is looking for auto technician training or learning older skills like mechanical loom repair, thus maintaining their relevancy for one fifth of a millennium.
Visit the Automotive Training Centres for more information on auto mechanic programs.