28 March 2006

Craftsmanship is alive and well ...

Last year I visited a craftsman - doing a job he loves - rebuilding old, often unique vehicles. These cars are so old that original drawings rarely exist - very often the workshop bases the restoration on photographs or plates in books. It isn't a job, it is a way of life. His idea of fun is racing old cars, so each race is a promotion for his workshop.

His problem is that finding new craft workers to do the job is becoming increasingly difficult. His workshop doesn't get involved in complete restorations, but one of his rolling rebuilds can cost over $50,000 and the happy owner then has to sort out the electrics, engine, power train and brakes. An identikit model of the ideal employee would be someone who is a skilled metalworker and woodworker (the frames of the cars are frequently made of ash - I think in the US you call it hickory) and the metal body is formed over the ash frame using panel beating techniques which depend on a good eye and a careful hand.

His pipeline is about 9 months, which is good for a craft-based workshop and he is profitable - very profitable for a business of his size. Better, his market is almost entirely overseas, so virtually every sales dollar is new money for UK plc. However, without access to apprentices, the business is vulnerable. In the past, businesses like this have grown their own competitors since the best apprentices learned enough to go out and create businesses of their own. All those organisations are now experiencing the same kind of problem.

Those recruitment problems have created an opportunity for recruiters with contacts in Eastern Europe. Skilled workers are actively recruited for contracts of fixed or indefinite duration, but the engagements rarely last long. This looks like being an ongoing problem. Given that the issue is unlikely to go away, perhaps the craft workshops should set up a training school which would act to produce apprentices for all the subscribing businesses. It might be a bit of a stretch target to set up though, since these organisations have fought against each other tooth and nail for years, so cooperation isn't the first thing on their minds.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home