My Dad loved his job. Even when he was terminally ill with cancer and on sick leave he would get my mother to drive him around to see the progress of construction sites that he felt he should have been working on. He started in the building trade as an apprentice carpenter and joiner in 1961 at the age of 16. He remained committed to his trade for almost half a century, that is to say, all his working life. He worked his way up through ranks of foreman carpenter and general foreman, and moved into site and project management long before he died in 2008. Despite his relatively quick transition into management, “coming off the tools” as he put it, he was always particularly proud that he had served a four year indentured apprenticeship where he, his father, the firm who took him on, and the industry body designed to oversee apprenticeship training entered into an agreement.

The legal document binding them all together bears testimony to the nature of the compact they had made. Phrases such as ‘the Apprentice should learn the craft of carpenter and joiner in the service of the Master’ and the apprentice will ‘faithfully and honestly serve the Master….be diligent to learn….willingly obey and perform lawful and reasonable commands… and keep the secrets of his trade’ conjure notions of fidelity, loyalty and service rather absent in 21st century employee/employer relations. Furthermore, in order to become a skilled worker the Apprentice must apply themselves to their training in prescribed ways. Diligence, obedience and honesty are all seen as integral to mastering the specific competencies associated with craftsmanship. That is to say, skill acquisition requires a disciplined mind and body. What the pictures here do not adequately convey is the physical feel of the thick legal parchment; it virtually oozes gravitas and substance. One could argue that this document is rather anachronistic and a hangover from the medieval origins of trade apprenticeships, but for Dad, this rooted him in a long tradition of well-respected craftsmen.  Indeed he could be rather dismissive of those in the trade who hadn’t spent years in training; honing and refining their skills. He could saw a piece of wood in two perfectly straight and true without any guidance markings. I once asked him how on earth he could do that. He laughingly replied, “Because I spent a whole year’s college course doing nothing but sawing lumps of 4” x 2” apart, freehand, until I could do it properly! Not everybody has done that and that’s why I can and they can’t”.