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Leadership Through Craft Education and Training

Dr Gerard C. J. Lynch Presented at IPTW-ITES 2007, Tällberg, Sweden, May 22, 2007. (used with permission of the author)


A craft is learned and refined through years of dedicated study and relevant full-time practice, observing and being surrounded by those more proficient—learning through participation. This teaches the correct selection and use of tools, equipment, and materials and develops the ability to know what they are, and are not, capable of in the production of first-class work.

This and exposure to various broad site experiences, enhances the ability to analyse and assess all situations with critical thinking. It facilitates questioning assessment of presented facts, enabling one to draw on this base in order to fully evaluate the presented data to make well-reasoned and informed judgements.

The importance of this has tremendous implications not only on the quality of facts deduced, but also on the decisions subsequently made. Furthermore it has a bearing on the craftsman's self-esteem and, most importantly, his status as a leader in the eyes of the professionals who come to respect the well-considered opinions of a craftsperson imbued with a sense of dedicated professionalism.

Historical research clearly confirms the regard past designers always placed on the opinions of their senior craftsmen as leaders, for they knew the value to the success of their projects of  these attributes; particular their critical eye. For this enabled them to quickly discern the positives and potential negatives within the practical realisation of the prospective designs and specifications.

Modern craft skills' training is skewed towards the 'fixing' skills necessary for modern construction at the expense of the balanced that taught traditional 'crafting' skills and the modern needs side by side.  Regaining the former balance requires putting value back into craft education and training, to attract and retain dedicated students who have the potential to achieve fully-respected qualifications by all professionals across the whole industry; and to develop leadership potential.

We must invest quality time, energy, and money into well-designed craft education and training, studying and respecting both past and modern aspects, and encourage self-belief in our future craftspeople - for we are no less able today than historic craftsmen of producing the masterpieces we marvel at today. How can we ask professionals and clients whose employment we seek to value our crafts and craftspeople if we fail to place value and pride in them first? Only by demanding quality apprenticeships and learning environments that develop an ethos clearly seen to be producing superb craftspeople and respected future leaders, employed in an industry that promotes quality of work and service, can we ask others to also place value on our once-noble crafts.


For centuries buildings were erected by skilled and knowledgeable craftsmen whose work was steeped in the vernacular and national practices of their respective crafts; an intimate passing on from generation to generation of traditional skills, knowledge and experience alongside pride and status. By preparing and utilising simple, ready-at-hand materials, through the skilful use of their tools, an established manner of building developed helping to craft structures of low-technology but which frequently possessed charm and sophistication. Within this time-honoured framework new architectural styles and technology were simply and easily absorbed. Apprentices were nurtured by experienced craftsmen who, like school teachers were referred to as Masters, but not necessarily master craftsmen.  The latter being the very elite of their respective crafts.  By the second half of the nineteenth century huge developments in the construction industry with new materials and associated technology brought about by the Industrial revolution were beyond the traditional craft knowledge of the mater.  This resulted in a need for broader skills along with sound knowledge of the theoretical and technological aspects underpinning all areas of craft work, leading to the rise of educational establishments.  These provided  a linked formal linear curriculum to deliver this alongside practical tuition under the auspices of the City and Guilds of London Institute (CGLI), and independent examining body.

After the Second World War (1939-45), the advent and rapid progress of relatively simple fixing skills, new materials and faster construction techniques, meant that building projects increasingly utilised cheaper semi-skilled labour. Fewer builders' yards and craft workshops employed a hierarchical highly skilled workforce or invested in apprenticeships to sustain their long-term viable future within a community. A new construction industry dominated by developers and speculators, rather than builders, encouraged itinerant, inward-looking subcontractors who, due to the nature of priced contracts, were too busy to take the time, or spend the money, to train. This worked satisfactorily while developers were able to draw out of the pool of 'time-served' craftsmen from traditional companies, with enticing higher 'piece-work' prices than standard 'day rates'. But, with insufficient recruits on craft courses and the content diluted to speed up training, the industry was unable to replace the retiring skilled and experienced craftspeople, and its failure to promote and maintain high quality work was soon exposed.

This has had a major impact within the world of building conservation, for it is increasingly difficult to find those who possess traditional crafting skills and intellectual knowledge. Even more problematical is finding a craftsperson with an empathetic understanding of the traditions and practices contemporary with the period of construction of the building they are tasked with repairing.  This failure not only impacts on the quality of the finished work, but on leadership skills too and has contributed to the negative disconnect that exists between the professionals - designers, engineers and surveyors - and the hands-on craftsperson.  Yet it is from within the crafts that leaders must emerge who, with confidence, can intelligently discuss design, structural and aesthetic considerations, and - within the world of building preservation - the issues of historical context and philosophical approach, within an atmosphere of mutual respect.

Leadership and Management

Leadership and management are expressions frequently united within the narrative of contemporary organisational competence and skill; they are not, however, bedfellows in there true interpretation.

Leadership represents vision, passion and the future possibilities, a ‘top line’ view of an organisation or project. Leadership is developed through many critical activities for example the continuous commitment to professional development, continuous learning from personal and peer experiences and papers, researching markets and alternative views. Leadership is also concerned with the past; exploring history to better understand the present.  Essentially Leadership represents vision, passion, direction and a clear image of the future.

Management represents the efficient and effective interpretation of that leadership and vision, by fully understanding and clarifying the requirements of that vision into clear aims and objectives; articulated to those tasked with achieving them.  Management therefore is achieved by undertaking regular training-needs analysis to ensure the skills-base exists, that structures are in place to ensure development, succession planning considers future need, and ultimately the most effective use of the available resource.  Management ensures, therefore, the ‘bottom line’ view of an organisation or project, as it is concerned primarily with effectiveness and efficiency.

Repairing a Historic Building  - A Leadership and Management Analogy

For example consider a listed brick building in need of major remedial works, where would we begin? Would we recruit skilled workers to undertake the work without first sharing with them a vision of the end product? Would we entrust staff to use standard tools on such a project without first considering the type of tools required to create the final outcome, the type of mortar required, bricks and their finished detailing etc.?  Staff would not be recruited and tools would not be employed  on such a  precious historic fabric until someone had envisioned the final outcome, considered the materials, the type of craft skills required, the tooling, and had the final outcome in their minds eye. Not only that but they would have carefully committed that vision to paper, maybe as a blueprint or drawing to see that vision come alive. Seeing the desired final outcome before them allows them to share their vision with others, to marshall support for the project (and maybe some funding too!).

That person is frequently a senior craftsperson operating within a leadership role consulting and inspiring lead designers and those able to bring projects to reality.  Using theirknowledge, skills base and long years of worthwhile experience they can inspire the lead designers  to fully understand the nature of the masonry – the original materials and craft techniques employed - ascertaining how and why it is failing, and in determine the most suitable and sympathetic remedial actions required.  The leader’s creativity enables them to envision many other facets such as how the repairs will perform structurally, how they will blend into the original and be viewed; and the impact this all will have on their judgement and on their craft.

Leadership, therefore, sets the context and framework in which managers and workers operate. The management and co-workers in turn bring the leader’s vision alive in the faithful execution of the works.  This may be achieved by:

  • Regular interpretation of the working drawings and the specification – developed from the senior craftsperson’s involvement in the decision-making process.
  • Possible involvement of the senior craftsperson in regular site visits to monitor progress
  • Ensuring the staff, skills, resources and equipment etc are all in place and effectively utilised.
  • On site and/or workshop tuition with the senior craftsperson  in the development of certain high level skills
  • Setting milestones for  managers in order that managers may engage their co-workers in the development of actions and goals to ensure the remedial works are completed to the highest standards within time and budget. 

The leader (senior craftsperson) therefore will use their passion and vision to ensure the  project stays alive when inevitable problems are encountered, motivating the team when they feel down, pragmatically solving problems, and bringing in additional resources and skills, if required, to ensure the goal is achieved. Visiting the site regularly, speaking to the managers and co-workers to inspire them to move towards the vision.

The 'Knowledge Worker' and Leadership'

As stated above, the years following the Second World War (1939-45) witnessed great changes in the relationships of the craftsman/builder.  The traditional, frequently local, ‘nurturing’ development of staff in an organisational company structure of apprentice to competent craftsman, commanding gradually rising income within a ‘job for life’, is no longer the contemporary working structure.  Experience is not always recognised nor does such employment necessarily encourage higher level skill and competence.

Peter Drucker, (1965, 78) coined the phrase the ‘knowledge worker’, acknowledging that as a society we have advanced through the agricultural and then the Industrial revolution with its pre and post-war company structures of ‘manager/worker’ hierarchy.  He recognised the future of employment was changing and that those likely to succeed would be those who extracted the benefits of the 'knowledge worker' thinking.  The knowledge worker would not be reliant on an organisation to develop his or her skills, based in a traditional ‘spoon-fed’ environment of a worker passively accepting what is being delivered.  In essence traditional structures for learning and development would no longer be reliant for groups of individuals being delivered a fixed piece of learning, irrespective of their individual need or desire.

His astute observations have proved to be true and contemporary working practices have simply reinforced this knowledge worker concept.  The lack of desire by organisations to invest in the long-term development of highly skilled staff has required those with desire and ambition to take responsibility for their own professional development.  Today most in management have not been ‘time-served’ and therefore  the knowledge worker often knows more about the skills than the manager, therefore the knowledge worker is an ‘associate’ to the manager and no longer in a ‘subordinate’ role.

Realising that most organisations ‘constrain’ their craft rather than advance it, has required proactive individuals to become ‘knowledge workers’.  With their frequently unique high levels of skill and competence they can deploy  them in whatever environment suits and where they feel their craft will be most likely appreciated, often commanding higher levels of short-term income in return.  Knowledge workers are also  often highly mobile, moving around the industry in the development of their craft with no loyalty to any particular employer as they are ‘employed’  by them, as would have been the case traditionally.

Taking responsibility for their own professional development, knowledge workers advance and develop their craft skills and knowledge in response to the demands of the marketplace, their commitment to the craft or both.  Certain individual roles and contracts may require the expansion of a particular skill on the part of a knowledge worker in order to undertake that commitment (for example correctly using a brick axe to re-create brick mouldings on a 15th century building in the manner of the original historic craftsmen). Thus building a portfolio of skills and experiences that in turn develop and contribute to their leadership abilities in their chosen field.

Those craftspeople with their higher levels of knowledge, skills and competence are likely to be in great demand and the very best of these will become known as leaders within their industry, whilst those who have not fully engaged in their own professional development are likely to be less so.  Income and standard of living therefore will often be linked to level of skill, competence and market demand, rather than simply for time-served. Future leadership for senior craftspeople, therefore, maybe about giving individuals the knowledge, understanding, skills, attitudes and behaviours to manage their own development, the inspiration to commit to it; and the vision to aim towards to it in the years following their craft education and training.

The Writer's Craft Background and Route to knowledge Worker and Leadership

The writer served a traditional bricklayer's apprenticeship, under the City and Guilds of the London Institute (CGLI), primarily based on-site but accompanied by part-time attendance at a College of Further Education. The timetable was arranged so that there was practical tuition within the craft workshop, alongside formal lessons in Industrial Studies, Craft Theory and Building Technology; the latter covering related technical drawing, geometry, calculations and science. General Studies was also provided to develop aspects of English - composition, précis and note taking etc to assist one's grasp of adult learning skills.  The educational content of this craft course was, quite correctly, dependent on the student/apprentice possessing the basics of some academic ability to cope with the rigour of study.

A keen desire to learn resulted in older craftsmen permitting the writer to assist them - and patiently put up with his many questions - on works that frequently involved the higher expressions of the craft that further honed a love of its finest skills.  Obviously there were limitations to what these craftsmen could teach him.  The desire to expand personal knowledge and skills dovetailed neatly to a love of history and detail that centred on dedicating research towards re-discovering how craftsmen of various historic periods practiced the bricklayer's craft.  Studying the materials, tools and equipment at their disposal and how they crafted and employed them to create the shapes and aesthetic finishes within the various architectural styles with which each period is associated.  This, it was felt, would further a greater empathetic understanding of the craft and aid remedial works to be executed as faithful to the historic original as possible.  Historical studies were never a part of the syllabus for formal craft apprenticeships and the writer clearly recalls thinking, even in those days, that it was a mistake not to do so.

Proficiency in traditional 'crafting' skills has been of vital importance in the overall leadership developmental process too, providing the trained eye for determining how historic craftsmen manipulated and finished their materials, frequently unseen non-practitioners.  Personal drive and commitment put into study and research undoubtedly aided tacit knowledge, which manifests itself in many ways.  Theoretical and critical thinking are heightened in all areas of work, practical and academic, so all that is set before one is more fully assessed and analysed.  Today most craft operatives do not readily see such signs nor interpret their significance simply because they have not been taught sufficient depth of knowledge and skills, nor how to be observant - indeed even what things to be looking out for.

Ongoing and meaningful study not only enriches one's craft vocabulary but also general language skills, written and spoken, which, in combination with the acquisition of knowledge, skills and the added confidence these all bring, assist most in the development of their communication skills.  It further aids understanding and in de-ciphering hidden meanings within historic texts that describe craft materials, tools and practices in contemporary language. 

This has been enormously beneficial to the on-going desire of the writer to raise standards and pride within the craft of bricklaying, by making his research widely available through his writings, lectures and Masterclasses.  All of this work has in turn has been acknowledged by his peers and led to him becoming a qualified educator through gaining a Certificate in Education (Cert Ed).  Undoubtedly for any craftsperson's work to be recognised and respected by those within academic circles, it is beneficial to learn the rigours of in-depth research, correct presentation and citation of references to support one's opinions and position.  This of course is an essential part of preparing for a degree, Masters or Ph.D. but also needs to be taught at a basic level within a formal apprenticeship too. 

Quality craft education and training leading to profound knowledge can and should aid vision and creativity.  The development of an enquiring mind will enable some to identify gaps that are missing within their craft or the broader industry, and the ability to determine and create initiatives to implement solutions perceived as necessary.  These attributes, however, have to be tempered by a mature and confident self-belief, combined with personal drive and commitment in order to see such works through from an embryonic idea to fruition; a long and sometimes lonely road; the hallmark of a true leader.

From 1987 to 1992 the writer became ‘Head of Trowel Trades’ at Bedford College of Higher Education (BCHE), Bedfordshire, England.  A personal study of the register for over 170 apprentices, on the ‘City and Guilds of the London Institute’ (CGLI) ‘Craft’ and ‘Advanced Craft’ programmes, it was noted that 85% of them worked for companies engaged in both new-build as well as remedial works on traditionally constructed properties.   He also discerned that for many years the craft syllabi were being interpreted both locally and nationally into curricula that over-concentrated on ‘fixing’ skills solely meeting modern construction needs.  Yet there clearly existed a demand for a more holistic approach in which traditional ‘crafting’ skills could be taught in tandem with them - which it was noted the CGLI syllabus and style of the college courses could easily accommodate - and employers would gain the fully rounded craftspeople they obviously needed.  This pioneering initiative also sought to deliver 'gauged brickwork' - the highest branch of the craft that is allied to a mason's work - to help both revive its correct use and inspire the apprentices.  This proved to be a great success and the writer’s first craft book, to support this initiative, was subsequently published.  Sadly what he established at BCHE fell victim of radical national changes in the delivery of craft training during the early 1990s that were wholly unable to support such lofty ideals and standards.

In the years since leaving BCHE the writer returned to contracting on the repair and restoration of historic brickwork, employing up to eight craftsmen.  He was, however, also being frequently invited to act in a consultative role, to write books, papers and articles as well as deliver workshops, Masterclasses and lectures too.  An ongoing desire to further personal craft knowledge led to more time researching aspects of historic brickwork in Flanders and the Netherlands, and later in obtaining his MA in the Conservation of Historic Brickwork and a PHD in Historic Brickwork Technology.  The findings of all of this various research - many aspects of which have helped revive long-forgotten tools and craft practices, provided valuable new insights and challenged some misconceptions - have been published.  They have also been incorporated into lectures and workshops, and in the approach to remedial works; benefiting through the gaining a more authentic understanding of historic craft materials, tools, equipment and practices.

Developing Analytical Ability and Critical Thinking

Continuous study, paralleled by an on-going refinement of craft skills and exposure to numerous and varying site experiences enhances leadership and decision-making by facilitating a questioning assessment of all presented facts, enabling one to fully evaluate and make informed, well-reasoned judgements and decisions.

The importance of developing analytical ability, critical thinking and vision cannot be over-stated for it adds substantially to the maturity and confidence of any craftsperson; which in turn assists their journey towards potential leadership positions.  This not only helps develop self-esteem, but also their status in the eyes of architects, surveyors, engineers etc who come to know, rely and respect the well-considered opinions of a senior craftsperson imbued with a sense of dedicated professionalism.

Research clearly confirms the regard designers historically placed on the opinions of senior craftsmen, for they knew only too well the success of the project was linked to their practical skills, knowledge, experience, and most of all their critical eye.  Their ability to quickly discern the positives and potential negatives within the practical realisation of prospective designs and specifications.  This should still apply today within the world of historic building preservation, where a senior craftsperson’s cognitive perspective, of knowing through an over-arching combination of the practical, theory and experience, can provide invaluable leadership.   It is therefore unwise to ignore the value of such a contribution from the overall decision making process, rather it is vital that their practical and intellectual perspective is recognised, valued and encouraged by both the professionals as well as those in the higher education community. 

Regrettably this historical regard and trust that existed between the leaders in the crafts and the design team has been seriously eroded over the last forty years by a combination of on-going factors, amongst the most significant being:

  • Bureaucrats rather than the crafts dictating their future direction and overall training needs
  • Ongoing de-skilling of the crafts – emphasis on basic ‘fixing’ skills for modern construction
  • A dramatic reduction in the educational content of craft apprenticeships
  • Unqualified personnel allowed to work as tradesmen
  • Schools actively encouraging academic low-achievers to enter the building crafts
  • Push for 50% of school leavers to enter university - crafts losing that calibre of recruits
  • Recruitment of personnel not motivated, nor aspiring to advance themselves or their craft
  • Intellectual knowledge being viewed as for academics and not practitioners

The above points are particularly significant because it has resulted in the majority of the personnel now working on the tools to be those who have little regard for attending or subscribing to formal education and therefore know but little of the theory or technology underpinning their daily actions. These have not been taught how to ply their craft with the traditional subtlety that separates it from the heavy-handed approach that frequently accompanies much modern work.  Small wonder then that architects, engineers and surveyors have for so long come to come to the conclusion that such craftspeople have little of academic or practical value to positively contribute to the various aspects of the planning, programming and decision-making process. Yet intellectual craftspersons are needed and have much to contribute.  As Albert Einstein said ' 'We should take care not to make the intellect our god; it has, of course, powerful muscles but no personality. It cannot lead; it can only serve.'  This can be summed up by an old Chinese proverb, 'Theory informs, Practice convinces'.

It is most important that the problem of knowingly under-educating craftsperson's is addressed and  reversed, but for such a desirable objective to be realised it will require several things to be put in place, such as:

  • Re-empowering the crafts to have a major say in their present and future directions
  • An emphasis on quality craft education alongside training
  • Recruitment of literate, dedicated, disciplined and well-motivated students
  • Dynamic curriculum addressing traditional alongside modern site needs
  • Knowledgeable, highly-skilled and inspiring hands-on craft tutors
  • Sufficient funding - minimum bureaucracy
  • The correct learning environment encouraging research and development
  • A student-employer agreement

Quality craft education and training ensures a sound understanding of the fundamentals of what underpins all craftsmanship - traditional and modern materials, tools, equipment, technology, and the skills of how to prepare and correctly apply them.  It promotes and develops an enquiring mind that seeks to evaluate work and to reason-through the inevitable problems that arise in the pursuit of quality work.  It aids overall confidence and maturity that will lead to some of them being ultimately led into positions of leadership and decision-making roles.  Craft students need clearly defined high standards and ideals to aspire to, so that ultimately they will be capable of producing work that is equal to that created by their historic forebears.  If made aware of these objectives from the outset of learning a craft and to readily see that this is all realistically achievable, most will recognise the value of dedicated study and practice.

Education or Training?

Differentiating craft education from training can be tricky, as in many respects they are two sides of the same coin, and ongoing throughout a working life.  The writer sees education as the acquisition of the practical, theoretical, arithmetical, and technological knowledge that provides the foundation for a craft and its skills, by studying relevant textbooks, attending specified formal lessons, and through ongoing oral discourse with those of skill, knowledge, and experience from whom one is learning.  Education can also be viewed as an open-ended expansion of one's knowledge on all inter-connected subjects through continuous questions demanding of further research to find answers.

Training is the organised sequential acquisition, development, and refinement of the numerous elementary and advanced practical skills that are part of a craft, by being surrounded by, observing, and learning from those who are more proficient in that craft.  Training can therefore be viewed as a focused study of a certain subject, or aspects of it, in order to achieve specified goals; often to be observed, assessed and measured for competence.

Current Craft Training in the United Kingdom 
Craft training in the United Kingdom since the early 1990s has been delivered through the 'National Vocational Qualification' (NVQ) system, designed to standardise qualifications throughout industry, guaranteeing competence of 'trainees' by demonstrating that they satisfy specific performance standards.  This replaced indentured time-served and in-house apprenticeships with programmes for students (employed or not) delivered in short, modular, assessment-led units.  Though driven by the need to reduce public expenditure, it is ironically delivered through vastly expensive and wholly unnecessary bureaucracy that didn’t previously exist.  It is also skewed in delivery toward the narrow, modern construction needs of both the 'Industrial Training Boards' and powerful large contractors, demanding basic 'fixing' skills with simplistic levels of underlying theory - 'Bricklaying' rather than 'Brickwork'.  This ignores the history of the crafts and their individual, unique heritage, which craftspeople have a duty to nurture and pass on to future generations; yet today’s workers are disenfranchised from any meaningful say in their craft's future. 

The former apprenticeship system, with superior overall college-based study, should never have been scrapped, only fine-tuned.  Many employers in the UK voice concern that many NVQ-qualified craftspeople are not as proficient as required, limiting secure employment opportunities.  The writer’s experience supports this opinion, as he has many bricklayers, fully qualified by NVQ standards, come to him to learn higher-level craft skills, yet few possess the breadth of craft knowledge or advanced tool skills necessary to properly progress.

Industry and educators failing to recognise and reverse this trend are losing the highest expressions of the crafts to narrowly tutored 'specialists' and 'conservators', unqualified in them. Conservation and restoration were never, and must not be, divorced from their craft home.  They are an essential part of the full repertoire of a qualified craftsperson - as they have always been down through history.

Modern craft skill's training is simply not balancing the needs of the overall building industry, neither is it delivering the quality of academic depth that is required to both teach the craft properly and attract the highly-capable and well-motivated student that were once drawn to the crafts.  If we wish to attract and retain the latter away from university and into the crafts, bringing their intelligence to bear fruit in the expression of the work of their hands, these courses must be pitched at a level that is mentally challenging, stimulating and rewarding.

In the UK we have 4.41 million historic dwellings and 550,000 historic commercial buildings; including 484,641 listed buildings. There is a pressing need for highly-skilled craftspeople who can work on these, and countless other traditionally constructed buildings across the length and breadth of the country, with confidence and thankfully this has, at long last, begun to be realised by those tasked with delivering craft training.  As a result various bodies and key individuals within the Industry have been actively involved in developing new National Occupational Standards for the new NVQ level 3 in 'Heritage Skills'.  The following statement - contained within a letter to the writer by the 'Traditional Building Skills Bursary Scheme' (April 3rd 2007) - emphasised the scale of the problem:

In June 2005, the National Heritage Training Group (NHTG) published the first ever skills needs analysis report of the built heritage sector in England.  Traditional building craft Skills: Assessing the Need, Meeting the Challengeidentified that 86,430 craftspeople worked in the built heritage sector.  However, a further 6,590 craftspeople were required in the following 12 months to meet sector demand… 

The recent research by the NHTG in England and Wales also confirmed that our sector of the industry believes it is vital to train appropriately and give our future craftspeople the opportunities they need to gain the correct knowledge and skills to conserve, repair and maintain our historic buildings.

Furthermore, it is essential to attract and train new craftspeople for this sector and retain and up-skill the existing workforce to provide the right skills and knowledge to work on our precious built heritage.

Few college tutors, however,have any real on-site experience, or pragmatic depth or technical knowledge of the subject, it is at best, only a rudimentary awareness of traditional knowledge and craft skills. A recent NHTG initiative supported by English Heritage and CITB Sector Skills, 'Training the Trainers', which the writer has been pleased to support, will to a degree help to address some of this concern, and is to be welcomed.

Regaining the Balance: Delivering Craft Education and Training

Regaining the former balance, however, requires putting value back into craft education and training, to attract and retain dedicated students who have the potential to achieve fully respected qualifications by all professionals across the whole industry.  Vital to its success will be the professional retention of the foremost peer-respected, experienced, and highly skilled master craftspeople as instructors.  Programme planners will also need to consult with relevant industrial organisations and professional educators, to design intuitive, validated, linear programmes with clearly defined routes from start to completion, through a well-thought-out craft syllabus.  This would guide a pragmatically delivered and cross-subject related craft curriculum of skills, theory, and related technology, underpinned with historical background to achieve meaningful context.

Students once more must be reconnected to traditional materials, their preparation, and the skills of handcrafting and use, to be able to eventually replicate selected enrichments from past centuries with authenticity within their apprenticeship course.  Yet they must also fully learn about up-to-date factory-made materials, tools, equipment, and associated craft techniques for contemporary construction too.

Bureaucracy and overhead costs should be kept low, so that most funding is spent within workshops and classrooms.  With appropriate levels of funding by colleges, commercial sponsorships, and with financial and in-kind support by stakeholders, institutions should be able to provide first-class facilities to teach in on programmes of the quality that can earn international recognition and respect.

Recruitment of Students

This approach requires recruiting students with the right attitude, aptitude, and ability to succeed in the crafts.  Young people today, however, are often influenced by social attitudes that currently see little virtue in the ethos of working with one’s hands and the years of study to qualify. This must be addressed so that both parents and their children view traditional skilled crafts as dignified and fulfilling, with real status.

One must also factor in to any new craft education and training programmes, semi-skilled adults working within the crafts, to harness and develop any potential demonstrated.  Most have picked up craft skills on site and produce acceptable standards of work. They need to be made aware of the benefits of developing knowledge and skills to increase pride in their craft, to enhance their abilities, and to obtain full qualification that will provide a platform for future advancement in the crafts and, perhaps later, other aspects of the construction industry.  To encourage them to register and attend relevant courses at the appropriate level, credits can be granted for their existing skills and experience.

As Head of Trowel Trades at BHCE, (1987-92) the writer knows that many adult students are nervous about re-entering formal education years after leaving school, where perhaps they found academic learning difficult.  Most underestimate how maturity has made them receptive to learning.  Adult attendance also has positive effects on younger students, brings site experiences into the classroom, and raises levels of class behaviour and maturity. Some adults, fed-up with years of routine craftwork on new-build, find through their studies an attraction to the more sensitive areas of conservative repair and restoration, providing a whole new challenge for the mature craftsperson.

The Learning Environment

Part or full-time formal study at approved colleges must provide a combination of education and training linked to craft history and architecture.  Too many workers today lack any empathetic understanding of the craft methods, tools, and historical practices of the buildings they work on. This knowledge is vital if we are to ensure that craftspeople can confidently meet the combined practical demands of modern and traditional work to the highest standards.

This off-site study in the colleges should be supplemented, where appropriate, by time on high-level and specialised craftwork alongside master craftspeople, within their workshops or on site. A true master not only teaches verbally but also by direct example, nor does he just inform apprentices of values but reveals them through conduct and inter-relationships.  Students will learn lessons about resourcefulness that can never be gleaned from books, and be stimulated and inspired by witnessing a willingness and dedication to pursue perfection, no matter what it takes - the hallmark of true craftsmanship.

A Student-Employer Agreement 

After the student completes formal school education and decides to learn a craft, a learning agreement based on the 'indenture' could be drawn up that binds the apprentice and company to an approved complementary course.  This would assign responsibility to the student to be receptive to work and learning the craft, attend agreed courses, be well behaved, and safeguard and uphold craft knowledge and skills.  Employer and college responsibilities to provide safe, productive work in a learning environment that is conducive to meeting the specified terms of the appropriate year of apprenticeship.  The examining authority that sets the syllabi and oversees the apprenticeship would monitor overall progress and compensation.

Upon successful completion, the agreement could be formally signed off by employer, college, and examining bodies and presented to the newly qualified craftsperson in a formal ceremony similar to university graduation day. Names and qualifications could then be added to an approved national and international register of qualified craftspersons. 


Radical change is necessary for current craft education and training.  There is no coherent future vision in current craft training systems, only optimism that somehow things will simply work out in the future. They will not!  We live in an age of image makeovers, and the recent revival of the name 'apprentice' instead of 'trainee' is a good example of trying to recreate an image; but as with most image makeovers, this lacks real meaning.  Those of us fortunate to have all-embracing time-served craft apprenticeships, and to have worked alongside and learned from older craftsmen possessing traditional skills and knowledge, are now all over 50 years of age. When we, and particularly the master craftsmen, are gone, that historic craft link will be forever broken.

We must invest quality time, energy, and money into well-designed craft education and training, studying and respecting both past and modern aspects, and encourage self-belief in our future craftspeople - for we are no less able today than historic craftsmen of producing the masterpieces we marvel at today.   Only through the delivery of such a course with the apprentices and adult learners will they gain the breadth and depth of learning to produce work of the highest quality.  Then from those the best will emerge who are fully equipped to later develop into future leaders that can earn the respect of all parties. An old Chinese proverb states:

"Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day.  Teach a man to fish and you feed him for life".

How can we ask professionals and clients whose employment we seek to value our crafts and craftspeople if we fail to place value and pride in them first? Only by demanding quality apprenticeships and learning environments that develop an ethos clearly seen to be producing superb craftspeople and leaders, employed in an industry that promotes quality of work and service, can we ask others to also place value on our once-noble crafts.

One ignores a craft’s history, knowledge, and skills at one’s peril, perhaps best summed up by another old Chinese proverb:

"If a man dwells on the past then he robs the present. But if a man ignores the past then he may rob the future. The seeds of our destiny are nurtured by the roots of the past."

Industrial Training Boards (ITBs) tripartite (government, employers and unions) training boards in industry established by the 1964 'Industrial Training Act', and financed by employers through a statutory levy/grant system with firms that provide training. The Construction Industry Training Board (CITB), is the relevant board for the building industry.


Gerard CJ Lynch is an internationally acclaimed and highly respected historic brickwork consultant, master bricklayer, educator and author. He followed an apprenticeship as a bricklayer, and over the years through his natural ability within his craft he gained many awards, including the Silver and Gold Trowels from the Brick Development Association and is a Licentiate of the City and Guilds of London Institute (LCG). 

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