Remarks on the 2005 International Trades Education Symposium

Judy L. Hayward, Executive Director, The Preservation Education Institute, and Conference Director, Restore Media, LLC. 
October 7, 2005 at the International Preservation Trades Workshop Belmont Technical College, St. Clairsville, Ohio (used with permission of the author)

I am honored to make the opening remarks for 2005 International Preservation Trades Workshop about the first International Preservation Trades Symposium.  Before making my remarks, we are all indebted to Lisa Sasser and Bryan Blundell for their leadership of PTN.  Bryan has given countless hours and enormous emotional and financial support to advance the stature of tradespeople in the preservation community.  Lisa has given tirelessly of herself to preservation education and training, to maintaining America’s historic sites, and to the holding of the first International Trades Education Symposium (ITES).  The ITES was a resounding success with representation from six countries and the United States.

My job this a.m. is to share with you insights gained from the first ITES that took place over the past two days and to do so in 30 minutes. I was delighted to be asked to do this. All I needed to do over the past two days was pay attention; it was easy to pay attention. 

Over the past two days some 75 preservation tradespeople, educators, and others gathered here at Belmont Technical College.  Thank you to David Mertz, the faculty, staff, and students for having us here and making us feel so welcome.  Belmont has given us a chance to retreat for two days to learn about preservation training in Sweden, Germany, France, England, Ireland, Japan, and the United States. We have examined educational programs through the lens of a new methodology that PTN has created as a framework for evaluating the effectiveness of trades educational programs:  The Trades Education Matrix.  It is made up of the three predominant approaches to trades education and training:  academic, vocational, and experiential.   

Bryan Blundell wrote in the National Trust’s Forum Journal in a recent issue devoted to Building Trades Education in the 21st Century, “The academic process is made up of studying and thinking about topics related to history, language, math, the sciences, and theory.”  This type of learning takes place in “classrooms, self-directed correspondence classes or internet learning.  The vocational portion includes hands-on labs that introduce physical processes, material sciences, and tool usage to develop a basic inventory of skills and controlled experiences.”  Learning can be conducted on-the-job as well. Experiential learning, Bryan concluded, "is the process of working on specific types of real world projects…doing, seeing, and feeling . . ."

The matrix set the agenda for the first sessions:  we explored a representative sampling of programs and tradespeople addressing each approach.  Michael Tomlan reminded us that we are predominantly a movement of western thinkers.  In other words, we see our experiences through the lens of western European history, through the Judeo-Christian view or a Greco-Roman view, and we imbue our objects with multiple meaning.  This reminder will be important for you to reflect upon when I discuss some of the insights shared by the presenters from Japan. 

Michael reviewed the history of the trades in the US.   He reflected on the hard fought battles for fair labor standards- strikes, riots, and political battles largely forgotten today.  He encouraged us to peruse the libraries of Mechanic Societies and Carpenter Companies to look at what the builders of yesteryear were thinking about while creating the built heritage we work to preserve today. He noted that we were a rural nation in 1880, an urban nation in 1920, and a service nation today.   Rural Free Delivery, for example, made the correspondence class possible just as the Internet is making distance education possible today.

We can’t ignore the impact of two world wars in the 20th century on the trades:  The migration of African Americans from the South to the North during WW1; trades education garnered through military service; the technological advancements before and during WW2, and their contributions to the rise of modernism.

Technology changed the thinking of a generation and created modernists:  Jan Rosvall, Director of the Institute of Conservation at Goteberg University in Sweden told us that he began his work as a modernist, but finds himself a traditionalist today. 

Changes in the materials and the way they are applied have changed trade practice.  Gerard Lynch encouraged us to not look upon that as a problem, but as a challenge to develop education programs that address crafts holistically.  He warned that with training by specialization only, we are robbing tradesmen of knowledge and skill of their entire craft.  He explained the difference well when he shared how he learned his craft.  He learned “brick work not only brick laying….  Conservation and restoration were, and must never be, divorced from their craft home”. 

Michael Tomlan cautioned us to approach the objects we preserve with a clear understanding that they were created during American pasts that are very different from our world today.   His words are important- all of the training methodologies we discussed start with an understanding of the historical context and significance of the structures we seek to preserve.  Kate Ottavino said it really well, “History is the spine” of the preservation program at the Brooklyn High School for the Arts.  Time and time again, educators and tradespeople started by telling us the story of a property or by reminding us that the work of preservation begins with a good understanding of a given site’s history and significance-- best achieved through a survey of the property.  Japanese contractor Takashi Watanabe shared his Eastern approach to a structure when he told us that the buildings on which we work are the best textbooks for learning.

Bill Hole from the College of the Redwoods explained how essential it is for us to be able to “tell a good story” to find funding for our training programs or to make the case for saving a building.  It is clear that the story of the buildings we preserve and the stories of those who preserve them compel us to insure that future generations learn the knowledge and skills to maintain our tangible and intangible history.

And there in lies the universal problem:  The shortage of skilled tradespeople to replace an aging workforce?

How do we attract youth to the trades?

How do we get youth to commit to apprenticeship?  How do we insure that any person, regardless of age or academic training can have access to a trade education program when he or she is ready for it?

How do we provide adequate education and training for entry level, intermediate, and advanced levels of skill?  How do we meet the needs of 21st century apprentices, journeymen and women, and masters?

The first step in answering these questions may just lie in a distinction that Gerard Lynch, a highly respected master of historic brickwork, educator, and author, defined:  What is education? What is training? 

With education we give a student the practical, theoretical, and arithmetical. We convey knowledge with books.  With training, we help the student acquire and refine skills observing and learning from someone more proficient.  Two sides of the same coin, but each is delivered differently, and critically important to the tradesperson’s ability to execute good work. 

To look to the future of trades education we need to look at its past and present.  And so we did . . . Beginning with a review of traditional education in the medieval guilds, we examined an indenture.  It was a legally binding document between apprentice and master.  Commencing for boys between the ages of 14 and 21 and lasting for 4-7 years.  Journeyman experiences allowed young people to continue learning and observing until having mastered a skill.  In the late 19th and early 20th centuries building materials changed; the skills needed to apply them changed, thus altering hundreds of years of traditional building practice.  The 20th century saw greater government regulation of training and certification and more specialization—resulting in some reduction in knowledge by practitioners of the complete history of their craft. 

The rise of the contractor and subcontractor changed the way jobs were executed; very few companies continued to exist where multiple trades were practiced together.  Industrial arts programs or, vocational schools offered courses of study, but discipline problems often wound up in high school building trades programs, much to the frustration of teachers and the boredom of youth forced to learn.  This contentious environment created barriers to learning for the young people who wanted to be there to learn skills.  

Nevertheless, Marty Hylton from the World Monument Fund reminded us to stay the course of educating the young. Kate Ottavino gave us a glimpse of the Brooklyn High School for the Arts Preservation Program.  This high school preservation program is unique in that it has a curriculum designed to help young people use historic architecture and the arts and science necessary to preserve it as a vehicle for learning.  It is not a trades training program per se, but may serve as the jumping off point for young people who will pursue the trades or related professional occupations.   It is the first program of its kind in the US, if not in the world.   

This program stresses classroom learning with increasing hands-on work as the young people mature over the four years of high school.  The program has made great effort to partner with professional groups such as the Timber Framers Guild and Preservation Trades Network and to provide exposure to real life preservation problems such as addressing homelessness in America and cemetery conservation.  Summer internships provide exposure to professionals in the field and give students experience in the workday. 

This balance of classroom, experiential and vocational learning was found throughout four of the educational programs presented from Europe:  Gewerbe Akademie in Rottweil Germany; Compagnons du devoir in France, Telford College in Scotland, and a series of programs developed for the masonry trades in Ireland.  The approaches typically provided for a stronger mix of academic and vocational training in the early years of multi-year curricula and increasing time on the job site as people matured.  Some of the programs were able to make adjustments in the learning cycle for older students.   

Many of the experiences recounted were similar to the experience of change found in the US- economic upheaval from the 1970s through the 1990s sent many people into the trades as a second career and many government sponsored programs working in partnership with non profits or NGOS accomplished good work. There were a few bad apples, but by and large, good work. Chris Koziel reminded us that two forces were at work in our time:  individualism and cosmopolitanism or globalization. 

At the same time,  Jan Rosvall from Sweden paraphrased the late Speaker of the House Tip O’Neal by substituting preservation for politics and telling us that, “all preservation is local.”   Hugh Miller, former Chief Historical Architect of the NPS, would remind us of the same idea in his remarks on integrating preservation education programs.  Bill Holes described project-based learning for his students that reaches into the hearts of communities throughout California by showing hands-on learning for a program that serves many people in mid-life career changes.  Chris encouraged us to understand that few of us pursue a linear progression in our careers now.  It’s not a “career ladder in preservation, but career stepping stones.” 

Most of the organizations had cultivated strong relationships with employers to find ways to give the students experiential learning.  Involving the employers in the training process is critical to the long-term employment of those going through the programs.  Training wages are a big help in encouraging people of all ages to pursue the trades.  

We need to recognize that many people in the baby boom generation were discouraged from entering the trades by craftsmen themselves.  “Go work in an office!” “Don’t do this back- breaking work!” Chris encouraged us to read a book, The Hidden Injuries of Class. Distinctions between classes still exist, and we need to break down perceived and real barriers to promote professionalism in and respect for the trades.  

I was struck by the uniforms worn by the masters and students in the Gerwerbe Academie, and I remembered something I learned when taking French in high school:  persons who wore uniforms in Europe were often accorded more respect.  I am not proposing that we have an official PTN uniform, but only that we reflect on ways to garner respect for those working within the trades. For example, maintenance staff at National Park Service sites wears uniforms. They are provided to enhance their stature in the park and to make them feel part of a “corps” of workers.  Something to think about . . . 

Let’s depart from Western Traditions for a bit. We heard from Contractor Takashi Watanabe and Architect Toshio Okuzumi with the help of interpreter Ross Grier.  Mr. Watanabe shared three important insights, drawn from Eastern philosophy, about how he encourages his crew to work on historic buildings: 

  • Old buildings themselves are the textbooks for craftsmen.
  • Practice more than study.
  • Learn your skills by taking them from others

Mr.  Okuzumi illustrated well what should happen on all job sites.  He is working with a local university professor to bring students to live job sites for field learning.  This is something that all of us could incorporate into live projects.  Invite students of all ages to view work in progress.   

Jeff Orton, a master English Plasterer, shared slides of his work, but beyond looking at what he was doing and the beauty of it, he told us what was missing from the slides: he was alone! There were no apprentices working with him.  He challenged us and himself to work at confronting the difficulties of taking on the next generation of young people.  We often work on our respective nations’ most important historic sites.  Honesty, showing up for work, and skills are essential to the work we do.  We must hire more novices if we are going to carry on the trade, but we have to be careful of whom we let on the job site. 

David Watt, a Senior Research Fellow at DeMontfort University in Leicester, England, made a strong plea for us to not lose sight of stressing maintenance in whatever training we do.  Planned Preventive Maintenance is the best, but corrective maintenance is often what we practice.  He foresees acceleration in problems if we don’t encourage a new generation of people to focus on preventive maintenance.  He cited the example of aging churchwardens who no longer climb ladders due to advancing age; the churches begin to decline because there is no one to clean the gutters.    

Hugh Miller concluded with a detailed history of education and training efforts of the National Park Service and with a forecast of the growth he sees in preservation.  Hugh stressed that learning will continue to take place only if individuals with informed pride and passion take the time to share their skills and knowledge.  He sees explosive growth in the number of buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places   He sees continued growth in tax credits for historic preservation.  We need to have the workforce to respond to it.  What action steps can we take? 

Yesterday afternoon we met to share ideas on various topics:  Marketing, International Exchange and Train the Trainer were the predominant topics. Specific items that each of us can do include:  participate in home shows, go to schools, celebrate Preservation Month, look for exhibition opportunities and partner with your local preservation groups.  Furthermore, take every opportunity for international exchange. We resolved to develop a train the trainer’s kit to help craftspeople secure skills to train and educate. Finally, we learned that we need to support one another locally and individually first, and collectively and globally secondarily.

Judy L. Hayward is the Executive Director of The Preservation Education Institute and Historic Windsor, Inc., and Conference Director, Restore Media, LLC.