Re: [xmca] Request for selection activity

From: Steve Gabosch <sgabosch who-is-at>
Date: Tue Jun 26 2007 - 15:01:21 PDT

Hi Helen,
Are you suggesting that measuring how well a person "learns in a
group" is a useful predictor for whether a person will stick with
carpentry pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs and then go
on to be a carpenter? Why do you think this?

And thanks for your thoughts, Dale, they stimulated me to write some myself.

I don't know how to create a classroom type measurement for my take
on this question of how to select the ones that are going to make it
and distinguish them from the ones who are going to drop out, but my
first thought is to look at how well-suited a person is for becoming
a carpenter, not so much from a skill-set as from a social class
point of view. I might try to figure out if they are serious about
becoming a member of a skilled trade social class before I worried
about how well they swing a hammer. There is a certain discipline
and set of frustrations, as well as humor and hope, that goes along
with belonging to that kind of social class (there are specific
disciplines and frustrations that go along with each and every social
class and class layer, of course). The job skill set is really the
simplest and most superficial part of it, in the long run. As long
as you have something to start with, skills can be learned on the job.

It is the social and class questions that I think are the biggest
part of the challenge. It isn't so much *doing* the work as
*deciding* to do that kind of work and live that kind of life. 40-50
hour workweeks week after week, 8 hour days day after day, dealing
with coworkers good and bad, being bossed and sometimes treated very
badly, little vacation or sick leave, sometimes long layoffs,
sometimes strikes, sometimes no work to be found anywhere. Sometimes
working hour after hour no matter how you feel about it and doing
things you absolutely hate but giving up on the idea that you have
any choice - and just doing it anyway. Getting home very late and up
very early. Or working some crummy off-shift and/or mandatory
overtime. "Sure, it is nice to look at a job well
done. Construction can be cool. The paychecks can sure be sweet -
when you can depend on them. And you can make some real friends,"
are positive-sounding things you might find yourself saying from time
to time. And you might also remind yourself that eventually, things
might get better when you hit your 40s and 50s and the younger guys
and gals (like you are now) are given the grunt work. But for now,
for people new to a trade and that social class, especially when they
are young and inexperienced and money is very tight and time is hard
to manage, committing to this kind of a lifestyle and set of day to
day demands is huge. For some, too huge. Finding the ones that can
really stick it out through the first years seems to me to be the
biggest hurdle to figure out how to "measure" for.

How does one measure one's suitability for belonging to this kind of
social class (especially as an entry-level inexperienced youth), in a
classroom - or even in a hands-on apprenticeship program? I don't
know. I suspect that if I were interviewing a person for this kind
of program, and this kind of employment, I would ask them a lot of
questions that revealed their sense of where they fit into the world,
their class experience, and their class aspirations. I would want to
know what attitude they will cop when someone says they screwed up,
or how they will react when someone else screws up. Whether they
strive to work safely, whether they think cleaning up after
themselves is important, and this one is extremely important - if
they do screw up, will they tell the coworkers and others that need
to know about it so the screw-up doesn't do more damage or hurt
someone? If they see a new technique, will they try it out on their
own. If the boss tells them to do something a certain way, will they
just go along with the program and do as they are told - or throw a
fit. No two people are alike on any of these things, some are
terrible about some things and better on others, but when you add it
all up, you begin to see if the person has a real sense of the social
relations which underlie and are so crucial to doing this kind of work.

As for "learning in groups" as a mode of learning, I have questions
about that. In my factory experience, which includes a lot of
teaching on the job and some teaching coworkers in classrooms,
learning by doing is by far the strongest form of learning. (And
teaching by example the strongest form of teaching). Some like to
also learn by watching, others by talking, and still others by
reading, and many like various combinations of such things, but after
all is said and done, everyone really has to learn the old-fashioned
way - by doing the things themselves. Group situations are not
necessarily very helpful toward acquiring industrial and craft
skills. My experience is that "group learning" is something people
tolerate, something they do despite its poor results, because they
know it is too expensive to give a production machine (or
construction site) up to "learning" people when work has to get done,
and they know that it is something to get through and make the best
of despite the problems because it may mean getting a ticket to a
real job someday.

The people that see skill-oriented classrooms and apprenticeships as
tickets to jobs they want to have so they can be a member of a social
class they want (or are resigned) to be in are probably the ones that
have the best chances. As I said, I don't know offhand how to
measure for these characteristics using classroom or testing
techniques. Even knowing how to interview them would be a challenge
to articulate. I have known many hundreds of skilled workers and
asked many of them about their lives (because I am always curious
about people's class backgrounds and perspectives), and from that
have developed a sense of why members of that social class think,
feel and act as they do. But I don't know how to turn that sense
into an objective measurement of how qualified a person is to join
that social class and stick with it.

Perhaps even better than interviews would be real on the job
experience - and the opinions of their coworkers. Coworkers are
often the best judges of how suited a person is. Even better than
past experience, ask candidates to work on a construction site as a
paid unskilled general helper for a month and then interview their
recent construction site coworkers about how they think this
candidate would do as an apprentice. I suppose that idea is pretty
unrealistic, and potentially full of friction, but something along
those lines might go a long way toward helping measure and determine
who would be the better candidates for apprenticeship and
pre-apprenticeship programs. Behavior in a learning group has some
things in common with a workplace, or course, but it also some
important differences. It is the workplace life, and the lifestyle
and social relationships that support that day-to-day workplace life,
that truly count. Coworkers can tell a lot about a new person by
about, say, their third week on a job. "They'll be okay." "That
person is an accident waiting to happen." Etc. Coworkers can be very
discerning and objective judges about each other's work (when they
aren't being racist or sexist or otherwise closed minded, of course).

Much better than being in groups with other inexperienced people, and
even better than just being thrown into some helper job on a job
site, would be working with experienced workers that are really
willing to teach both the technical and social-class side of being a
good helper and apprentice. Young people of any nationality have a
long road to travel to get settled down for a lifetime in the daily
work force, and it is especially hard for Black youth to do that in
modern, racist America where young Black men especially experience
astronomical unemployment and underemployment rates. Many young
people just don't have a sense of seriously belonging to the employed
class, let alone to a skilled trade social layer. Many young people
of any nationality have serious trouble understanding or being
willing to adopt the "upper working" class's lifestyle and its
frustrations, because they see the racist (and sexist and ageist)
realites and how long those realities have been in place. Why bother
if all efforts will just fail anyway? Finding coworkers that will be
friends and mentors can make a huge difference. A rare program like
the one Helen describes will run up against a strong sense of
defeatism that probably can only be consistently combatted if more
established workers reach out to these young people and win their
trust. And that takes allowances for time to teach and relate, which
requires management support, which is usually aimed in one way or
another at just the opposite, reinforcing divisions between workers.

And one more thing - ironically - the young ones that are naturally
"good" in such a program - and then that kind of job - are not
unlikely to be soon recruited to still "higher" social layers,
perhaps to a profession, or to a management layer. This is what I
have seen happen to a lot of successful apprentices where I work -
apprentices often move into management, or continue with the school
side of apprenticeship and move on to a profession.

There certainly are many, many odds stacked against fulfilling the
purpose of this kind of program, recruiting minority youth to a trade
apprenticeship program. One can see many of the ways capitalism
works from the vantage point of a struggling young worker, and these
mechanisms are magnified even more by looking at the lives of young
people that directly experience racism and sexism and other
prejudices that are used to divide workers and keep working people
constantly off balance and uncertain of their future. These can be
very harsh realities for young workers.

Helen, you ask a very stimulating question! I probably haven't
helped you one single bit, or told you anything you didn't already
know ten or twenty times over. But thanks for listening!

Good luck,
- Steve

>Helena Harlow Worthen wrote:
>>Hello, xmca --
>>I suspect that someone on this list might be able to answer this
>>I am working with a group of people here in Chicago that has to select
>>36 students to enter a high-powered pre-apprenticeship training program.
>>The 36 students have to come from targeted disadvantaged groups:
>>minority, women, low-income, etc. They will probably be mostly African
>>American, mostly men.
>>The pre-apprenticeship program is grant-funded from the State of
>>Illinois, the outcome of some serious politicking. It is a full-day 5
>>days a week 11-week program where the students will get paid $300 a
>>week, get bus passes, childcare, tools and safety equipment, and when
>>they graduate they'll get a union card and a very minor hoop to jump
>>through (a math test, for which they will get preparation assistance)
>>before getting into the full four-year Carpenters' Apprenticeship
>>Program. This is an expensive program: it costs about $1,000 per week
>>per student. The idea is that it is designed to address ALL the barriers
>>to minority entry into the building trades. It's got a lot of math and
>>hands-on carpentry and physical training in it.
>>Since the first class starts in September, we have a very short time to
>>recruit and select the students. We need an effective way to distinguish
>>between the ones that are going to make it and the ones that are going
>>to drop out or get dropped. Drug testing is a given; we have to do drug
>>testing at the beginning and randomly throughout the program. We figure
>>that drug testing will eliminate half the applicants. So it's the other
>>things I have to focus on. It's not academics, either -- the teachers
>>in this program take the attitude that as long as someone is showing
>>progress, no matter how slow, they stay in the program. What we're
>>looking for is people who can show commitment, act responsibly, and
>>build trust with the people they're working with.
>>So here is my question: Does anyone know an activity that measures how
>>well someone learns in a group? I imagine that it would be some kind of
>>group activity with a slowly rising challenge built into it.
>>Any ideas or references?
>>Thank you --
>>Helena Worthen
>>xmca mailing list
>xmca mailing list

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Received on Wed Jun 27 18:39 PDT 2007

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