COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | GEORGE HAWKINS

A little bit of training can save hours of grief

A retired friend of mine, who was in charge of management education for the San Diego Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors, would tag his email messages with a comment about training.

“The only thing worse than losing trained employees is not training the ones who stay,” he wrote.

While I appreciated the sentiment at the time, I have greater appreciation now.

I retired in 2010. In part, I’ve been busy with “honey-do” projects around the house. Most tasks are simple, but a few are complex.

In high school I learned a lot about tools and processes by attending shop class. Although the training was superficial, I was introduced to hand saws, circular saws, planers and other woodworking equipment.

These days, high school administrators seem more intent on preparing people for college than preparing them for life in general. The shop training that I received in high school is now left to osmosis or parents, community colleges, specialized training and vocational classes that are mostly for adults.

Not everyone is meant to attend college. However, I have a long-held belief that most people should be introduced to the basic work processes involved in everyday life and that skill training is extremely important for various types of work.

Two of my recent endeavors cemented this belief. One was a big job and the other was, or should have been, a much shorter activity.

For the last couple of years, I’ve been replacing carpet with 3-inch-wide, random-length flooring. That’s the big job.

A month or so ago, I noticed that our combination recliner/rocking chair was failing in its recliner mode. That should have been a short repair but turned into a bigger job.

The flooring, which includes 13 stairs, was clearly a challenge that would have progressed much more quickly had I gone through some sort of finish-carpentry training program.

While the material has gone down pretty well and looks nice, many of the tricks I learned along the way already would have been in my arsenal had I had better training.

Practice would have allowed me to approach "very good” rather than just nice. Absent the training, I have yet to reach the point where practice has done anything other than allow me to move a little faster and a little more efficiently.

Still, this project would have been much more difficult had high school shop not been in my educational history.

The furniture repair work was worse. No training at all in that area resulted in turning a 15-minute project into a six-hour ordeal.

Here is how I described it to my friend. “I FIXED THE CHAIR,” I wrote. “That is in all caps because, first, I am surprised at the success, second it only took six hours, third there are no parts left over and fourth because I learned that had I done it the easy way it would have taken 15 minutes.

“Turns out there is a bracket that bolts to the sides of the back of the chair. The bolts are covered by sleeves that slide over structural members that both hold the back in place and shield the machine bolts. By lifting a flap on the lower back side of the chair, one gains access to the sleeves. Depressing a tab allows the sleeves to slide off the structural members. The back can then be lifted out of the way and the bolts, now accessible, can be tightened. Then the mechanic can slide the sleeves back over the structural member, realign the Velcro and be finished. That part of the operation took 15 minutes.

“I took a six-hour path that unnecessarily involved taking the side arm off.

“Removing short staples and pulling some longer fasteners that were used to attach the wood portion of the arm to the rest of the chair took four hours and 30 minutes.

“Reattaching the side arm with wood screws, which required a trip to Home Depot because I did not have the right length screws (does one ever?) and then using the staple gun to return the covering to something resembling its initial location took another hour and 15 minutes.

“In other words, I could have completed the project in 15 minutes.”

Now, as my wife frequently reminds me, I know how to take off the armrest.

I wouldn’t be subjected to this sarcastic abuse had I just gotten a little bit of training.



Hawkins is retired after 35 years as a construction industry association manager. He was a broadcast reporter and news anchor in Denver. As a Navy officer, he saw action in Vietnam in the River Assault Squadrons and is the recipient of a Silver Star and Purple Heart.

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