It is important to transmit the skills of the trade
Earlier this week, I walked into a jewelry store in Abu Dhabi to pick up an item that will be presented as a prize. It is an annual visit. Otherwise, as my family can confirm, I very rarely visit such places. I have been a customer of this particular store for decades and got to know its owner. As usual, we chatted about our families and a variety of other topics, including business and the state of the market in his area. It gives me the opportunity to get a feel for what is, for me, a very unfamiliar area of economics.
A story he told me sparked a few thoughts.
A customer had come in with an item that needed a bit of work. Not an expensive item, but something important to her. She had gone to another store that sold jewelry, but did not have an experienced jeweler on staff. She had been quoted a four-figure sum and a six-month deadline to send it overseas for repair. Seeking a second opinion, she had come to my friend’s house.
He looked at the object, made her sit down and offered her a cup of coffee. He then apologized, saying he had to go upstairs for a moment. A few minutes later, he returned, with the repaired object. All it took was a little delicate work with silver thread. Parting, I suppose, with a token sum, although I didn’t ask, the customer happily finished her coffee and continued on her way. I suspect she may have become a loyal customer.
My friend’s knowledge and experience in the field had, once again, proven themselves. He is, he tells me, the fifth generation of his family to have been in the jewelry business. His daughter, after trying various other careers including banking, eventually returned to her father who sent her for training in jewelry and gemstone design in Italy. She is now the family’s sixth-generation jeweler, with her own boutique in Dubai.
We used to have parallels with these family traditions of employment here in the Emirates. In the pearling industry, the main merchant families passed down their skills, knowledge and know-how from generation to generation. A demand for jewelry remains and for those who appreciate a purpose-built item, rather than a mass-produced item, that demand will continue. I wonder, however, how easy it is these days to find someone with the skill and eye of a former pearl trader.
The same may be true for a range of what used to be called ‘trades’ or ‘skilled trades’, where knowledge that requires technical skills and practical experience does not seem to be valued as much as formal academic qualifications. .
Fortunately, the importance of the oil and gas industry to our UAE economy means that hands-on experience in the field is likely to remain important for a long time. Artificial intelligence, computer networks and the like cannot replace everything. They can simplify things, yes, and that’s welcome. But the role of individual acquired skills in this area is unlikely ever to become superfluous.
Unfortunately, in some areas of everyday life, other skills are becoming less and less useful or, at least, much more difficult to use.
To take a simple example, it was quite easy to fix the problem of a toilet tank that was constantly spilling water. You lifted the tank lid, adjusted the angle of the float valve, and put the lid back in place. Accomplished job. You don’t even have to turn off the water flow in the cistern.
In modern homes, however, cisterns are often placed out of sight in a cavity in the wall, sealed, with an access plate, not screwed down but cemented in place. So it’s often safer to get someone to do what used to be a few minutes’ job, to make sure everything is okay. New, sophisticated domestic water supply systems work well, once you learn how and where to turn them on and off. But if something goes wrong…
When I learned to drive, cars were less reliable than they are today. Sometimes things went wrong. If necessary, I knew how to change the plugs. Me and all the passengers would raise and lower the windows, however we wanted. Now, in most vehicles, you depend on an electrical system. If something goes wrong, most drivers will have no idea what to do and a trip to the garage is required.
My jeweler friend and I agreed earlier this week that skills passed down from generation to generation were worth preserving, whenever possible.
We laughed too, agreeing that our grunts about car plugs or toilet cisterns were probably just symptomatic of our aging.
However, I wonder about a world where the resolution of a few small elementary problems now requires the use of external expertise. In the past, almost anyone could solve them. Wasn’t there a meaning to that?
Posted: April 14, 2022, 07:00