The Nature of Work

As a guy who once time studied church services, I was trained to believe in efficiency; as in reminding civilians of the backstory of the classic film Cheaper by the Dozen efficiency. F.W. Taylor’s teachings on how to drive down costs through grouping of like operations, better tooling, and ruthless pursuit of lower cycle times were part of my earliest classes at the technical college.

When I got into the workplace, we had no real need to time study things because all the “elemental data” had already been collected. When planning the processing of a part, we just totaled up the “elements” and set a rate. Our shop ran on “piecework,” where operators had a specified amount of time to do an operation and got paid a premium if they beat the rate. Most were very savvy and earned a premium — but just enough to avoid a dreaded “rate check” that would ruin everything.

According to Matthew L. Crawford, author of Shop Class as Soulcraft, our system was already ruined. Having long advocated for the return of “Industrial Arts” to the school curriculum, I ordered this book based upon the title and expected to have my beliefs re-enforced.

While supportive of returning shop classes to the mainstream, Mr. Crawford goes on to predict some very scary futures for the “college track” kids too. The same “march to efficiency” that Taylor started in the late 19th century is reducing white collar jobs to a series of rules that result in, first, a reduction to “clerking,” and ultimately a data entry task.

When “work” is reduced to a programmable system of rules and equations, it is no longer satisfying on a human level. I was leery of high-level software that ported its results directly to a 3D CAD system right from the start. The early versions were prone to almost laughable errors, but the latest ones are very accomplished.

Fortunately, the truism “garbage in, garbage out” still applies. Great products break the rules, they do not follow them. To write “new rules” you need truly educated and passionate people. Making mediocre stuff efficiently is a goal for an ant colony, not human beings. Our mission here at Gear Technology is to prepare gear people so they can enjoy changing the world.

About Charles D. Schultz 642 Articles
Charles D. Schultz is President of Beyta Gear Service and one of Gear Technology's technical editors.

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