A piece of life's puzzle fell into place for me last week: The connection between Knowledge and Magic. First, I got an e-mail from reader Joe Novack, a former contractor and director of the Building Trades Department at Madison County High School in Virginia, asking us to spend more time promoting education and training for our future tradespeople. The second piece was a bit more whimsical–but brilliant: I saw a picture of our executive editor Mark Clement's 4-year-old daughter Lexi pounding nails in her junior Carhartts and child-sized toolbelt. Tucked behind Lexi's nail bag was the tool I've been searching for all my life: The Magic Wand (Patent Pending).
This isn't the airy-fairy model most people dream about. We're talking about the contractor's version–jobsite tough and field-tested (and purple). Foundation out of square? Swoosh– you're good to go! Truss-set running behind? Done and doner! Ten miles of cable to pull? Not anymore! Competition driving your prices down? Who ya gonna call?
If this sounds like something out of Harry Potter, you're closer than you think. Few people actually know this, but Harry Potter's parents really wanted him to be an electrician. But nooo, he had to go off to wizard school. What a waste of talent! Even so, I've got to admit that he really knows how to use that wand of his, and believe me it isn't as easy as it looks.
Judging from her projects so far, which range from lemonade stands to seesaws, Lexi seems to have it down, so I asked her how she does it. "Well," she cautions, "I keep my wand in my tool pouch all the time, but I only use it when I really need it." Sounds like a very reasonable approach, but how do you make it work? "Well," she whispers. "I wave it in a circle, and I do a little dance."
I knew it! I used to do the little dance–but nobody ever told me about the circle thing.
Since my lucky dance didn't always work for me, that brings me back to my first point about knowledge. All over the country, men and women like Joe Novack are bringing up the next generation of trade professionals, but they need help. Even with Vo-Tech, educational programs like SkillsUSA, and union apprentice schools, it's going to be hard for the industry to meet the need for more skilled labor that will continue to expand.
At Tools of the Trade, we'll try to do our part as well. Starting in January, our regular coverage and Web site content will include training resources and contacts you can use to build your skills and those of your team. Your part? If you're starting out in the business, open up and learn something new every day. If you're an old vet–and I've said this before–look for every opportunity to teach.
I guess if I have any point to make it is this: The magic of your work is in the knowledge of your skills. Anyone can be an electrician or a carpenter or a plumber–but not everyone makes magic. So go ahead, be a wizard. Just don't forget the little dance. It couldn't hurt.