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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 1, Issue 3 (July 24, 1926)

Training Apprentices

page 23

Training Apprentices

The apprentice in passing through the critical stage of life from boyhood to young manhood, is easily influenced. Habits are quickly formed, and it is well that a strong, but kindly hand guide his steps and direct his youthful energy and ambition in correct paths.

Here is where the leading hands and foremen will prove their value. The apprentice should never be considered as a matter of convenience nor assigned to labouring or helpers' duties. We should make him feel that his chosen trade is the best possible selection he could make. We should hold the foreman responsible for the boy's thorough training just as we hold him responsible for the output of his shop. A good shop foreman will study each boy, advancing the alert, and coaching the backward. A great problem in apprentice school work is to secure a man as instructor who understands what is actually going on in the shops and who can also impart this knowledge to the boys. A good judge of human nature and one possessed of tact is required.

Apprentices must be taught to think and act for themselves. The most successful way of accomplishing this is by the use of charts or models of the work. Modern shop education should include both practice and theory. For his practical experience the boy should work in the shop on a regular machine, or at bench work. The theoretical work should be most carefully studied. It should consist of mechanical drawing and shop mathematics.

There was a time when an apprentice was automatically disciplined by his fellow workman. This period has, however, passed and the journeymen now feel that it is the Department's work to train the boys. Discipline, therefore, should be administered by the Department. But care must be exercised by their agent in its administration. He should be a man who is intimately acquainted with the boys and with the men. He should know each little peculiarity of his boys, their weaknesses and ambitions. He should have the respect of the journeymen and the liking of the apprentices. He should be intelligently sympathetic, yet impartial and just.

Foremen and Shop Instructors should work together to bring home to the boy the principle of prime importance—thoroughness, explain everything clearly, and never leave a boy in doubt regarding any operation or problem. Everything about the shop has a reasonable explanation and it is essential to future advancement that the reason, not merely the theory, be understood by the apprentice. It is not necessary that explanatory titles be given to each branch of study, but, starting with the elementary principles of the work, the entire study should be fabricated into a structure of practical working knowledge. Create within the apprentice first a love of principle, then teach him the importance of accuracy and finally develop speed.

I would suggest that an “Apprentice Board” be appointed, to be composed of each shop foreman with the works manager as chairman. This board to meet once a month to pass on the progress of apprentices and discuss matters pertaining to their training. They should go into each case carefully and thoroughly, strengthening the weak and encouraging the strong; for in spite of all the care that is taken there will be times when a boy will be discovered who is not making the progress that he should. If, after everything has been done that can be done to help him, it is found that he continues below the standard and does not take the right interest he should be advised to seek a job more in keeping with his capabilities.

It will also be necessary for the development of the apprentices to prepare rules to ensure an equitable method of employing standard lesson sheets for school-room work to avoid partiality and to ensure an equal opportunity to all. A faithful record of all apprentices while serving their time and an equally complete record of those who have completed their apprenticeship must be kept. Our Railways should instruct and promote their own men and not depend upon other railways to furnish them. In a very short time it will be found that this course of apprentice training is the only method to pursue to keep our Railway supplied with first-class mechanics, as we have no other avenue to draw from. It will give us a flexible body of young men whom we can transfer, as the need arises, to any position in our shops. The thorough training of our apprentices has the backing and support of our Chief Mechanical Engineer for it ensures to him not only skilled mechanics for the shops, but men trained and qualified to fill any position of a supervisory nature that may become vacant in his department. As a matter of fact every officer owes it to the Railways and to his superior officer to have men trained and qualified to fill any position that may arise.