The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 1, Issue 7 (December 15, 1926)
One of the troublesome problems which confront the management of present-day metal working plants is how to obtain the necessary number of capable all-round mechanics. Frequent reference is made to the demand for such thoroughly trained men, and one hears the subject discussed in most gatherings of manufacturers of metal products. Years ago this question was of little importance, because in order to earn an adequate wage in the machine shop a boy had to serve a term of apprenticeship, during the course of which he received a thorough grounding in the basic principles of mechanics. But the departmental method now in vogue has changed this situation. A boy is able to enter the employ of the railway and receive sufficient training in about two weeks to enable him to operate a given type of machine engaged on a single operation; and in the performance of this repetitive task he could soon acquire sufficient dexterity to earn a fair wage, without serving five years' apprenticeship.
This tendency for boys to avoid apprenticeship has been found unsatisfactory for two reasons. From the employee's view point it is undesirable because while he is able to reach a point quickly where he can earn a fairly good wage as a machine operator, there is little possibility of making much further progress, owing to a lack of training in the fundamental principles of mechanics. And from the employer's point of view the result is equally unsatisfactory because it fails to develop men possessing sufficient mechanical knowledge to be able to enter upon more responsible work. Men trained as machine operators can never be expected to take the same interest in their work as those having a knowledge of the reasons why certain standards of workmanship must be maintained. A further disadvantage of the ordinary machine operator is that he has not the same opportunity for promotion as a trained mechanic.
A successful system of labour training with a view to overcoming these undesirable characteristics of employees who are merely trained for the performance of repetitive work, and also to provide a source of semi-skilled labour has been evolved. The Railway Department has recently established apprentice schools at the chief workshop centres in which to further advance the working and technical knowledge of their future mechanics. Schedules are provided in these schools on which are written the number of months that an apprentice will be required to serve on a particular machine or class of work.
The practice followed under this system keeps the “improvers,” as the apprentices taking a course of training are called, engaged upon regular lines of production work. This not only gives them a knowledge of the exact class of machine on which they will be employed upon entering the regular manufacturing department of the plant, but it also avoids the wasting of material on exercise work, and enables the training section to be self-supporting through the value of the product which it turns out.
In this connection it is important to note that the average amount of work spoiled in this training represents a very low percentage, which includes all pieces that failed to pass the usual process of inspection. This is substantially lower than the average rate of spoilage in regular manufacturing departments.
The training section is equipped with all standard types of machines and tools which are used in the building and repairing of locomotives, cars and wagons. The “improvers” or apprentices are able to obtain instruction in operating any of the machines in which they are interested.
Traffic on British Railways
The recently published British railway returns for 1925 disclose how great is the volume of railway transport business transacted there. It is shown, for instance, that out of nearly 75 million parcels carried by rail the London, Midland and Scottish carried over 31 millions, the London and North-Eastern 20 millions, the Great Western 12 millions, and the Southern 8 1/2 millions. The receipts from newspapers were £1,693,055, of which the London, Midland and Scottish had £677,896 and the London and North-Eastern £427,332. Milk is listed in number of gallons and number of cans. There were nearly 278 million gallons, of which the London, Midland and Scottish carried 94 1/2 million gallons, the Great Western nearly 85 millions. The cans numbered 21 millions of which the London, Midland and Scottish had 7 1/2 millions and the Great Western six million cans. Of the meat handled the Southern carried 53,153 tons out of the total of 83,843 tons. The London and North-Eastern carried 274,000 out of 473,738 tons of the cheapest rated fish conveyed by rail during the year.