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首页 » 经典英文小说 » The Economy of Workshop Mainipulation » CHAPTER IV. THE CONDITIONS OF APPRENTICESHIP.
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Were it not that moral influences in learning mechanics, as in all other kinds of education, lie at the bottom of the whole matter, the subject of this chapter would not have been introduced. But it is the purpose, so far as possible, to notice everything that concerns an apprentice and learner, and especially what he has to deal with at the outset; hence some remarks upon the nature of apprentice engagements will not be out of place. To acquire information or knowledge of any kind successfully and permanently, it must be a work of free volition, as well as from a sense of duty or expediency; and whatever tends to create love and respect for a pursuit or calling, becomes one of the strongest incentives for its acquirement, and the interest taken by an [19] apprentice in his business is for this reason greatly influenced by the opinions that he may hold concerning the nature of his engagement.

The subject of apprentice engagements seems in the abstract to be only a commercial one, partaking of the nature of ordinary contracts, and, no doubt, can be so construed so far as being an exchange of "considerations," but no farther. Its intricacy is established by the fact that all countries where skilled labour exists have attempted legislation to regulate apprenticeship, and to define the terms and conditions between master and apprentice; but, aside from preventing the abuse of powers delegated to masters, and in some cases forcing a nominal fulfilment of conditions defined in contracts, such legislation, like that intended to control commerce and trade, or the opinions of men, has failed to attain the objects for which it was intended.

This failure of laws to regulate apprenticeship, which facts fully warrant us in assuming, is due in a large degree to the impossibility of applying general rules to special cases; it may be attributed to the same reasons which make it useless to fix values or the conditions of exchange by legislation. What is required is that the master, the apprentice, and the public should understand the true relations between them—the value of what is given and what is received on both sides. When this is understood, the whole matter will regulate itself without any interference on the part of the law.

The subject is an intricate one, and has been so much affected by the influence of machine improvement, and a corresponding decrease in what may be called special knowledge, that rules and propositions which would fifty years ago apply to the conditions of apprenticeship, will at the present day be wrong and unjust. Viewed in a commercial sense, as an exchange of considerations or values, apprenticeship can be regarded like other engagements; yet, what an apprentice gives as well as what he receives are alike too conditional and indefinite to be estimated by ordinary standards. An apprentice exchanges unskilled or inferior labour for technical knowledge, or for the privilege and means of acquiring such knowledge. The master is presumed to impart a kind of special knowledge, collected by him at great expense and pains, in return for the gain derived from the unskilled labour of the learner. This special knowledge given by the master may be imparted in a longer or shorter time; it may be thorough [20] and valuable, or not thorough, and almost useless. The privileges of a shop may be such as to offset a large amount of valuable labour on the part of the apprentice, or these privileges may be of such a character as to be of but little value, and teach inferior plans of performing work.

On the other hand, the amount that an apprentice may earn by his labour is governed by his natural capacity, and by the interest he may feel in advancing; also from the view he may take of the equity of his engagement, and the estimate that he places upon the privileges and instruction that he receives. In many branches of business, where the nature of the operations carried on are measurably uniform, and have not for a long time been much affected by changes and improvements, the conditions of apprenticeship are more easy to define; but mechanical engineering is the reverse of this, it lacks uniformity both as to practice and what is produced. To estimate the actual value of apprentice labour in an engineering-work is not only a very difficult matter, but to some extent impracticable even by those of long experience and skilled in such investigations; and it is not to be expected that a beginner will under such circumstances be able to understand the value of such labour: he is generally led to the conclusion that he is unfairly treated, that his services are not sufficiently paid for, and that he is not advanced rapidly enough.

With these conclusions in his mind, but little progress will be made, and hence the reason for introducing the subject here.

The commercial value of professional or technical knowledge is generally as the amount of time, effort, and unpaid labour that has been devoted to its acquirement. This value is sometimes modified by the exclusiveness of some branch that has been made the object of special study. Exclusiveness is, however, becoming exceptional, as the secrets of manufacture and special knowledge are supplanted by the application of general principles; it is a kind of artificial protection thrown around certain branches of industry, and must soon disappear, as unjust to the public and unnecessary to success.

In business arrangements, technical knowledge and professional experience become capital, and offset money or property, not under any general rule, nor even as a consideration of which the law can define the value or prescribe conditions for. The estimate placed upon technical knowledge when rated as capital in the organisation of business firms, and wherever it becomes [21] necessary to give such knowledge a commercial value, furnishes the best and almost the only source from which an apprentice can form an opinion of the money value of what he is to acquire during his apprenticeship.

An apprentice at first generally forms an exaggerated estimate of what he has to learn; it presents to his mind not only a great undertaking, but a kind of mystery, which he fears that he may not be able to master. The next stage is when he has made some progress, and begins to underrate the task before him, and imagine that the main difficulties are past, that he has already mastered all the leading principles of mechanics, which is, after all, but a "small matter." In a third stage an apprentice experiences a return of his first impressions as to the difficulties of his undertaking; he begins to see his calling as one that must involve endless detail, comprehending things which can only be studied in connection with personal experience; he sees "the horizon widen as it recedes," that he has hardly begun the task, instead of having completed it—even despairs of its final accomplishment.

In the workshop, mechanical knowledge of some kind is continually and often insensibly acquired by a learner, who observes the operations that are going on around him; he is continually availing himself of the experience of those more advanced, and learns by association the rules and customs of the shop, of the business, and of discipline and management. He gathers the technical terms of the fitting-shop, the forge and foundry; notes the operations of planing, turning, drilling, and boring, with the names and application of the machines directed to these operations. He sees the various plans of lifting and moving material, the arrangement and relation of the several departments to facilitate the course of the work in process; he also learns where the product of the works is sold, discusses the merits and adaptation of what is constructed, which leads to considering the wants that create a demand for this product, and the extent and nature of the market in which it is sold.

All these things constitute technical knowledge, and the privilege of their acquirement is an element of value. The common view taken of the matter, however, is that it costs nothing for a master to afford these privileges—the work must at any rate be carried on, and is not retarded by being watched and learned by apprentices. Viewed from any point, the privileges [22] of engineering establishments have to be considered as an element of value, to be bought at a price, just as a ton of iron or a certain amount of labour is; and in a commercial sense, as an exchangeable equivalent for labour, material, or money. In return a master receives the unskilled labour or service of the learner; this service is presumed to be given at a reduced rate, or sometimes without compensation, for the privileges of the works and the instruction received.

In forming an estimate of the value of his services, an apprentice sees what his hands have performed, compares it with what a skilled man will do, and estimates accordingly, assuming that his earnings are in proportion to what has been done; but this is a mistake, and a very different standard must be assumed to arrive at the true value of such unskilled labour.

Apprentice labour, as distinguished from skilled labour, has to be charged with the extra attention in management, the loss that is always occasioned by a forced classification of the work, the influence in lowering both the quality and the amount of work performed by skilled men, the risk of detention by failure or accident, and loss of material; besides, apprentices must be charged with the same, if not a greater expense than skilled workmen, for light, room, oil, tools, and office service. Attempts have been made in some of the best-regulated engineering establishments to fix some constant estimate upon apprentice labour, but, so far as known, without definite results in any case. If not combined with skilled labour, it would be comparatively easy to determine the value of apprentice labour; but when it comes up as an item in the aggregate of labour charged to a machine or some special work constructed, it is difficult, if not impossible, to separate skilled from unskilled service.

Another condition of apprenticeship that is equally as difficult to define as the commercial value of mechanical knowledge, or that of apprentice labour, is the extent and nature of the facilities that different establishments afford for learners.

In speaking of the mechanical knowledge to be gained, and of the privileges afforded for learners in engineering-works in a general way, it must, of course, be assumed that such works afford full facilities for learning some branch of work by the best practice and in the most thorough manner. Such establishments are, however, graded from the highest class, on the best branches of work, where a premium would be equitable, down [23] to the lowest class, performing only inferior branches of work, where there can be little if any advantage gained by serving an apprenticeship.

Besides this want or difference of facilities which establishments may afford, there is the farther distinction to be made between an engineering establishment and one that is directed to the manufacture of staple articles. This distinction between engineering-works and manufacturing is quite plain to engineers themselves, but in many cases is not so to those who are to enter as apprentices, nor to their friends who advise them. In every case where engagements are made there should be the fullest possible investigation as to the character of the works, not only to protect the learner, but to guard regular engineering establishments in the advantages to be gained by apprentice labour. A machinist or a manufacturer who employs only the muscular strength and the ordinary faculties of workmen in his operations, can afford to pay an apprentice from the beginning a fair share of his earnings; but an engineering-work that projects original plans, generates designs, and assumes risks based upon skill and special knowledge, is very different from a manufactory. To manufacture is to carry on regular processes for converting material; such processes being constantly the same, or approximately so, and such as do not demand much mechanical knowledge on the part of workmen.

The name of having been an apprentice to a famous firm may sometimes have an influence in enabling an engineer to form advantageous commercial connections, but generally an apprenticeship is of value only as it has furnished substantial knowledge and skill; for every one must sooner or later come down to the solid basis of their actual abilities and acquirements. The engineering interest is by far too practical to recognise a shadow instead of true substance, and there is but little chance of deception in a calling which deals mainly with facts, figures, and positive demonstration.

It is best, when an apprentice thinks of entering an engineering establishment, to inquire of its character from disinterested persons who are qualified to judge of the facilities it affords. As a rule, every machine-shop proprietor imagines his own establishment to combine all the elements of an engineering business—and the fewer the facilities for learners, usually the more extravagant this estimate; so that opinions in the matter, [24] to be relied upon, should come from disinterested sources.

In regard to premiums, it is a matter to be determined by the facilities that a work may afford for teaching apprentices. To include experience in all the departments of an engineering establishment, within a reasonable term, none but those of unusual ability can make their services of sufficient value to offset what they receive; and there is no doubt but that premium engagements, when the amount of the premium is based upon the facilities afforded for learning, are fair and equitable.

There is, however, this to be remembered, that the considerations which more especially balance premiums—such as a term at draughting, designing, and office service—may be mainly acquired by self-effort, while the practical knowledge of moulding, forging, and fitting cannot; and an apprentice who has good natural capacity, may, if industrious, by the aid of books and such opportunities as usually exist, qualify himself very well without including the premium departments in his course.

Finally, it must constantly be borne in mind that what will be learned is no less a question of faculties than effort, and that the means of succeeding are closed to none who at the beginning form proper plans, and follow them persistently.

(1.) Why cannot the conditions of apprentice engagements be determined by law?—(2.) In what manner does machine improvements affect the conditions of apprenticeship?—(3.) What are the considerations which pass from a master to an apprentice?—(4.) What from an apprentice to a master?—(5.) Why is a particular service of less value when performed by an apprentice than by a skilled workman?—(6.) In what manner can technical knowledge be made to balance or become capital?—(7.) Name two of the principal distinctions between technical knowledge and property as constituting capital.—(8.) What is the difference between what is called engineering and regular manufactures?


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