Encouraging people to train for technology based jobs (existing and new) makes more sense than focusing on creating more manual labor jobs. However, Tony’s tale from my past reminds me there is nuance in what people do for a living.
It was 1979 or 1980; I was 27 – 28 years old and a couple months into my first job as an Industrial Relations Manager (Human Resources Manager). Tony was a drill press operator in the shop who had reached what was then the mandatory retirement age of 65. What was remarkable was that Tony had worked 44 years in the same shop at the exact same machine. He and the drill press started on at the same time and both he and the machine were going to be retired together. The drill press was old and nobody but Tony could create quality work using it.
(My office was in the building center left. Tony worked in the low building across the street and railway tracks behind the closest water tower)
The records showed in 44 years, he had only been sick a couple times and he had worked at that same drill press before and after his stint in the Army for World War II.
The local press was there and we stopped production so all 150 or so of the crew could be at the celebration. I was happy to say a couple nice words about his length of service and that we really did confirm he had worked at the same machine all that time. Tony interrupted me saying he had worked a couple weeks at another drill press while they replaced the bearings in his drill press. It was nice.
I was all smiles on the outside but inside I just could only imagine it must have been torture working 44 years on the same drill press. I would have gone insane. In my head, a life well led means facing new challenges, learning new things. I could not imagine being chained to the same machine for 44 years.
Tony’s younger brother Jerry also worked at the shop. A couple months after Tony’s retirement I asked him how Tony was doing. “Not great” was the reply. He explained that Tony missed working at the shop. The look on my face betrayed me and so Jerry explained. World War II was very tough on Tony. That drill press provided him a paycheck to support his family. However, more than that, it kept him busy enough to keep the demons from the war out of his head. He just could not handle change very well. That drill press saved his sanity.
Here is my lesson learned. I believe encouraging others to learn what they need to get the new technology based jobs is a good thing. Especially for an aging workforce, running the machines that do the manual labor repetitive jobs seems better than doing the repetitive jobs with manual labor. However, we should not forget the lesson of Tony. We are not all the same; some people are, in fact, best suited for manual repetitive work.