Apprentice learning

  • Madhusheel Arora, Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
  • Updated: Dec 20, 2014 22:46 IST

Recently, an acquaintance’s eight-year-old daughter celebrated her birthday in school and the family decided to take toffees packed in transparent, small packets to class. Of course, they bought the savouries from the most expensive shop in town.

A suggestion that the plastic packets could be taken from a branded shirt wrapping; toffees put and the gift then sealed with wax at home itself was met with disdain.

“We do not have the time to do this just to save a trifling,” pat came the response.

The anecdote illustrates the fundamental problem of making anything in India with your hands, especially in business, and the problem that the ‘Make in India’ campaign of PM Modi has faced and will continue to face.

DIY or (Do it yourself) is Greek to most of us.

There is very little premium attached to using our hands and feet to create and learn. How many readers of this piece actually dust their rooms themselves? Have we tried to take apart a Chinese toy and see what makes the land of dragons beat us so thoroughly in such manufacturing?

The answer to this is that most of us are busy in our professional lives (and earning well by the way); doing such menial tasks militates against our conception of the powerful and the productive.

However, in spite of the logical response, there are deeper consequences to this aversion to working in any form other than mental.

One of these is that the cost of doing business increases. For instance, a leading laptop maker entered India with a business model resembling DIY. Customers ordered online and got the hardware delivered at their doorstep. The initial software formatting, though, remained a problem. Later, it also had to adopt the traditional dealership way as the DIY concept floundered.

Customers in India want their products ready-to-use; no one ever reads fancy manuals or installs an LED himself. In fact, the mere suggestion is considered an insult.

What has led to this attitude? We, as a country, do not have the culture of letting people cut teeth as an apprentice.

For an apprentice, the emphasis is on craft and working with hands; this is a missing vital element in our education system. We tend to lose, or perhaps have already lost, a vital part of a treasury of skills to the allurements of white-collar jobs.

There is a reason for our system to be so skewed. Too many people, too few good jobs and ruthless competition to ensure the ‘burden’ of policy- making comes to you. The typical Indian workplace can be indifferent and unseeing to the travails of its minions. This needs to change.

However, signs are that with labour increasingly becoming scarce everywhere, the value of anybody willing to learn and adopt the DIY philosophy will only rise. The future will be increasingly kind to those who attempt to do more things themselves and know the nuts and bolts of the functioning of the world.

A philosophical underpinning and a smashingly good degree is essential, but it needs to be realised that at the end of the day, working with our hands can be real fun and a fount of real creativity.

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