Journeyman Needed: Going to work

Journeyman, what is that?

While you are at school you think about going to work and how easy it is going to be.

Earning your own money and having more freedom than you know what to do with. Running your own life sounds so cool. You just can’t wait to get done with school so that you can get a job and do everything that you ever wanted to do. Upon leaving school you get a job as an apprentice diesel fitter. You are not quite sure what an apprentice is or does but you are not going to ask the question as you are now in the big world and know everything. You have just finished with school and passed with flying colours so you must know everything.

Maybe you didn’t learn everything at school

You get to the workshops and look up to the roof to find that the pulleys and belts and controls are not there. Only lights. But you learnt about them at school, what has happened? Slowly the doubt starts creeping in. Maybe you didn’t learn everything at school. Maybe the school syllabus was old and outdated.

So now you have to start working with a journeyman. You think that a journeyman is someone who is going to show you the ropes at work as you know everything else anyway. But once you start working you realise horror upon horror that you actually know nothing. You need to listen to this journeyman as he goes through the motion of showing you everything. And then you must still make him coffee and fetch him his lunch and wash his car. In fact, you must do everything that he tells you to as he is your boss. He can make or break your career as he sees fit.

The intercooler starting to get red and beginning to glow

The work is new and interesting. The journeyman has the right amount of patience and answers all your questions nicely and explains what he is doing. That is the time I was learning to assemble engines. The first with him was a giant 67 litre V 16. It was a huge engine with twin turbos. The most exciting part was to put it on the dynamometer and run it. Because they had done it before they had timed it right. Starting in the late afternoon the engine has a warmup routine. Precisely calculated and worked out. The final power test lining up with the time it is dark outside. The twin turbos on either side of the engine running at maximum, the exhaust manifold from the turbos running next to each other in the middle under the intercooler starting to get red and beginning to glow. The engine runs for another 10 minutes at maximum power and then on cue all the lights get switched off so that everyone can see the uniform red glow of the exhaust all along the engine and curling into the turbo. Looks so good and to think we built it. From there, there was not much that beat that feeling. It’s the feeling that we had done that. After that I knew that I was in the right job. I took it to the extreme and wanted to know everything about engines that was possible. Lucky for me I was in the right place, with right minded people.

You only start learning after school

It was then that I also found out that you only really start to learn after you have actually finished school.

After the first few days of working, you start to see that working is not all that it is cracked up to be. Getting to work by yourself. Sorting out your own lunch. None of that mommy’s boy going to school. You wanted that freedom and now that you have it the sparkle is starting to wane. You persevere through the first month and then finally its payday.

Freedom; you have your own money to spend at last. It is weekend and you have a blast with your friends and then find out that the car you wanted to buy will have to wait until next month. Suddenly money does not seem to stretch so far.

Next payday is still a long, long way off.

But now it is also time to get a girlfriend and start dating. You approach the girl of your dreams and she says yes. Oh dear, panic stations. That weekend with the friends is still affecting the pocket. Next payday is still a long, long way off.

After a short few months, you start to realize a few things. You learn to work your money better. You don’t spend all your money on the first weekend and you take your girlfriend to those cheaper places to eat out. Maybe for a picnic in the old car that you managed to purchase.

Why didn’t you learn more?

The biggest thing that you realize while starting work is that learning at school is only the tip of the iceberg. You are not sure why you didn’t learn more, about handling expenses and planning your time. At school you learn about past explorers but nothing about real time events. How to balance the cheque book.

Even to budget for a car is not that easy, getting the car is the easy part and from there it is services and fuel, tyres and other general maintenance.

Even though you have the work at school level it does not prepare you to take on the real world at the first try. You need that journeyman. Strange as it seems in the end he teaches you about the job at hand, girls, friends, and also about general life. After a few years you realize that he was more of a teacher to you than all the teachers at school.

Peter Waddell grew up in Kimberley, South Africa. He worked as diesel fitter and is now retired, living in China, writing, reading, cycling, exploring, taking photographs and married to a teacher

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