Gadget Camp Tackles Some Popular Assumptions
How will the custom makers of the next generation get their start?
This is a question we’ve addressed numerous times on the CustomMade blog. We’ve featured stories about mid-life career transformations, guilds and schools dedicated to teaching crafts, and government/business partnerships in other countries. We’ve recently showcased CustomMade artisan Jamison Sellers, who mentors a small group of high school kids as they design and build commissioned custom furniture using renewable resources.
Lighting the creative spark in young people is difficult work. When you try to teach kids that designing and building unique furniture, crafts, and home solutions for consumers can be a viable career you encounter even more obstacles.
One very ingrained hurdle is the association of manufacturing with repetitive and dirty work. Another barrier is the pervasive assumption that it’s “men’s work.”
This summer, the Gadget Camp program is trying to change that perception.
A recent New York Times article, “At This Girls’ Camp, Crafts Take a Drill Press,” takes a look at a Gadget Camp workshop in suburban Chicago, one of nine camps sponsored in part by Nuts, Bolts, and Thingamajigs, the Foundation of the Fabricators and Manufacturers Association, Intl..
Writer Motoko Rich followed a group of 16 girls, ranging in age from 11 to 15, as they learned a combination of basic technical skills and problem solving while designing and building pieces such as a cat feeder, a candy dispenser, jewelry, and music boxes from various materials. For example, one student wanted to make a lamp with a spinning lampshade. She explored different options for creating the lampshade, learned how to wire a battery, and affixed a motor properly so she could complete her project.
The sponsors and teachers hope the hands-on experience will show the participants that manufacturing isn’t always monotonous and that girls can do this kind of work, too. The goal is that someday these students will fill a critical need in American manufacturing. Rich writes:
Although the economy is wobbling and nearly 14 million people are looking for work, some employers are still having a hard time finding skilled workers for certain positions. Manufacturers in particular complain that few applicants can operate computerized equipment, read blueprints and solve production problems. And with the baby boomers starting to retire, these and other employers worry there will be few young workers willing or able to replace them. … Since the fragile recovery began, manufacturing is one of the few sectors that have added jobs. But the image of manufacturing as an occupation of the future has been tarnished by the exodus of factory jobs to foreign sites and the use of machinery to replace workers. Younger people, especially, see more alluring opportunities in digital technology, finance or health care.
Food for thought …
There is a world of difference between custom artisanal and industrial manufacturing. Creative design, unique solutions, and problem solving are central, not peripheral or incidental, to custom work. Unfortunately, popular assumptions about any kind of manufacturing are more heavily influenced by industrial processes than by custom work. As long as working with your hands and using tools are perceived as menial, boring, and the exclusive province of male workers, there will be fewer custom artisans in future generations. Projects like Gadget Camp that try to reach young people, instill a sense of pride in manufacturing, and emphasize its inclusive potential for success can help make a difference.
Do you know of other people or programs trying to spread the word about custom manufacturing? Leave your comments and let us know.