Working your way up

By on March 12, 2014
Phil Eisemann

Periodically we go through periods of profound change.

The mid-19th Century Industrial Revolution moved manufacturing from home and village enterprises to factories in urban areas, resulting in displacement of population and changes in social situations.

In the early 20th Century we changed from an agrarian to a manufacturing economy. Again, people had to move and be trained for jobs not available to their parents.

At the beginning of the 21st Century, we find ourselves in the midst of another economic shift and subsequent social change. Technology, transportation, and the development of a worldwide economy has either mechanized or moved manufacturing jobs at the core of the 20th Century economy. Again, we are on the cusp of a new social and economic world. No one knows exactly what this new world will look like but of one thing is sure; we of the working class will adapt and work our way up.

I am of an age when pre-employment training was virtually unknown. To those of us born before the Second World War, the skilled trades were learned by getting a job in the field and learning through doing. Formal apprenticeship was limited to unions found only in urban areas. Many of my contemporaries learned their trade in the military. Into the 1960’s, construction and maintenance of military bases and equipment was done primarily by soldiers, sailors or airmen who were taught skills they carried into civilian life. Such basic services to the military as meal preparation, construction and maintenance are now contracted, removing a major trainer from the economy. HersheyBoysSchool and ThaddeusStevensTrade School, both excellent trade schools, were, at the time, limited to orphaned boys. Career and Technology Centers (Vo-Tech Schools) were unknown.

Roger Sweigart was introduced to the culinary arts in his father’s restaurant on South Church Street in Ephrata, behind what is now Gravenor’s Funeral Home. In the days when a hamburger was 20 cents and a cone of homemade ice cream a nickel, he prepared lunches and dinners for factory workers who lived and worked in the Borough. After wandering into other jobs, he returned to food service when his father gave up the restaurant on South State Street in Ephrata next to the WhisslerBuilding, in what is now the Army Recruiting Station. He and his wife ran this business from 1976 to 1986, when they closed it to take positions at Shady Maple in Blue Ball. Roger developed his considerable skill on the job. Today, someone wishing to enter the culinary field would spend their senior year of high school at the Willow Street campus of the Lancaster County Career and Technology Center (LCCTC). From there they would at least go for a two-year certificate course at Harrisburg Area Community College (HACC) or one of the other post-secondary culinary schools. If the aspiring chef is sufficiently talented and has the means, the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) or Johnson & WalesCollege would catapult them to a high-paying job. Preparing for food service is a much bigger deal.

William Peters started as a welder in Lebanon. When he returned from two years in the Navy his job was gone. Lured to Ephrata by the beautiful young lady who was to become his wife, he took a job with a heating and air conditioning contractor. Intrigued by the electrical side of the trade, he went to work for the Earl Stauffer and Sons. Under the tutelage of Richard and Bob Stauffer, and a two-year night school course at Stevens Trade, he rose through the ranks. Bill’s son Scott was one of the first to complete the four-year apprenticeship with Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC).When the Stauffer brothers sold out to Haller Electric in 1984, Bill and his son set up W. E. Peters Electric and Son. The third generation, Scott Peters’ son-in-law, joined the business after completing the electrical course at the Brownstown campus of the LCCTC and ABC’s apprenticeship.

Lifelong Ephrata/Akron resident Bill Royer spent the Second World War in the seat of an anti-aircraft gun on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific. When he left the Navy in 1946, he was interviewed by Chris Eby and his daughter Bertha (Blair), owners of The Denver and Ephrata Telephone and Telegraph Company (later D&E). They started him in the stock room and moved him to Installation and Repair. Mostly he learned the job on the job. When he started, phone service in the Manheim area was still battery-powered and crank-operated with 20 to 22 people on the same line. During 42 years working for D&E, he helped convert the system from one where an operator connected parties by hand, to dial phones, to today’s touch-tone digital system. Each change required new knowledge and additional skills. These were learned through reading manuals and training courses provided by manufacturers. In 2009, D&E was absorbed by Windstream Communications. No longer can an applicant meet the owner. Indeed there is no place in the Cocalico Valley to apply for a job. This must be done online as the main office is in Little Rock, Arkansas. As I was unable to get into the local office of Windstream, a lady agreed to meet me in the lobby. She was vague on the training required to enter Windstream’s workforce, this is understandable as it is not her job. I was referred to the website. In order to see application requirements, I was required to sign long-winded documents, which I was unwilling to do. I am sure there are training opportunities, I do not know what they are at this time. What was once the kindly face of our neighbors and friends has become a website and a carefully groomed voice 1,000 miles away. Ain’t modernity great?

After graduating from Ephrata High School, Vernon Schmuck went to work in the blacktop plant of Jack and Jim Maser, a Brownstown heavy construction company. When the company went under, he took a job with Barnett who just got the plumbing portion of the 1970 extension of the EphrataHospital. Things worked and Barnett put him into their apprenticeship program. At the time, the point of the plumbing apprenticeship was to pass the test for a LancasterCity license. The course was taught at J.P.McCaskeyHigh School by a plumbing inspector of the city. After four years, Vern took and passed his test becoming a licensed plumber in a second class city. He could also work in Harrisburg and Reading as there was reciprocity. Outside the cities there is no license. When Vern’s son Greg came to work for Barnett, he had the advantage of the ABC plumbing apprenticeship. When Barnett when out of business, Vern, his wife Polly, and his son Greg were all working there. Since there was a master plumber, a journeyman plumber, and an office manager in the family it made sense to go into business. Since then, many in the community have relied on Vernon D. Schmuck & Son when there was a leak, but you have to talk to Polly first.

In 1969, Lancaster County started its Vo-Tech system which developed into the three Career and Technology Centers, serving students considering alternatives to college. In 1972, Associated Builders and Contractors, an employers group, established its apprenticeship program. Certified by the US Department of Labor, this night school program provides advanced training for young people entering the construction trades. A journeyman’s certificate from the Federal Bureau of Apprenticeship and Training is recognized worldwide. Sadly, the HersheySchool has chosen to close their excellent vocational training facility. However, ThaddeusStevensCollege has expanded and upgraded its facilities to those of a first class institution. Additionally, HACC and other local post-secondary schools have added vocationally-oriented courses. I am delighted to report there are multiple opportunities for the young person seeking a life in the skilled trades.

There are many more bootstraps on which young people can pull when working their way up.

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