Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Where Have All The Footmen Gone? was a real learning environment that held the greatest value for all concerned; the kind where the Butler position was considered a true executive role...

I was going to title this post, "In Praise of Patience," yet I fell asleep twice while typing it into the header box, and although that's really what I'm talking about here, sometimes I need to spice things up a bit so it's not so boring to our readership.

So, as I was realizing today that on LinkedIn, although I'm proudly an aspiring member to The 5-Minus Club, I do like to occasionally "follow" people (in a healthy, non-creepy way, I mean). And one such person I follow is Christoper Mengel, who always seems to have something interesting to say, although, I think we generally label those people we agree with on things as being interesting, yet that's a topic for another day.

Christoper had liked an article which referred to bringing back apprentice programs for skilled trades. I had not become aware they had disappeared, actually, yet that's my bad for not keeping up with the world outside of my own. And although the article referred to what's commonly referred to as skilled trades, such as electricians and plumbers, I honestly believe it could equally apply to domestic workers.

I like the idea of apprenticeship - because it recognizes the idea of patience. Patience on the part of the employee, and patience from the employer. Patience is something I don't see much of in the world. And maybe that's why the idea of anything that supports patience - seems to be disappearing.

Patience, Jimmy
Once in a while, though, I do see a domestic job advertisement that has called itself an apprentice opportunity. The cynical part of me, I'm not proud to say, sometimes thinks that it's just a sneaky way for the employer to bring in another pair of working hands for cheap. Yet, the other part of me, and that part is usually 51% or greater, thinks there is someone out there that really wants to help both the worker - and the estate - to become better, and both for the long run. And that takes time, and that takes patience.

This was all very possible back when large domestic staffs actually existed. I mean those really large, Downton Abbey kinds of staffs, which were large for a reason: because it was a real learning environment that held the greatest value for all concerned; the kind where the Butler position was considered a true executive role, someone who administered the business of the entire estate and actually managed the staff - and what we now, loosely, refer to as an Estate Manager, yet had more actual authority than today's Estate Managers to make decisions, and with more actual resources entrusted with to succeed.

But, those large staffs don't really exist anymore, and Butlers have, sadly, in recent years been mostly stripped of their executive functions in many homes, while domestic staffs are now being routinely managed by email and texting - by a Personal Assistant located somewhere in a family office, several miles away. This peculiar shift in management trends and hierarchies, the development of instant-everything, along with the development of short-sighted HR investments by the family office in order to "save time," may have created, IMHO, some issues.

Footmen spent years earning pennies while studying their craft and becoming Under Butlers, and then more years of guidance and study to become a Butler. Now, though, aspiring Butlers typically spend just a few weeks (or even less than one week) in a self-funded training program, and then expect to earn $100K+ at their very first domestic job. Same for many of today's Chefs, Housekeepers, and virtually all domestic staff positions, whom expect to begin at the very top of their careers on day#1, due to having attended (and paid substantial money for) hyper-accelerated private training programs that have, supposedly, now substituted for all the years of hard work and hands-on practical experience - previously only engaged through the onsite domestic service apprenticeships of years past.

The apprenticeship - the entire becoming part of a career to reach an actual, high level of proficiency - before earning a job title - has now been deleted. Some may argue that estate owners are at fault, for now expecting domestic workers to be highly capable on day#1 of their jobs, this due to the newly heightened wage and salary levels of domestic workers which would indicate such. Yet, would this expectation exist, if new domestic workers were neither demanding nor expecting that? It's a bit of a cycle which seems to feed on itself.

And some would argue that small, minimalist staffing, no apprenticeships, and the abbreviated programs which now jump-start people's careers (and their salary expectations) are all very "efficient." But, I'm not so sure.
Something tells me that estate owners of years past were not idiots; something tells me they were not people who would put up with anything that was particularly inefficient. I think that today's easy web connection to the heavy marketing of every product or service that reaches into our lives and our careers has affected how we value the things that used to take some investment in serious time; the things that used to require some... patience.

  • So, would you, as the Estate Manager or Principal, be willing to spend several years guiding and grooming someone through an apprenticeship program who has, simply, very good potential, in order to reap a long-term investment?

  • And would you, as someone who sought a career in domestic service, be willing to spend several years working for substandard - apprenticeship - level wages, yet through the guidance of those with more experience, you would then be gaining the deep level skills, the self-confidence, and most importantly, the reputation, as a dedicated, long-term learner who took their craft seriously enough to put themselves through a real apprenticeship program?

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