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Chefs and Plumbers

Trades in America are largely devalued. However, as big an advocate as I am of higher education, not every one is suited for white-collar jobs, and someone has to do the plumbing. Clerks, drivers, and service jobs cannot all be filled with college students and immigrants, and I am not sure that such a world would be desirable. And these jobs cannot be outsourced or automated.

In New York City, complaints have been made about taxi drivers for time immemorial. The problem is that there is no serious training for this job. The test for a taxi license is laughable – virtually anyone who can drive can get a license. In London, for example, a cabdriver candidate must complete two years of full-time study. I am fascinated by Les Compagnons, French trade guilds dating back to the Middle Ages. See a New York Times article on the Compagnons here.

Many find the level of craftsmanship in New York to be deplorable – stories abound regarding the poor workmanship in jobs done. Many have horror stories of their own. The problem is that many individuals doing blue-collar work are not trained or poorly trained. The workers are not professionals, as is the case with many waiters, who are working while pursuing other life goals and careers or perhaps feeling that they have no better options.

None of this is the case at the French Culinary Institute, located in SoHo at 462 Broadway. This extraordinary school provides an intense training in the culinary arts on a par with schools in Europe – many of the faculty and deans are European, trained, renowned chefs. The school offers a very broad spectrum of classes.

Employment needs are often cyclical. As need develops for a given skill set, people train for those opportunities. Often, an over supply develops, with shortages in other fields. I often speculated that skill tradespeople may see their time come in a world where manual labor is looked down upon and everyone trains for white-collar work. I have often joked that in a world full of web developers, plumbers may rule.
I love the scene in the film Moonstruck where we have revenge of the tradesman. A couple, needing bathroom work done and lacking knowledge about construction, are persuaded by contractor Cosmo Castorini to buy the most expensive solution:

“There are three kinds of pipe. There’s aluminum, which is garbage. There’s bronze, which is pretty good, unless something goes wrong. And something always goes wrong. Then, there’s copper, which is the only pipe I use. It costs money. It costs money because it saves money.”

The future of technology rapidly evolves – who knows what future generations will need and where the jobs may lie? But most likely, there will always be a need for chefs and plumbers :)

Photo Note: This shot was taken on Grand Street, where French Culinary students were on a break from classes. The sight of so many chefs in classic white uniforms on this street is quite startling. The school also runs a highly regarded restaurant – L’Ecole, located at street level at the same address.

3 Responses to Chefs and Plumbers

  1. This school forced out my company, which employed about 50 skilled and non-skilled bookbinders. To make room for the school, the landlord would not renew our lease, so we moved to Williamsburgh, Brooklyn, where we were forced out after about fifteen years to make way for expensive condos. On to Jersey City for about five years, and then to Patterson… All in the name of progress.

  2. An Honest Man says:

    Now where was it that civilisation was wiped out through a lack of telephone sanitisers? (HHGG for those who didn't know.)

  3. Anonymous says:

    Sadly, Mary, that's the "new" New York in a nutshell: all greed, narcissism, and pretentious high gloss. I've lived here 40 years, and no longer recognize the city I once loved with all my heart and soul.


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