Engineering and construction have come a long way from the earliest efforts of human beings. The process of designing projects, creating materials, and assembling them today looks nothing like what was performed by ancient civilizations.
Yet one characteristic remains as inescapable today as it was to the Egyptians or the Mayans, and that is the need for manual labor. Certainly, the proportion of manual labor in the overall effort has been lowered by the development of better tools and powerful heavy equipment, but behind it all there is still a significant portion of work that must be done by the hands of human beings. They may be operating a jackhammer or skillfully working inside welding gloves, but human hands are ultimately doing the work.
Today, just as it was thousands of years ago, manual labor is only effective if it incorporates three important elements: Skilled people, effective tools, and appropriate safety equipment.
The misnomer of “unskilled labor” is often applied to those who work primarily with their hands. While there are certainly workers who have a higher level of training than others, there is no one in a construction job who has no skills at all. At the very minimum, these workers are accumulating 40 or more hours of experience each week, building their base of skill as they build structures. Their credentials are in their minds, not in a frame on the wall, and they are a big part of the power behind construction.
Of course, there are workers who do have formal credentials documenting their expertise in manual labor. Electricians, plumbers, welders, and HVAC technicians are all required to have the appropriate formal training to set the stage for the experience they’ll gain on the job.
We sometimes think of manual labor as work that is done directly by our hands, but tools usually fill the space between those hands and the materials in use. Hand tools like hammers, rakes, and specialized pieces designed for specific tasks are at the core of effective manual labor. Beyond those skills, power tools in the hands of skilled operators are used to perform work faster and more effectively than
You can easily see this yourself as you do basic upkeep on things like your house, yard, and driveway. The precision necessary to assemble or install specific materials is such that bare hands simply aren’t enough. Hand tools and power tools alike make skilled hands that much faster and more effective than they could be alone.
Appropriate Safety Equipment
There is at least some element of danger in any form of work. It may be short-term threats such as injuries to the eye, or it could be long-term risks from repetitive motion. Whatever the particulars of the safety situation, appropriate safety equipment is essential, whether the occupation is known to be hazardous or if it’s less risky.
When they are properly protected from workplace hazards, laborers are more confident in what they do. They will feel more comfortable installing shingles on a steeply-pitched roof when there is a tether line present to protect them, and welders will be able to focus on their trade more effectively when their eyes and skin are safe from the side effects of the intense light and high temperatures involved in their work.
Our society values manual labor, even if it doesn’t fully understand it. The average person with a job that doesn’t involve manufacturing or construction often doesn’t realize the complexity of the work done by those putting up the new building next door or assembling the car they drove to work. With so many technological advances, we often feel like everything is mechanized, but the true situation is that there will always be hands and feet behind the machines that power our economy.