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1200 Learning a Skilled Trade

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Welcome to English as a Second Language Podcast number 1,200 – Learning a Skilled Trade.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast episode 1,200. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Visit ESLPod.com – and by “visit,” I mean go there, of course. Take a look at our Learning Guide service we provide, where you can get a complete transcript of all of our current episodes by becoming a member of ESL Podcast.

This episode is a dialogue about learning a skilled trade – that is, learning to do something with your hands and mind in order to make money. Let’s get started.

[start of dialogue]

Jeannine: What are you going to do now that you’ve graduated from high school?

Orlando: I’m going to trade school. My father was a stone and brick mason and my brother is a mechanic, but I think I’m going to try something different.

Jeannine: Like what?

Orlando: Maybe I’ll study to become an electrician or plumber. Those are skills that are always in demand.

Jeannine: Don’t they have long apprenticeships?

Orlando: Yes, but it’s better than training to be a machinist or technician. It’s easier to open your own shop as an electrician or plumber.

Jeannine: With your skills, you can always get a job as a carpenter.

Orlando: I think carpentry is a dying art. Most people don’t get furniture or other things custom-made anymore.

Jeannine: You know, you could always take a completely different path, learning a completely different skilled trade.

Orlando: Like what?

Jeannine: You could become a medical or dental technician or even get a cosmetology degree.

Orlando: Are you serious?! Would you want these hands cutting your hair?

[end of dialogue]

Our dialogue begins with Jeannine saying to Orlando, “What are you going to do now that you’ve graduated from high school?” “To graduate” means to complete some level of schooling – in this case, high school. Orlando says, “I’m going to a trade school.” A “trade” (trade) is one of the many different jobs involving the use of your hands to either make something or to fix something. We’ll talk about several different examples of “trades” in a minute.

A “trade school” is a school that teaches you the technical skills and gives you the knowledge you need to perform certain kinds of jobs, often jobs that don’t require a four-year university or college degree. “Trade schools” are sometimes called “vocational schools” – schools that teach you things that will allow you to get a job right away, but that don’t require a four-year education. Orlando says he’s going to a trade school.

“My father,” he says, “was a stone and brick mason and my brother is a mechanic, but I think I’m going to try something different.” One of the many trades you can study for and work in is a “mason” (mason). A mason is a person who works with stone or brick and builds things out of those materials. If you’re building a building that is made of stone or brick, you may need a mason. Many buildings nowadays – most buildings nowadays – are not built out of stone or brick, but some still are, and if you are going to make a building or, say, a wall with bricks, you would want a mason to do that for you. That’s a particular trade.

Another example of a trade is a “mechanic” (mechanic). A “mechanic” is a person who repairs or fixes machines that are broken, especially cars and trucks and other vehicles. If you’re having problems with your car, you will most likely take it to a mechanic – a “car mechanic” – who can fix the engine or whatever is wrong with your car.

It used to be as recently as twenty, thirty years ago that many people would fix their own cars. People would try to fix their own engines. But nowadays, that isn’t quite as popular, perhaps because car engines have become more complicated due to the computers in the cars. I remember, certainly back in the 1980s, people trying to fix their own cars – my friends, for example. I never tried to do that because I don’t really know much about car engines. But if you do know a lot about car engines, you could become a “mechanic.”

Orlando wants to try something different. Jeannine says, “Like what?” Orlando says, “Maybe I’ll study to be an electrician or a plumber.” An “electrician” (electrician) is a person who works installing and maintaining electrical equipment. If you need to have electricity in a building you would call an electrician, and that person would put the wires and the necessary wires and equipment needed to have electricity.

A “plumber” (plumber) – notice that we don’t pronounce the “b” in “plumber” – is the person who installs – that is, who puts in – and maintains and repairs pipes and systems that move water in and out of a building. A plumber would be needed if you wanted a bathroom or a kitchen. If you want to have a toilet or a shower in your bathroom, you would need to call a plumber who would be able to put one in or fix it if there was a problem with it. All of my uncles were plumbers. My grandfather was a plumber. My great-grandfather was a plumber. I come from a whole family of plumbers.

In fact, if you go to my home city of St. Paul, Minnesota, and you drive down the street, you might see a car that says “McQuillan Plumbing” on it. Those are my cousins. There’s been a “McQuillan Plumbing” business in St. Paul, Minnesota since the nineteenth century. My father was the only member of his family, the only male member of his family, who did not become a plumber. He became a teacher, which is probably why I’m a teacher and not a plumber. I think I would have made more money as a plumber, however.

In any case, Orlando is thinking of becoming an electrician or a plumber. He says, “Those are skills that are always in demand.” Something that is “in demand” (demand) is something that people want – in this case, something people are willing to pay for. Since we’ll probably always need bathrooms, we’ll probably always need plumbers. That’s why that is a skill that is always “in demand.”

Jeannine says, “Don’t they have long apprenticeships?” An “apprenticeship” (apprenticeship) is a period of time when someone in a trade – such as electricians and plumbers – works for another person in order to learn how to do his specific job. If you want to become a plumber or an electrician, you will study for a certain amount of time, but then you will work for a few years for someone else who will teach you what you really need to know.

The trades, such as electrician and plumber, require more than just time in a classroom learning from a teacher. You have to go out there and actually do it in order to learn it, and that’s why we have “apprenticeships.” These are periods of time when the people who want to become electricians and plumbers work for other electricians and plumbers who teach them all the things, or many of the things, they need to know.

Orlando says, “Yes” – meaning yes, these trades do have long apprenticeships – “but it’s better than training to be a machinist or technician.” “To train” (train) is to get the skills in order to do something. The verb “train” is a very general one used in many different situations. Usually it’s used when you are talking about a specific kind of task or job.

So, you can train to be a teacher. That’s a specific job, a specific skill or set of skills you need to learn. You can train to be a plumber. You can train to be a secretary. You could train to be a computer programmer. All of these would be possible uses of the verb “to train.” “To train,” then, is to study and/or practice in order to learn how to do a specific thing. We also use the verb “to train” when you’re preparing for an athletic event. If you are going to run a marathon, you might “train” for the marathon – spend time preparing for it.

Orlando refers to “training to be a machinist or technician.” A “machinist” (machinist) is a person who operates a machine in a factory. The term “technician” (technician) refers to anyone who has technical skills for doing this particular kind of job, usually a job that doesn’t require a lot of extra training. For example, there are “lab” or laboratory technicians. Hospitals, for example, have “laboratory technicians” who work to determine what’s in your blood. Those people aren’t doctors. They are, however, working with special machinery that requires technical skills.

Orlando says, “It’s easier to open your own shop as an electrician or plumber.” The word “shop” here means business. Jeannine says, “With your skills, you can always get a job as a carpenter.” A “carpenter” (carpenter) is a person who makes things out of wood. Orlando says, however, “I think carpentry is a dying art.”

A “dying (dying) art (art)” is something that is becoming less and less common, that fewer people are interested in nowadays than, say, in the past. “Most people don’t get furniture or other things custom-made anymore.” If something is “custom (custom) – made (made),” it is produced or made just for you. There’s only one of those. In British English there’s a wonderful word, “bespoke” (bespoke), that describes basically the same idea.

Jeannine says, “You know, you could always take a completely different path, learning a completely different skilled trade.” A “path” (path) is a way that you get from one place to another. In this case, Jeannine is talking about how Orlando could do something completely different – not be a carpenter or a plumber or an electrician. He could learn a different “skilled trade” – that is, a different job similar to the jobs we’ve been talking about.

Orlando says, “Like what?” Jeannine says, “You could become a medical or dental technician or even get a cosmetology degree.” A “dental (dental) technician” is a person who makes teeth – artificial teeth, of course – and other things that are used by a dentist. Jeannine suggests that Orlando could also get a “cosmetology (cosmetology) degree.” “Cosmetology” refers to the business of making people’s hair, skin, and/or nails more attractive.

Orlando says, “Are you serious?! Would you want these hands cutting your hair?” I’m not sure why, but Orlando apparently feels he wouldn’t do a very good job cutting anyone’s hair.

Now let’s listen to the dialogue, this time at a normal speed.

[start of dialogue]

Jeannine: What are you going to do now that you’ve graduated from high school?

Orlando: I’m going to trade school. My father was a stone and brick mason and my brother is a mechanic, but I think I’m going to try something different.

Jeannine: Like what?

Orlando: Maybe I’ll study to become an electrician or plumber. Those are skills that are always in demand.

Jeannine: Don’t they have long apprenticeships?

Orlando: Yes, but it’s better than training to be a machinist or technician. It’s easier to open your own shop as an electrician or plumber.

Jeannine: With your skills, you can always get a job as a carpenter.

Orlando: I think carpentry is a dying art. Most people don’t get furniture or other things custom-made anymore.

Jeannine: You know, you could always take a completely different path, learning a completely different skilled trade.

Orlando: Like what?

Jeannine: You could become a medical or dental technician or even get a cosmetology degree.

Orlando: Are you serious?! Would you want these hands cutting your hair?

[end of dialogue]

Each and every script our scriptwriter writes is custom-made just for you, our ESL Podcast listener, thanks to Dr. Lucy Tse.

From Los Angeles, California, I’m Jeff McQuillan. Thank you for listening. Come back and listen to us again right here on ESL Podcast.

English as a Second Language Podcast was written and produced by Dr. Lucy Tse, hosted by Dr. Jeff McQuillan. Copyright 2016 by the Center for Educational Development.

Glossary
trade school – vocational school; a school that provides students with the technical skills and knowledge needed to perform a particular type of job; a school that trains students for employment in a specific industry or job

* Do you know of any trade schools that prepare students for jobs in bookkeeping?

mason – a person who works with stone and/or brick, especially building things out of those materials

* We need to hire a stone mason to help us fix the front walkway.

mechanic – a person who repairs broken machines, especially cars and other vehicles

* The mechanic says that the car needs new brakes.

electrician – a person who works with electricity, especially installing and maintaining electrical equipment

* How much would it cost to have an electrician install some lights in the living room ceiling?

plumber – a person who installs, maintains, and repairs pipes and systems that move water within buildings

* If you can’t fix the toilet, maybe we should call a plumber.

in demand – needed and desired; with people willing to pay for a particular product or service

* Typists aren’t in demand like they used to be, because most people type their own documents now.

apprenticeship – a period of time when someone works for another person in order to learn how to do his or her specific job

* Marco learned a lot about building homes during his apprenticeship with a residential builder last year.

to train – to study and practice in order to learn how to do something

* The company wants to train all its employees to use spreadsheets more effectively.

machinist – a person who operates a machine, usually in a factory

* Jenna works as a machinist, making small gears for large manufacturers.

technician – a person with very specific technical skills for doing practical work

* The lab technician is responsible for processing all the incoming blood samples.

carpenter – a person who creates and builds things out of wood

* How long would it take a good carpenter to build a bookshelf like that?

dying art – something that is becoming less popular and less common, that fewer people are interested in, and that may not continue in the future

* With the growing popularity of telephone calls and emails, writing letters by hand is a dying art.

custom-made – designed for a specific person and intended to meet his or her needs and desires

* These jeans were custom-made in the fabric and style Wynona selected.

path – route; the way that one gets from one place to another

* Randall took an non-traditional path to college, spending 10 years running his own business before deciding that he’d like to earn a degree.

skilled trade – a type of job or industry that requires manual (physical) labor and precise, technical skills

* The gas company has a high demand for employees trained in the skilled trades, especially for meter technicians and electricians.

dental technician – a person who creates artificial teeth and other pieces used to correct problems with teeth

* The dental technician will try to match the color of the false teeth to the color of your natural teeth.

cosmetology – the industry and profession of making people’s hair, skin, and nails more attractive

* Ingrid is studying cosmetology, so she has a lot of homework related to hair color and skin texture.

Comprehension Questions
1. Which of these people works with water?
a) A mason
b) A plumber
c) A machinist

2. According to Orlando, why is carpentry a dying art?
a) Because it is a dangerous and deadly profession.
b) Because it is more a technical skill than a form of art.
c) Because it is becoming rarer and less popular.

Answers at bottom.

What Else Does It Mean?
trade school

The phrase “trade school,” in this podcast, means a vocational school, or a school that provides students with the technical skills and knowledge needed to perform a particular type of job: “Darien’s parents want him to study at a four-year university, but he would rather go to a trade school.” A “trade show” is a big event where many companies exhibit or show their products or services to try to get new customers: “Our sales team often attends trade shows to generate interest in our new products.” A “trade secret” is confidential information about how a particular business does something: “The key to the long battery life in this cell phone is our trade secret.” Finally, a “trademark” is a branded name that identifies a product from other, similar products: “This is our trademark, and it is illegal for any other company to use it.”

dying art

In this podcast, the phrase “dying art” means something that is becoming less popular and less common, that fewer people are interested in, and that may not continue in the future: “Making your own jams and jellies is a dying art.” The phrase “dying wish” refers to the last thing that a person wants or requests immediately before dying: “Grandma’s dying wish was that we find a good home for her cats.” The phrase “to (one’s) dying day” means for the rest of one’s life, until one dies: “I will remember what she said to my dying day.” Finally, the phrase “the dying” refers to people who are going to die soon: “The clinic is trying to find ways to make the dying as comfortable as possible in their final days.”

Culture Note
Vocational Education

Vocational education trains people for particular jobs, giving them technical skills and knowledge needed for careers such as electricians, brick masons, “blacksmiths” (people who make things out of metal by heating iron to very high temperatures), “telecommunication technicians” (people who maintain the networks for digital communication, such as wiring and maintaining electrical panels), and “chefs” (professional cooks). These schools emphasize “practical” (applied in real life), “hands-on” (using one’s hands) experience rather than “theoretical” (based on ideas, but not on real-life) or “liberal arts” (related to language, literature, history, and similar fields) subjects.

Many “community colleges” (colleges that offer two-year degrees, often for students who plan to transfer to four-year universities) offer vocational education, often working in close “partnership” (working together closely) with local employers. But community colleges also offer broader education in liberal arts.

Other schools focus “exclusively” (only; without anything else) on vocational education. These are sometimes called vocational colleges or career colleges. They often focus on careers in a particular field. For example, some career colleges focus “solely” (only) on medicine, training future nurses, medical “transcriptionist” (people who type the information in audio recordings) and “medical coders” (people who write the codes that correspond to medical services, used for billing insurance).

A “technical school” also offers vocational education, but these programs are usually focused on “IT” (information technology; computers) careers. They might teach people to write software, install and maintain computer networks, “debug software” (identify and correct problems in software), or “staff” (serve as an employee for) “help desks” (groups of people who provide technical support for hardware or software users).

Comprehension Answers
1 - b

2 - c