Hard Skills

December 4, 2017 Trends

Who wants to read about paging endpoints? Who wants to hear about Spark Hybrid Media Node? No takers? I didn’t think so. Let’s depart from the usual tech-talk and alphabet soup that make up so much of our daily conversation. Instead, I intend to spend the time rehashing a conversation, and the subsequent take-away, that I had with my oldest son a few months ago.

I was getting ready for a full week of PTO in early fall, looking forward to spending all week not working (to be honest.) I had planned on getting some of the honey-do list accomplished and spending the remainder of my free time deer hunting. While getting all of my gear dusted off from the previous season, my son, soon to get his driver’s license, started asking me what each piece of gear was for. I explained each, going over what it’s for and how it is used.

After our conversation I realized that I had not taught him a lot of the skills that my father had taught me, something I’ll call Hard Skills. While I’ve devoted my career and currently spend so much of my time in an advanced technological world, there is something to be said about still possessing and passing down Hard Skills. Maybe because the Hard Skills don’t apply as much today, maybe because I just took the lessons my father taught me for granted, not really recognizing that just because I don’t use a particular Hard Skill often, doesn’t mean that I don’t have it in my quiver, ready to be drawn on when needed. Maybe it is because the Hard Skills that I was taught don’t appear to be as relevant as they were when I grew up. After all, my son is growing up in a world that just barely resembles the world I grew up in.

As a side note, I’m not that old, and I did grow up in downtown Atlanta. It definitely wasn’t a farming community, but it was a time and place devoid of the internet, remote controls, microwaves, cable television, Alexa-powered smart houses or wireless phones of any kind. I was allowed to leave the house when the sun came up and was allowed to stay out until the streetlights came on. I never had to text my mom when I arrived somewhere. I was allowed to ride MARTA (the Atlanta public transportation system) to the mall at the age of 10. I was allowed to play with my friends at the park with realistic toy guns, no orange tip to signify that it was a toy and not the real deal. But that is not the world my children are growing up in today.

I learned how to tie knots to build forts and my children learned how to surf the web. I learned how to build a fire while my kids learned how to watch YouTube. I learned how to read a paper map, my kids learned to search google maps and let it pick the best route. I poured over a catalog to pick out Christmas gifts, dog-earing the pages and circling the pictures to clearly mark what I wanted. My kids learned how to make an Amazon wish list. Instead of waiting weeks on end for a mail order toy, my kids bank on Amazon Prime’s two-day delivery.

Put simply, the Hard Skills that my father taught me aren’t the same ones that I’ve had to teach my children. The world just doesn’t operate the same way anymore.

The realization that my kids were digital savvy was a proud moment. The realization that they couldn’t tell the difference between decorative ivy and poison ivy was not. I vowed to rectify that, so I came up with something I call Skills Sunday. Skills Sunday usually takes about 30 minutes to complete. Each Sunday I pick a topic, usually from a situation from my childhood that ended up poorly due to my own incompetence or ignorance, or both. I tell the kids the topic and they get 15 minutes to research the topic using whatever source they wish, whether it be a computer, iPad, or those things we keep on the shelf, sometimes called books. One of the lessons included them showing me two knots, one that “slips” and one that doesn’t. The kids then have to demonstrate that they understood what they read and, more importantly, how it can apply to different situations i.e. the dreaded “practical application.”

At first, Skills Sunday met with fierce resistance from one of my children and apathetic disregard from the other. Huffing, snarky comments, dragging of feet, and general lack of enthusiasm were the order of the day. This was until I demonstrated how when cold, hungry, and in the dark, a single small fire can warm them, heat their food, and provide light all from one single skill. Granted, making them do their research outside on the porch at night in 35° weather, wearing light clothing and after having a very small lunch, improved their motivation moderately – especially since there was a pile of graham crackers, marshmallows and chocolate sitting on the table in front of them. Not that fire starting is applicable to their daily lives, but it is a skill none-the-less, an arrow in their quivers. Plus, who doesn’t like warming their hands over a fire cooking and eating warm s’mores?

So far, Skills Sunday has covered how to start a fire, how to shut off the water and power to the house (and when to do each), minor first aid, how to sharpen a knife and general situational awareness. One of the side effects of teaching Hard Skills to my kids is that I discovered that my wife didn’t know how to change a tire. Now she has a pit crew of two, but also knows how to do it herself. The next set of lessons will cover more complicated scenarios that require the compound usage of two or more Hard Skills.

Of course, Hard Skills need to be combined with Modern Skills such as credit monitoring, identity security, virus and malware protection for digital devices and how to balance a checkbook (or at least how to reconcile bills against the Wells Fargo app.) All of these Modern Skills, except the latter, are in response to relatively new challenges, ones that I never faced as a kid, and only really began to care about well into adulthood. But not passing Hard Skills down to my children, especially those learned through the “School of Hard Knocks” would be doing them an injustice.

Everybody has their own version of Hard Skills, but some haven’t passed them on because the Hard Skill seems outdated or no longer useful. That was definitely me; however, don’t let those skills go to the grave with you. Teach them to somebody, it doesn’t necessarily have to be your children who benefit from your knowledge. Learning on your own and from your own mistakes is one thing, but it can be better to learn from a mentor, and is always better to learn from somebody else’s mistakes. Besides, nobody becomes MacGyver without both Hard Skills and Modern Skills (and maybe setting just a few things on fire.)

Lud Fairchild brings decades of IT experience to the ABS Team and holds a myriad of certifications focused around collaboration.