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When the Washing Machine Breaks

A couple of weeks ago, our washing machine broke.

A washing machine is an important appliance in our household. It’s used on an almost daily basis and, while using a coin laundry was a reasonable option way back in my college days, there’s no disputing the advantage of having access to a household appliance to meet the needs of a family of five.

So, what does one do when the washing machine breaks? You call a washing machine repairperson of course.

So, after attempting, with no luck, to secure the services of a limited number of local specialists, I was able to connect with a representative of the big company that actually built our washing machine to arrange a house call. It is worth noting that our washing machine (and dryer) was included with the purchase of our house from its previous owners. And it’s been a great washing machine; cleaning, rinsing and spinning our clothes on a daily basis for over eight years now. This is a washing machine that deserves some respect.

The serviceman who arrived at our house on a warm Saturday afternoon was a personable guy of 55 to 60 years with lots of experience. When it comes to washing machines, I could tell right away that this guy knew his stuff. As I led him to the deep, dark depths of our basement to show him the problem machine his first reaction was “wow, you don’t see many of these anymore!”

Now, I was a little taken back by this. After all, this is the machine that seemed pretty new when we bought our house and I suppose that I hadn’t really thought much about the advancement of washing machine technology in the last eight years. After all, our washing machine had been doing everything that was asked of it - perhaps in fear of being tossed to a washing machine graveyard for a newer model. Nonetheless, the problem was diagnosed, the necessary part was found and the work began - which gave me an opportunity to start a conversation and learn a bit more about the reality of washing machine repair in the year 2012.

For example, I was interested to learn that the serviceman wasn’t formally trained in washing machine repair. In fact, he learned about small engines from growing up on a farm and was able to transfer this general knowledge to his job with the company.

But, when I asked him if the business of washing machine repair has changed he was quick to answer yes. He told me that the new machines are based much more on computer chip technology that he has had to become familiar with. He also told me that he has to rely much more now on complicated manuals to keep up to speed with new technologies that continue to arise. He reminisced about “the good old days” when more formal one-on-one training on washing machine repair was provided by the company. In fact, he recalled that a team of servicemen had actually been sent to Toronto to receive a complete training session on this particular model when it was introduced way back in about the year 2000.

When the 20 minutes of work was done, I was provided with a bill for about $250.00. Do the math; time, labour costs, an irreplaceable old part or two, and travel costs - on a weekend. The machine is working fine, and I temporarily delayed another environmental discard. But, the truth is, I could have probably bought another brand new washing machine for less than twice the cost of the repair.

By now you may have realized that this isn’t actually a story about washing machines. It’s really about how structure drives behaviour (Edushift premise number three). Washing machines have changed and will continue to change. Who knows? Another ten years from now, there might very well be an app on my iPhone, or some other yet to be discovered technology (robots perhaps?), that will repair my washing machine. Or, maybe we won’t have washing machines at all. We’ll have self-cleaning clothes made of microbes. From the point of view of the washing machine serviceman, or the company that manufactures washing machines, this is about maximizing a return on the ability to change and evolve through creativity and innovation. 

Is there value anymore in providing top-down knowledge transfer on the specific details of washing machines that will become outdated the minute they leave the production floor? Evidently not. Self-learning through creative problem solving is the new reality. We need graduates that are comfortable and experienced in connecting overriding principles with new and specific situations.

A recent commentary by Ora Morison offers a sobering look at the reality of our changing workforce. The “middle skill” jobs are gone and they aren’t coming back. We know that we need to change. So let’s get on with the task of agreeing on what we want our students to receive and how we can get there.

I think our washing machine will be ok - for a while. Who will provide a house call to public education?

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