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Learning, Sharing, and Teaching => Ask a Mustachian => Topic started by: pigpen on November 24, 2017, 08:22:12 AM

Title: Apprenticing to learn skills for greater self-reliance?
Post by: pigpen on November 24, 2017, 08:22:12 AM
Hello,

My wife and I (42 and 46 years old) are considering moving overseas (Central America?) in a couple of years. We should be FI in another year or so and have no mortgage on our house.

One thing I've considered doing in order to learn skills that will save us money (and increase our self-reliance) in the future is to do a series of jobs that build these skills -- e.g., work for a builder/contractor, car mechanic, carpenter, baker, etc. Since we'll be FI anyway, minimum wage (or nothing at all) would be acceptable. My pay would be in increased knowledge and future savings. My initial thought is that there would be people out there in these fields who would be willing to take me on even with minimal skills if I were offering to work for very little or nothing, but maybe not. I really have no idea.

Questions:

1. What skills have you found to be valuable that would be good candidates?
2. How would you present yourself to potential employers?
3. Has anyone here done anything like this and have advice to offer?

Thanks for your ideas.
Title: Re: Apprenticing to learn skills for greater self-reliance?
Post by: BiochemicalDJ on November 24, 2017, 08:58:35 AM
Depending on how good you are with 'Book Learning', check out your local library. They usually have the same textbooks that would be available for local apprenticeship auto mechanic and building programs available for borrowing, and depending on the age of your car, getting a textbook that's from exactly the same era would likely be easy (less demand) and with the information being just as valid.

That, coupled with YouTube, is an education into itself. Using only knowledge from the library, youtube, and the technician manual for my car (also library), I have saved myself thousands (literally thousands) of dollars in routine and preventative maintenance on my car. It also taught me enough to know when I should hand something over to a professional.

Fine Homebuilding is a great resource for many house related tasks, and Libraries typically have both the magazine and other Taunton Press published DVDs on the same subject.
Title: Re: Apprenticing to learn skills for greater self-reliance?
Post by: Syonyk on November 24, 2017, 10:14:03 PM
I don't think you'll have terribly much luck getting hired, even at minimum wage, for the purposes of "learning how to do stuff."  You might get a gofer job, but... eh.  Those suck.

Between YouTube, internet forums, and the library, you should be able to learn the basics for a lot, and then work out the details on some small hobby size projects.

1. What skills have you found to be valuable that would be good candidates?

Automotive work is huge for money savings.  You can do pretty much anything yourself with a small investment in tools (for a modern car, you need some way to read OBD-II, and I'm a fan of the Bluetooth + phone/tablet combo, since you can normally do live datalogging with those to identify issues when running under load), and for common-ish cars, there are forums filled with people who do their own work.

Not only does it save you money in terms of stuff you can do yourself, it saves you in that you know what you're talking about when you take it to a shop, and can decide for yourself what's worth it.  If I take a vehicle to a shop, it's not a case of "Um... it's doing something weird, can you fix it?"  I know what the issue is (or at least the symptoms and the likely fix), I probably know what part needs replacing, and I have a pretty good clue as to what the work involved is.  Sometimes, I'm happy to pay someone to deal with the problem in a nice warm shop - last winter, I had a shop do the vehicle speed sensor in my truck, and weld up some new exhaust pipe while I was in there.  It was that, or spend a long time cussing on my back in the snow.  I was happy to cut them a check.

The best way to get started here is to buy a rolling wreck and fix it up.  Your local junkyard may have a row of "Runs & drives" problem children out front, or you can look for sub-$1000 cars on Craiglist.  Get one, diagnose the problems, fix it up, drive it for a while, sell it.  Done properly, this can lead to a stream of free driving (I did that for a while post-college when I was flat broke, but had time on my hands).

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3. Has anyone here done anything like this and have advice to offer?

On the car front, I learned to do the work because it was either that or walk, back in college.  I'm often mistaken for a "car guy" - I'm really not, I just have owned a wide variety of vehicles over the years, have worked on pretty much every single one of them, often extensively, and have a good understanding of how they work and how things go wrong.  I don't care to count how many nights I was up late, with the glow of shop lamps, working on a car so I had at least one vehicle running to get to work the next day (and, no, at the time, I couldn't bike, because I had to make customer site visits, often hauling computers).

I fundamentally disagree with your "I want to get a job learning XYZ" approach.  I really think the right route is, "I want to learn XYZ - so I'm going to start doing XYZ."  I built myself an office in a Tuff-Shed a year and a half ago, and I knew very little of the skills that went into it.  Built it, learned as I went, and there are certainly some rough edges, but I learned as I went and could build a much, much nicer office out of a shed now.  Just dive in, buy some tools, and go for it.
Title: Re: Apprenticing to learn skills for greater self-reliance?
Post by: Imma on November 25, 2017, 05:10:46 AM
Generally, with positions as an apprentice, it's put in writing that you're planning to stay for an x amount of time (at least, that's what the building company I worked for did). Our apprentices would earn minimum wage at the start, then slowly earn more once they'd got more skilled and once they were fully qualified after two years, they'd stay on for 2 more years so they company would earn back their investment. Our apprentices were young boys, aged 16-18 who'd start as an apprentice, then worked as a junior and would either get a senior position in our company or elsewhere after some time.

I think other useful skills would be carpentry/building, baking/canning, and gardening/yard work, if you're really planning to live a self-reliant life in a non-first world country. I think electrician and plumbing skills would also be useful if you're planning to live in a more rural area.

One way of aquiring these skills is to take classes at a local community college. I am currently thinking of taking a painting class. I have learned to paint the inside of my house through trial and error, but I want to start to paint the the outside of our house as well. I haven't tried that yet because I've seen a lot of people mess up when they paint their own homes. When you have to call in the experts a few years later to repair all the damage from rot, that's 10 times more expensive than just having the house painted by a prof every few years. But the local community college now offers a Monday night class for 10 weeks in a row for about 250 and you learn everything about repairing damage, treating rot, etc. We live in a very rainy place so I think learning this skill properly, from an expert, will be a very good investment.
Title: Re: Apprenticing to learn skills for greater self-reliance?
Post by: rab-bit on November 25, 2017, 05:37:21 AM
I haven't done it myself, but something I've seen mentioned in these forums is volunteering with Habitat for Humanity to learn construction skills. Apparently they will teach you what you need to know and you get to help others in the process. Sounds like a win-win!
Title: Re: Apprenticing to learn skills for greater self-reliance?
Post by: Thegoblinchief on November 25, 2017, 06:43:17 AM
I think the best approach is to learn skills as you are faced with a project that needs them, rather than nebulously going out to learning some random shit. Think about students - the best self-motivated learners usually have a specific skill or field they're motivated by, NOT a more general acquisition of knowledge.

Also, one of the most truly useful skills (growing your own food) can only be learned to a very small degree through a teacher. It's very much a learn by doing, failing, talking with mentors through the process, failing some more, learning more, in this continuous feedback loop.

If you're at all interested in that, see if there are some good permaculture installations in the area of Central America you're looking at. Tropical/subtropical permaculture sites can be truly impressive to learn from.
Title: Re: Apprenticing to learn skills for greater self-reliance?
Post by: Sun Hat on November 25, 2017, 07:15:36 AM
I haven't done it myself, but something I've seen mentioned in these forums is volunteering with Habitat for Humanity to learn construction skills. Apparently they will teach you what you need to know and you get to help others in the process. Sounds like a win-win!

I hope that it's different elsewhere, but in Canada you have to pay $100/day to participate, and unskilled workers are given unskilled tasks like painting and cleaning. It's a pleasant day, but not a way to learn anything other than fundraising.
Title: Re: Apprenticing to learn skills for greater self-reliance?
Post by: GreenEggs on November 25, 2017, 09:02:07 AM
I have the skills you're thinking about.  It's very empowering to know how to work on machines, construct buildings, and grow food.

I'd recommend learning construction, but wait until Spring to get on a framing crew.  No reason to freeze for minimum wages.  In the meantime learn & practice the basics, by reading & using basic tools.  You'll need a tool belt and the basic hand tools to fill it anyway to get a job.  A framing hammer, speed square, utility knife, a 25' tape measure, a chalkline, etc.  Learn to drive nails, 16p are the big nails for framing, so practice with them.  If you have a circular saw, practice using it.  Read books about basic framing, so you won't be clueless when you begin.  It would be great if you can help with an entire build, from the ground up, so you'll understand how the home is attached to the foundation and learn all the way to cutting the tricky angles for the roof rafters.
Be prepared to be doing the heaviest lifting, since you're the new guy.  You will be amazed by how quickly you build strength.  Your grip will become amazing in a very short time.  You'll be grabbing large 2x10's with one hand, and will learn to walk around on the edges of floor joists without any fear. 

Gardening is something that you can learn on a part time DIY hobby scale.  The skills easily scale up to a full time job, with more land and bigger tools.  If you really enjoy it, sure you can go work on a farm, but the learning curve it's steep and the pace is much slower, since you're dealing with seasons.  Most larger farms are specialized, and only grow one or a few crops. 

It's great to have a general understanding of mechanical things, like vehicles.  Cars & trucks are composed of a number of major components, like the engine, transmission, brakes, etc.  It doesn't take too long to get a general knowledge of how they operate, but it does take a while to be good a diagnosing problems.  I started fiddling with my dirt bike and our lawn mowers as a teen, and later worked on some older cars.  From a DIY perspective it's best to work on "non critical" vehicles, while you're learning, so you aren't stranded when things don't work out as planned. LOL! 
If you want a job for learning avoid places that specialize in fixing certain components, like brakes.  You'll learn more from the places that work on everything.
Personally, I depend on Youtube a lot since there are so many different vehicles and components to deal with these days.  I usually watch a few, because some show "tricks" that others don't. 

Btw, I love Harbor Freight for affordable tools. 
Title: Re: Apprenticing to learn skills for greater self-reliance?
Post by: pigpen on November 25, 2017, 09:12:39 AM
Thanks, everyone. Great advice. For cars, I love the idea of buying a "rolling wreck" to practice on.

I do agree with the just-start-doing-things approach to learning, and I've started to put that into practice. My hesitation is with larger, more complex projects, especially those that involve load-bearing, structural components. I don't want my first-timer crappy job to be on my own house for obvious reasons. To be clear, I don't want to do a crappy job on anyone else's house either -- thus the desire to learn from pros.

GreenEggs -- I live in an area with a ton of new construction and rehab of old houses going on, so I'm sure there's no shortage of work and demand for labor. How hard do you think it would be for a former white-collar 46-year-old guy to get hired? I'm thinking that at least I'd be able to convince them pretty easily that I'm responsible and would do everything I committed to.
Title: Re: Apprenticing to learn skills for greater self-reliance?
Post by: Syonyk on November 25, 2017, 09:28:32 AM
Btw, I love Harbor Freight for affordable tools.

I have a love-hate relationship with Harbor Freight. :/  I'll buy stamped steel things there, but they're still crap, and don't last long if they have moving parts (even things like adjustable wrenches wear out, and the HF units wear out pretty fast if you're using them for a lot of torque).

But "Buy it at HF, and when you break it, you know you use it enough to justify an expensive one" is a pretty good strategy for a lot of stuff.
Title: Re: Apprenticing to learn skills for greater self-reliance?
Post by: Syonyk on November 25, 2017, 09:30:46 AM
How hard do you think it would be for a former white-collar 46-year-old guy to get hired? I'm thinking that at least I'd be able to convince them pretty easily that I'm responsible and would do everything I committed to.

My advice?  Start lifting.

You're at a serious disadvantage in terms of "hauling shit around" compared to 20-something men, and if you have spent the past 20 years sitting in chairs and not really doing much physical, you're going to be useless on a jobsite.  Start getting into good shape now, and you'll have a shot.  But if you look like you won't be able to haul a stack of 2x4s without getting winded, it's going to be a serious uphill climb to get a position.  An awful lot of companies are paid by the job, so the faster they get it done, the more they make.
Title: Re: Apprenticing to learn skills for greater self-reliance?
Post by: pigpen on November 25, 2017, 10:28:14 AM
Good point. I'm in good shape and do lift, but I'm also 5' 8" and don't LOOK at first glance like someone who's going to win any strength contests.
Title: Re: Apprenticing to learn skills for greater self-reliance?
Post by: Thegoblinchief on November 25, 2017, 11:30:49 AM
A potentially easier way in would be finding people who do a lot of side jobs. Usually solo or very small crews. A lot of it's off books stuff, so that may be out of your comfort level though.