The Skill of a Man’s Right Hand
October 1972

“The Skill of a Man’s Right Hand,” New Era, Oct. 1972, 10

The Skill of a Man’s Right Hand

Rick Baker, a returned missionary, has attended Brigham Young University and the University of Utah. He has dreams and aspirations for the future, and he is going to be a car mechanic. Rick, studentbody president at Utah Technical College, said:

“I was doing well enough in engineering at the university, but I was not satisfied with what I was doing. I found that working with my hands gave me the feeling of accomplishment that I was looking for. In choosing a vocation, I asked myself, ‘Rick, what are you really interested in?’ I love to work on my car; I love to read about engines and automobiles. Perhaps I should have recognized that it was not so much the engineering aspect of mechanical things that I enjoyed, but the actual feeling—being part of making an engine run, of having my hands in things. I enjoyed reading about men like A. J. Foyt and Mark Donahue, and yes, even Henry Ford. I knew that I could be good at doing things with automobiles because I was intensely interested in them. These are a few of the indicators that helped me decide to try a technical college.” Rick also commented that consulting with his bishop and stake president was of great value to him, along with seeking our Heavenly Father in making prayerful consideration of what career he should choose.

Rick took a good look at vocational training and asked: What are the entrance requirements? Who is best suited to technical training? Is it sensible and fulfilling? Can technical training provide me with a job that will financially support a family?

Entrance requirements

Although Rick had no problems with grades, he was interested in just what was required in order to enter a technical college. He found most technical and community colleges that provide vocational training have an open-door policy. This is usually defined as meaning that they will admit all persons whether or not they have completed high school.

Who is best suited for vocational training

National studies indicate that the average student in occupational programs is working part- or full-time and has graduated from high school. Most, especially the women, have taken more technical or occupational courses in high school in comparison with the overall population. Most students in vocational training have tended to do better than average in mathematics, above average in natural sciences, and lower than average in English and social sciences.

Although these figures are general and not always correct, they may offer some help in judging what kind of training you should pursue.

In choosing what kind of training you will pursue, it is perhaps a good idea to find those qualities in yourself that can best be amplified to help you be the most productive and happiest person you can be.

Financial opportunities

The opportunity for financial success was one thing that Rick Baker thought carefully about. The fact that people who are college trained make more money on the average than those who are not is an unimpeachable statistic; however, it is also a fact that good technically trained people can make better than average salaries, and well-trained people in technical areas do have some tremendous opportunities for self-employment. It seems that money can help fulfill many desires, but it can never replace the deep-down satisfaction of enjoyed accomplishment.

It is sensible and fulfilling

President George Q. Cannon said: “It seems to me that if parents were worth millions, they should never be content to let their children, boys and girls, grow up to manhood or to womanhood without teaching them to earn their own living at some trade or some manual or skilled labor. I say to my brethren, teach your children to use their brains, and when they have learned to use their brains, teach them the cunning and skill that can be taught to the right hand of man, by which all that is glorious which we see around us is produced. A good brain and the skill of man’s right hand can produce wonders. The nations who have thus developed themselves have made their mark in the history of the world; and to this characteristic in the nations who are so fortunate as to possess it may be traced the secret of their growth and prosperity. There is no reason why we should not be equal to the most favored in this respect.”

We find the same kind of wise counsel coming almost one hundred years later from Dr. Sidney P. Marland, Jr., U.S. Commissioner of Education: Dr. Marland has spoken out vigorously for a “new emphasis” in education—an emphasis on what he calls “career education.” Dr. Marland says:

“So what I would hope for is a new orientation of education—starting with the earliest grades and continuing through high school—that would expose the student to the range of career opportunities, help him narrow down the choices in terms of his own aptitude and interests, and provide him with education and training appropriate to his ambition. In many cases his training would certainly involve the manipulative skills commonly associated with vocational education. It would be strongly and relevantly undergirded by education in the traditional academic subjects.”

Dr. Marland’s suggestions sound like the counsel given by Brigham Young and other Church leaders. It has been traditional in many cultures—especially the Jewish and the early Puritan forefathers—to not only develop the mind in the academic subjects, but to also be proficient in performing a skill or a craft.

Vocational training broadens our perspectives and helps us to see people and problems from a much broader and wiser view. Brigham Young said that we must use our hands as well as our heads in accomplishing our tasks:

“Let me take twenty years to come in which to build cities, temples, tabernacles, halls, dwellings, etc., with my mental organization, and not put forth my hands, or use any manual labor, to perform any of this work, do you not perceive that my body would not have labored during all this period, and that my mind would have labored to excess, even to the overcoming of the tabernacle. Again, let me build house after house, hall after hall, temple after temple, etc., my mind would have something to rest upon, and my body being weary with labor, I could lie down, and both would rest together.”

Then he added: “Let the body work with the mind, and let them both labor fairly together, and with but few exceptions, you will have a strongminded, athletic individual, powerful both physically and mentally.”

The opportunities for technical and vocational education are growing tremendously. The departmentalized and technical nature of the labor market demands that people have the kind of training offered by technical colleges.

In choosing a career, it is wise to invest the whole man, to learn to do things with your hands. Even if your chosen work will not eventually require you to use manual skills, it will help give you a greater perspective in all the judgments that you make.

Illustrated by Richard Hull