Our Attitude to Trades & Labour

Extending the conversation on the work ethic in Ghana further

Diamonds present us with an interesting paradox. They’re made of carbon, an element rated as the 6th most common in the universe. They’re made of the same element as graphite and soot, just physically different from them. Yet we attribute so much more value to diamonds than we do to the other allotropes, or physical forms of carbon, for a number of reasons. Yes, they have many valued uses, more than soot does, even though both are made of the same element. They’re exceptionally hard, but when you do succeed in cutting and polishing gem quality ones, they glitter in light, don’t get tarnished, or worn out with the passage of time and are very attractive. Those are some of the qualities which make gem diamonds great investment instruments. We call them priceless, because we have an attitude towards them. Diamonds are rare and gem quality diamonds are even more rare, which makes us feel secure in keeping the gems as investment instruments.

The value a society attaches to any class of objects, activities, or roles is appointed in part, by their usefulness to the society, but also, by the attitude which the society’s members cultivate towards them. We attach great value to cut and polished gem diamonds, because among other things, we believe they aren’t easily replaceable and we have an attitude of preference for what is valued and irreplaceable.

How We See Them

Sadly, we the people of Ghana have a deprecatory attitude towards the trades and labour. We esteem the professions which require many more years of formal education in tertiary institutions very highly, which isn’t a bad thing. However, we’re also openly disdainful of those roles which develop the skills of their practitioners through years of apprenticeship and performance, which attitude is altogether unnecessary. We approach persons who occupy office based, often clerical roles demurely, while also being careful to be gruff with, or even dismissive of skilled tradesmen and manual workers.

Both customers and Makola women (stall traders) in the open market bazaars beret and cheat the kayayei (porters) who assist them, yet the bazaars can’t function efficiently for the benefit of trader and customer, without intervention by kayayei. Our lack of respect for and in some cases, hostile attitude towards practitioners of the trades and providers of labour defines the low value we attach to their roles in our economy. The attitude conveys the society’s low expectations of those providers of service and encourages them to maintain low expectations of themselves.

This wasn’t always so, among the peoples of Ghana. In years past, long past, we called the tradesman a ŋaalɔ in Ga (pronounced with the nasal ñ; ñaalor). It translates literally to a shrewd, ingenious person. The lead ŋaalɔ in the community was often the blacksmith, or the goldsmith who forged tools, or intricate, fascinating artifacts out of earth, using fire. They were regarded as mystics and mothers would often rush to them with their hapless wards who had just suffered burns from trampling on hot charcoal, or tripping over the hot pot of soup. They’d bring their wards in their distress, because they believed that these workers of fire somehow knew how to numb the pain and ameliorate the effect of the burn on the victim’s flesh. Plus of course, if you needed a useful implement fashioned for you, the blacksmith was the one to go to. If you wanted a high value artefact to show off with, you went to the goldsmith. So we trusted them; we respected them; we honoured them. They were aware of the esteem we accorded them, carried themselves accordingly and taught their apprentices to do likewise and maintain decorum in their practice of the trades.

A medical doctor, engineer, lawyer, nurse, carpenter, blacksmith, or any other professional of good repute was described as kpanaku, in Ga; an acknowledgement of his exceptional expertise in his chosen vocation, in times past. Since we became monotheistic worshippers of formal education though, we’ve found it necessary to not only over rate the contribution of formal education institutions, but also importantly and with the fervour of new converts, to disparage vocations which require less formal instruction and more on the job training, as well as the unskilled labour force. This culture of denigration doesn’t spare teachers either.

Its no surprise that in this culture, practitioners of the trades and labour keep low performance goals and are offended, when we insist that they improve the quality of their work or service delivery. Our attitude conveys the clear message that their work is of little value to us and they are easily replaceable, unlike cut, polished gem diamonds.

Ways Out of this Value Pit

Nico van Staalduinen, I started by saying in my previous post, that I was going to extend the conversation you initiated in your LinkedIn post of March 31, 2017. Your article aired frustrations both your wife and you have experienced in employing fellow Ghanaians, or using Ghanaian service providers to further both business and private goals; frustrations which I said were very familiar. However, the comments I’ve made above relate to attitudes commonly held in Ghana; big picture matters which neither you nor I can affect immediately. So, I’ll remain true to my intention of contributing to the conversation you started, by suggesting some changes we can bring about through personal initiative.

You no doubt will have noticed that your fellow Ghanaians are on the whole, image conscious. We’re very concerned about the opinion of society about us. Its one of the reasons why we dress up elegantly to attend church service and also, at the drop of a hat. Its one of the reasons why we go to great lengths and beyond our means, to bury the same person we’d given little attention to while he, or she was alive and needed us. I believe we can leverage this sensitivity to public image for common advantage.

Let your Ghanaian employees or service providers know even more emphatically from the onset of your relationship, that you have great faith in their character, their willingness to listen attentively to you, to receive your remarks in good faith and reflectively and to meet the needs you articulate as best as they can. Don’t allow them to forget that those are important reasons why you gave them the job over their competitors. Remind them of these things as often as you have the opportunity to. Reward their honest efforts at adhering to these attributes with immediacy in mind, but in ways which make business sense.

With regard to a prospective employee, consider requiring him to provide guarantors prior to contract; persons whose opinions about the candidate are obviously important enough to him to affect his behaviour. Perhaps you should think again about hiring a prospect, if he can’t come up with say, 2 such guarantors you can readily reach out to. In years long past, he’d have been working for his father, or senior uncle and would be in dread of being scolded by them, if he slackened, or acted improperly to undermine their interest.

For service providers, or tradesmen, consider setting up a secure online referral service in association with other like-minded persons. A database of Better Business Practitioners might register individual service providers, or tradesmen by their Ghana Card number and other attributes. By way of illustration, the service might allow an online subscriber to:

  1. 1.   Record the user’s own identification details;
  2. 2.   Access an individual tradesman’s record;
  3. 3.   Rank the tradesman for specified attributes, like punctuality, quality of work, honesty, adherence to promises, etc;
  4. 4.   Record comments on the user’s overall experience in dealing with the tradesman;
  5. 5.   View rankings by other customers of the tradesman;
  6. 6.   View related rankings by the same customers (to identify and report predatory behaviour or trash talk by ill-willed users, or fake reviews).

A few thoughts … they’re not without risk, but neither is doing nothing devoid of risk. My contribution on our attitude to craftsmanship follows. ©

One thought on “Our Attitude to Trades & Labour”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s