Marilyn Zapf

History of Design

Toolroom, Westley Engineering, Birmingham

Title of Dissertation: The Design of Skill – Training engineering craftsmen in Britain, 1964–1979

In 1974 Harry Braverman argued automation was deskilling the industrial workforce. He explained how developments in production technologies, like Numerical Control, replaced skilled jobs and degraded the labourer. This dissertation re-focuses such conversations about deskilling by examining a newly implemented British training scheme for engineering craftsmen in the 1960s and 1970s. An analysis of how training was materialised in the apprentice school and on the shop floor demonstrates the idea that skill itself was redesigned.

Established in 1964, the Engineering Industry Training Board created a standardised curriculum for all engineering apprentices. Researchers hired by the Board divided mental from manual knowledge and codified it into a series of manuals. Basic craft techniques were also taught through projects and test pieces, commonly taking the form of a complete set of hand tools. Craftsmen were taught how to use tools through making tools.

The Board’s strategy for preparing the workforce to cope with rapid developments in production technology challenged the widely publicised fear of deskilling. The new programme insisted on teaching a broader range of craft techniques to its trainees. However, the efforts of the Board were not the only, nor the most convincing counterpoint to the thesis of deskilling. This study joins previous critiques of Braverman to reveal the agency of craftsmen as co-producers of the idea of skill – renegotiating its relationship between craft and technology.

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BA, English, University of Georgia, USA, 2009; BFA, Jewelry and Metalworking, University of Georgia, USA, 2009


Founder and editor-in-chief, Unmaking Things: A Design History Studio, www.unmakingthings.com, History of Design, Royal College of Art, 2011–12; Student curator, 'Tradition Transformed: Contemporary Korean Ceramics', Victoria and Albert Museum, 2010–11; Research internship, recipient of the Center for Craft Creativity and Design's Windgate Museum Internship Award, Victoria and Albert Museum, 2010; Curatorial internship, 'Postmodernism: Style and Subversion 1970–1990', Victoria and Albert Museum, 2009


'Tradition Transformed Contemporary Korean Ceramics', Co-student curator, Lunchtime Lecture Series, Victoria and Albert Museum, 2011; 'Conceptual Jewellery', Gallery Talk, Postmodernism Friday Night Late, Victoria and Albert Museum, 2011