A Day's Work Was Beginning in a NYA Carpentry Shop - 1938
Forty boys were making school furniture. Some were cutting lumber, some were working at the lathe, others at power saws. One boy was carefully shellacking a bookcase. We watched the foreman as he went from boy to boy, stopping here only a minute, and staying five minutes, perhaps, with the next young man.
"All these boys are working from mechanical drawings," he told us. "Three of them at a time are assigned to our drafting room, where the drawings are made for cabinets and chairs and tables or whatever we're working on.
"Every boy in this shop learns to read and understand plans. I spend a lot of time with them, explaining and helping them to learn, because they can't ever expect to earn their livings as carpenters or cabinet-makers if they can't read drawings."
Much training similar to this is done on the job. But NYA youth work only one-third of the usual working month. From the beginning of the out-of-school program, supervisors, State directors, and, in some cases, youth, themselves, have asked: "Why can't some way be worked out to provide additional training in this spare time?"
On many projects that we visited, boys and girls stay over-time or come back during their spare time to obtain more knowledge and additional practice in the work they are doing. On their own time boys in workshops frequently make furniture for their homes, and girls on sewing projects bring materials to make clothes for themselves and their families.
We saw one girl remodeling an older brother's overcoat into a winter coat for a small brother. The overcoat was out at the elbows and generally frayed. She was salvaging enough of the material for a small child's garment.
Supervisors encourage NYA youth to use the facilities of workrooms and assist them in making articles for their own use. In several sewing rooms and workshops we saw small libraries of books and bulletins on subjects related to the work the young people were doing.
The supervisors reported that this informative material circulated widely among the girls. Instruction on the job and help to individual youth who volunteer their own time have not provided sufficient off-the-job training to meet the needs of these young people who have had so little schooling.
Theirs are not the homes that have books and magazines. They have had little of the practical education that employment could have given them. They cannot afford even small fees for private instruction. There is no national NYA policy concerning this important phase of spare-time training.
NYA funds do not permit the hiring of enough additional personnel for related educational work. Each State has the responsibility of devising ways, and obtaining aid from local resources, for coordinated training opportunities for NYA youth.
The year since the spring of 1937 showed considerable growth of this part of the program. Sometimes NYA supervisors and foremen conduct classes; in a few instances, special NYA instructors are hired; WPA adult education teachers have conducted thousands of classes attended by NYA youth; public schools, especially vocational schools, have made available teachers, classrooms, and workrooms; State, county, and municipal governmental agencies, the Red Cross, churches, settlement houses, the YWCA and the YMCA, civic organizations, and individuals have helped; NYA advisory committees have worked to expand this whole field.
Training classes of hundreds of types are now conducted for NYA workers. Some are very informal. In one Kentucky mountain sewing room, the supervisor prepared a list of simple questions for discussion each day.
On the day we visited this workroom, she asked a group of 16 girls to name four outstanding events of the past year. These were the answers: "It sleeted," "My grandmother died," "NYA stopped" (the number on the project had been reduced), and "The flood."
No girl in the room knew who the Governor of the State was, although one hesitatingly volunteered: "Abraham Lincoln." On a boys' project in the same county, the supervisor had taught 14 to read and write.
These young men stayed after their working hours for a class in the ABC's. Supervisors of some NYA projects organize related training classes an extra hour daily or two or three times a week so that they may give the boys or girls additional information about the actual work they are doing.
For example, boys are building a rural schoolhouse; after their day's work the supervisor or foreman talks with the boys about the wood, concrete, brick, or other materials they are using, explains the care and use of hand tools and machines, teaches arithmetic by giving exercises in the correct filling out of bills of material, and discusses with the boys the construction methods employed in this building.
Sometimes vocational teachers from schools give extension courses at the project or businessmen from a local lumberyard, hardware store, plaining mill, or cement plant come in to demonstrate the proper use of their merchandise.
There is a definite tendency to widen the scope of NYA sewing rooms by related training activities in the whole homemaking field.
In Providence, Rhode Island, each girl has a three-hour course weekly in meal-planning and serving, cooking, handicrafts, the care of electric sewing machines, advanced dressmaking, health and personal hygiene, simple English, arithmetic, home decoration, and grooming and etiquette.
The girls attend these classes on their own time. At noon each day, a hot lunch is prepared by one group of girls under the direction of a WPA dietitian and served at a cost of ten cents to all the others who wish it.
Most of them stay for this meal. "Many of our youngsters," Mr. Peter E. Donnelly, the Rhode Island Youth Director, comments, "are of Italian and Portuguese descent, and some of them have expressed their appreciation of the opportunity to learn to prepare what they call American dishes because the young men who have captured their affections are not familiar with the types of food prepared in the foreign family."
Sponsors of work projects in some cases organize spare-time educational curricula for groups of NYA young people. In hospitals where NYA girls serve as nurse aides, staff physicians, nurses, dietitians, and laboratory technicians frequently conduct courses and discussion groups to supplement the training that the girls receive from their hospital duties.
When NYA girls work as library assistants, the regular library staff often gives added instruction during off-work time. We visited the Topeka, Kansas, high school, where seven NYA girls are assigned as helpers in the cafeteria, which serves several thousand students daily.
This cafeteria has modern and complete equipment. After their work hours, the girls receive instruction from the cafeteria director and her assistants in all phases of commercial restaurant work so that they may qualify for employment in hotels, restaurants, lunchrooms, and drug stores.
In New York, the Long Island State Park Commission supplies specialists in forestry and nursery work, painting, carpentry, and other construction trades for demonstration and discussion classes for NYA boys working in public parks.
Eight youth workers in the county surveyor's office in Central City, Nebraska, attend a weekly class in which they study the use of slide rules and levels, practical mathematics and surveying calculations, land measuring and the running of contour lines.
These examples could be multiplied hundreds of times from the NYA program in the different States. Some special NYA training programs have been set up for young people who want, and show the ability for, intensive training in particular types of work.
In Parkersburg, West Virginia, there was a shortage of automobile mechanics. NYA organized an automobile mechanics' training course, furnished the space, and obtained a WPA teacher.
Twenty boys enrolled. Eight were dropped after a short time because they did not show promise of development in this particular trade. The remaining twelve came every evening on their own time for instruction and practical work on cars. In eleven months they rebuilt 75 cars.
One evening they were so interested in the technique of automobile-door repair that they stayed until five o'clock in the morning. The automobile mechanics of local garages often came to this workshop in the evening and helped to instruct the boys.
At the conclusion of the training, eleven of the twelve found jobs in garages at $18 to $26 a week. A Dictaphone company in Rochester, New York, has agreed to give 30 NYA youth who have successfully passed an English-usage test three weeks of intensive training by providing instructors and Dictaphone machines.
In Cleveland, Ohio, a department store gives training to NYA boys and girls in elevator-operation, salesmanship, and the alteration and making of draperies and upholstery. NYA sponsored a waitress training course at the Civic Center in Salt Lake City, Utah.
The restaurant inspector for the City Health Department, the head of the local cooks' and waiters' union, a beautician, and other individuals who had pertinent information for the 30 girls enrolled, came in for talks; field trips were made to a local packing plant, a cash register company, and hotels and restaurants in the city, so that the girls might acquire first-hand knowledge of importance to them in getting and keeping jobs as waitresses.
The Maine Hotel Association has co-operated with NYA for the past two years in establishing an eight weeks' pre-employment training course for unemployed girls who wish work as waitresses during the busy summer hotel season but who do not know the essentials of ushering, table-setting, order-taking, the serving of various courses at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and party- and banquet-serving.
Hotels in several communities lend equipment and personnel. Girls who successfully complete the course are given certificates, and the Maine State Employment Service handles their placement in jobs. Last year more than 500 girls who had taken this training found summer work in hotels and restaurants.
Betty and Ernest K. Lindley, "Spare Time Put to Use," in A New Deal for Youth: The Story of the National Youth Administration, New York: The Viking Press, 1938, pp. 68-73.