Standards? We don't need no stinkin' standards!
All apologies to Treasure of the Sierra Madre.
Had a great time at the online discussion of standards in heritage ironwork hosted by the UK National Historic Ironwork Group .
Two presenters, one representing working blacksmiths and one representing conservation groups. It was a good debate and lots of common ground on what standards can and can't do, when and when not to use them, and how to build acceptance for them.
My takeaway was three key steps:
- You have to have an aspirational goal for ensuring competence and consistency in a self-regulated body.
- There has to be a clear and achievable pathway for someone wanting to aspire to that standard to follow. The path has to have clearly defined and achievable milestones and supports for the investment of time, energy and money required to follow the path.
- There has to be an acceptance of the standard and pathway by the stakeholders affected by the work.
I spent a long time involved in social work and the question of standards was hotly debated when the social work profession became an accreditated field. Arguments for and against, much storming, final acceptance. It is not easy to implement standards even if there is agreement that they are necessary.
One of the outcomes that I saw with Social Work was the introduction of new college programs and private career colleges introducing programs to specialize in areas. Addictions counsellor or settlement counsellor positions were created as new categories of unregulated practitioners. Agencies posted for these positions that paid less to do a sub-set of the work previously done by a social worker or social service worker. Can't say in my opinion that this was a desirable outcome.
For Blacksmiths I think the challenge is to create standards that are universal (at least within a governing region)but that are not exclusionary. I thought the NHIG did a great job of presenting two views on the issue and while they are only discussing the importance of accreditation in relation to heritage work I think it is a good discussion for other areas of practice as well.
What I would hate to see is the adoption of a standard that then created opportunity for undercutting the work of people invested in doing quality work because someone can do something at a low price by not meeting the standard.
Educating customers about the reasons for prices being what they are in custom ironwork is crucial. Public outreach could be a valuable tool for ABANA groups and affiliates to undertake in this regard. Local BIA's often produce newsletters in communities that have a preponderance of existing ironwork and often appreciate article submissions.
Perhaps if you live or work in an area that has community news it would be worth doing some outreach of your own to raise awareness of your business and to start educating people on what to expect from quality workmanship.