Between blue and white collar, the technician in white overalls often occupies an ambiguous position. Better than most he knows—as in the following case—the technical quality of the company’s products; yet his recommendations go unlistened to or are torn up. His concern for the product is unlimited; yet it must make way for modern marketing techniques. His ambition is to rise in the company hierarchy; yet for that he delays getting married . . . cbf is 31, and is presently working on a study of the Food and Agricultural Organization.
Soon after leaving agricultural college I was offered a job as an instructor in a training school run by a large farm-machinery manufacturer. I took up the offer gladly, having decided, in common with many other students, that I wasn’t suited to practical farming, and wanting to make a career in one of the many industries connected with agriculture. The Company, a recently formed amalgam of a small British firm with a large North American one, ran the school principally to train personnel from its distributors, both in Britain and abroad, in the use and maintenance of its products. But it also gave free instruction to large numbers of people from all over the world who had no connection with the Company other than a need for knowledge of its equipment.
Most of these students were sponsored by their governments, or by organizations like the Colombo Plan, and they were usually government employees of one sort or another, perhaps working on some pilot scheme, or engaged as agricultural officers. Some of them took a very complete course lasting three months, but others came for shorter special courses in tropical agricultural machinery. Most of the British students stayed for two weeks. Total student throughput was about 2,000 a year, and there were about twenty instructors.
The school premises were an old army camp in some 300 acres of land. When I arrived the place was still a shambles of dreary huts amid bracken, brambles, and bare earth where the students had been practising with the machinery. But a development plan was soon in action: huts were knocked down in large numbers, and those left were gutted and lavishly laid out with offices, lecture rooms, machinery halls, film rooms,
One of the main characteristics of the original British firm was that its founder and head considered that he and his products had a messianic role to play in combating world hunger. His inventions were certainly revolutionary, and they were manufactured to a very high standard. Many people have said that to work for that firm was like being engaged in a crusade; and Ron Topping, under whom I trained, was one who felt this. An ex-RAF pilot who had been badly disfigured in an accident at the end of the war, he had joined the British firm before the amalgamation. Trainee instructors, like myself, who came under him soon took on the sense of purpose that he attached to the job, and they were also bound by the spell of his unlimited enthusiasm. His loyalty and sincerity were unbounded; his credo was accuracy and honesty; he was totally devoid of cynicism. He spent long periods coaching and questioning me on all manner of obscure detail in connection with the equipment. In my digs at night I spent much time typing out notes, reading instruction manuals, and memorizing the welter of data that an instructor needed to know. Inspired by him I threw myself wholeheartedly into the job, even though I was not dependent upon it: my mother’s death shortly before had made me financially independent, but my interest in the work was in no way diminished, for I considered it to be a job with a purpose.
After a few weeks I began to give an occasional lecture, and within three months I was given a course of my own. Most instructors trained for 5–6 months, but the work that I had done in my spare time had made my progress more rapid. I graduated into white overalls when I took my first course, for there was in the Company an ‘overall’ hierarchy. At the bottom of the scale were the brown overalls of the workers in the factory a few miles away and of the field-test department. These were followed by the plain white of the demonstration department; the blue of the students at the school and of the trainee instructors; and at the top of the scale were the white overalls with coloured cuffs and collar, and Company emblem on the breast pocket, of the qualified instructors.