David Hataj was one of those shop kids. Relegated to classrooms at the end of long hallways, these students in some schools are offered technical college as a consolation prize, a second-best choice to four-year college. They live in the demeaning worlds of “justs” that diminish confidence: just technical college, just a mechanic, just a carpenter, just a mason.
Hataj’s journey from those hallways led to him becoming president and co-owner of Edgerton Gear. He recently was named the Blackhawk Technical College distinguished alumnus for 2018. At one point in his varied career, Hataj studied at Blackhawk to be a machinist.
Edgerton Gear is a precision machine shop that specializes in making smaller batches of standard, custom or reverse-engineered components.
The news release from Blackhawk Tech uses such phrases as “demonstrating the value of technical college education” and “testament to life-long learning” to describe Hataj. His legacy should include reclamation of the word “craftsman.”
Hataj has worked at Edgerton Gear for 25 years. He started there as a teen but left home to become a minister. “I did not want to be a machinist,” Hataj said. “I thought, ‘Why would I want to do that?”
He wasn’t good at school. After being a pastor for a while, he decided he didn’t want to be in charge of a church. People told him he needed to get a four-year degree. He went to the University of California, Irvine and received a degree in social science. It was a good fit: It taught him about the relationships between people, the ways cultures interact with each other and how change works. He later received a master’s degree in theology and a doctorate in transformational leadership from Bakke Graduate University. That offers another clue to who he is: Bakke focuses on developing “Christ-centered transformational leaders.”
When Hataj returned to Edgerton Gear, he brought with him his knowledge of relationships and culture, his faith and his memories of being what he calls a “shop kid.” About six years ago, Hataj realized young people were not entering the trades fast enough to replace the aging workforce. Working with Edgerton High School technical education and engineering teacher Joe Mink, Hataj created a 16-week curriculum called Craftsmen with Character. The course is 80 percent job shadowing, 20 percent classroom instruction. It’s designed to introduce students to modern manufacturing and to develop soft skills such as making eye contact, having a firm handshake and dressing and acting in a professional manner. Students discuss what character qualities they’ll need if they want to be skilled craftsmen or craftswomen.
He developed “The Craftsman’s Code,” rules that have become a part of Edgerton Gear’s culture. At its center, the code is about personal character, respecting yourself and your coworkers, and valuing the trades. “In the classroom, I’ll pick up a napkin and ask the students to list all the things that went into making it,” Hataj said. It begins with trees and lumberjacks. Lumberjacks need well-forged steel for the blades of their saws, both handheld and mechanical. Then consider gears in the machinery used in the field. Before they’ve even gotten out of the forest, students have named a half-dozen trades as crucial to manufacture of the napkin, Hataj said.
The course has helped young people who might be struggling with the traditional subjects see their skills as valuable, Mink said. “It gives them a sense of purpose,” Mink said. “It matches what they do well. It gives them a challenge. It gives them an outlet to be creative. It shows them how they can help people.”
While working at Edgerton Gear, each student is paired with a mentor, usually a journeyman machinist. They serve as models for the code, teach the basics and speak bluntly to students. Why were they late? Why aren’t they prepared? Hataj said the program could not be successful if his machinists weren’t willing to share their experience.
The Craftsmen with Character class is a “pre-internship” or pre-apprenticeship course for Edgerton Gear. From there, students can go on to the youth apprenticeship course developed by the state’s Department of Workforce Development. “Most of the youth apprenticeships have about a 50 percent dropout rate,” Hataj said. “We keep all of ours.” Here’s another benefit: At many similar companies, the average age for the tradespeople is somewhere in the mid-50s. At Edgerton Gear, the average age is in the mid-30s.
Why do all of this work to gain a handful of employees? It’s worth it, he said, because he ends up with the most talented tradesmen and women in the business. Hataj said it is a way of living out his faith every day. He doesn’t proselytize at work, but the golden rule and the inherent value of each individual is embedded in the Craftsman’s Code. “I also do it because I was one of those lost shop kids who wondered where I was going to go and what I was going to do,” Hataj said. “I want to show them how valuable and critical their work is.”
The Craftsman’s Code Edgerton Gear President David Hataj developed the Craftsman’s Code as part of his Craftsman with Character course. For more information, visit craftsmanwithcharacter.org.
The Craftsman’s Code
1. I AM NOT THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE.
The trades stand on the shoulders of those who have come before us, who learned and contributed to the body of knowledge. (The Machinery’s Handbook.) Great accomplishments and advancements have happened, and will happen, because of a commitment to the collective good of the trade. I am always respectful and appreciative of the past and present, recognizing I am part of the great fraternity of practitioners of my trade.
2. I DO NOT KNOW EVERYTHING, NOR NEARLY AS MUCH AS I THINK I DO.
I am always learning. I value and respect those who teach me. This includes even those who are learning for the first time, as they, too, can teach me new things. No one person can knoweverything, but collectively, our trade continues to grow in knowledge and skill.
3. THERE IS DIGNITY AND PURPOSE IN KNOWING MY TRADE.
There is nothing better in work than to engage my hands, head and heart.
• My head learns knowledge, but my hands test if it is true.
• My hands do the work, but my heart gives it meaning.
• My heart has passion, but my hands and head give it expression.
4. THE WORLD NEEDS ME.
The world as we know it would not function without my trade. From basic necessities to extravagant luxuries, my trade supports them all. Therefore, I will commit to giving my best efforts.
5. PAY IS A REWARD FOR MY EFFORTS, BUT NOT MY MAIN MOTIVATION.
I need money to live, but I do not live for the money. I do not believe in the lie that money will make me happy. Rather, my reward is in the journey—in making something of quality, that is right and that benefits the world, something that uses my creative talents.
6. EVERY PERSON HAS UNIQUE GIFTS AND TALENTS.
There is only one me. Although I am always learning, I bring a unique skill set and perspective to every job. It is my responsibility to discover my talents and to apply them in meaningful work.
This article was originally written by Catherine W. Idzerda at GazetteXtra on December 12, 2018. Photo by Angela Major.
Here is a video recorded by BGU faculty member Dr. Larry Peabody during a Theology of Work course where David Hataj was a guest speaker. Please watch the VIDEO.