by Steve Ferry, Chairman International Institute of Modern Butlers
Being a butler, according to one who worked for three decades at Buckingham Palace, is a lifelong learning experience. This is actually, in my view, true of any profession, because the day one ceases to be curious about improving systems, tools, and approaches, is the day one settles into a rut and ceases to be creative. Meaning not only that one’s skills no longer advance or improve, but one also falls into a rut in terms of creating one’s work, losing interest first in the position and then in life as a whole. In other words, the desire and push to train is like a canary in the coal mine: it is a small but important signal that worse is to come when its heart ceases to flutter.
Like a violinist who can spend a lifetime learning to play tens of thousands of pieces or composing an infinite variety of musical pieces, the butler/household manager touches many separate subjects, each of which could legitimately take a lifetime, or tens of years to master. Take the subject of libations, or just the world of wines alone; or the recognition and care of fine clothes, materials, and furnishings; or electronic equipment; or yachts and seafaring; or vehicles and chauffeuring. How about cooking? We have not even entered into the soft skills of dealing graciously with people no matter their mood, public relations, or even counseling, each of which would legitimately add to the value and effectiveness of a butler. Then there are laws and human resources management skills, and the list is just endless.
What to Do?
The simplest and usual way to continue one’s training is to read books, attend seminars, and these days, conduct online research. It is possible one can also attend schools, or take correspondence courses where time and money make it difficult to take off several weeks at a time to travel to and stay at a school.
Correspondence courses combine the books, Internet research, and school solutions, but obviously have a downside, in that there is no peer interaction, and the opportunity for face-to-face
interaction and guidance with a tutor or mentor is reduced. But here again, the Internet comes to the rescue in the form of emailed lessons receiving rapid response, home videos or sound recordings of exercises done, and videoconferences to sort out stubborn questions using Skype (no fee wherever one is in the world with trainers also on Skype).
The Institute has been running correspondence courses for a number of years now, with modules that address major elements of the butler/household manager profession. They obviously are just one brick in the road of improving skills, but they allow greater in-depth coverage of several subjects than is possible in schools; and the guidance and discipline that is often lacking from simply reading books. And they do represent a good solution at a time when budgets are stretched (modules can also be paid one or two at a time). For those who have difficulty studying effectively, a module exists at the front end of the course to discover the problem and provide tools to resolve them. Because if one thing is true, it is that one cannot increase one’s skills and knowledge if reading, retaining, and applying information is difficult. And for those wanting to enter the profession, the last module guides the student through the steps needed to find a position.
Courses exist for housekeepers as well as household managers/butlers, and the emphasis is on gaining new knowledge as well as putting it into practice, because we all know that makes perfect…which is where we all want to be.
International Institute of Modern Butlers