A Lack of Skills or a Lack of Knowledge?

It may come as something of a surprise but I have not worked at Amalgamated Products Limited for the whole of my career and in fact my engineering expertise wanders far beyond the humble widget. Many moons ago I entered our profession as a Trainee Tea Boy and Pencil Sharpener in the design office of a company that I shall refer to as Dan Dare Aerospace.

It was a role that I took on with great enthusiasm, eventually fulfilling a boyhood dream in that something I designed now orbits this planet of ours. At this point I’d like to stress that any rumoursuggesting what I produced was so awful that it was fired into space so no-one should ever lay eyes on it again – are strictly untrue.

Why this trip down Memory Lane? I was recently discussing a particular incident at Dan Dare with a friend and it highlighted what I see as a shocking lack of forethought. When I joined the 25 odd strong office I was placed at a drawing board next to Old Pete. Old Pete was an amiable bloke whose specialty was jigs and fixtures. That’s all he did but he did them very well and very quickly, and most relevantly only he did them.

During the year before his retirement there were many jocular comments made and much looking forward to times being spent lazing about. So the only surprise when it got to a couple of weeks before his last day wasn’t that he was off, but rather that it was only then I was asked if I’d care to take over his role. I turned it down for various reasons but was astonished that obviously no-one had been shadowing him for some time beforehand to pick up his expertise.

Therefore when we waved an almost tearful (we are British after all) farewell to Pete we also waved farewell to a sizeable chunk of knowledge and experience. The D.O. manager should have addressed this issue long before the final day, but equally I have always wondered whether any of his section leaders had said anything? Engineers are woefully underrepresented in the most senior of positions and also in government, and there must be a reason for this.

My experience related above may illustrate any number of inherent causes. A lack of recognising and building on the skills held by those around us, a blind spot regarding the “bigger picture” or maybe the willingness to accept our lot without actively pushing on and taking the lead? Assuming we have a serious agenda in the wider world then we have to address any such shortfalls in skills and / or knowledge, so that ultimately we get into positions where we can influence the future to a much greater degree than at present.