Industry must work harder to up-skill its existing talent pool

secret engineerWhilst it’s important to attract the next generation, engineering firms have a blind-spot when it comes to up-skilling existing talent writes our anonymous blogger

I have written in the past regarding my concerns about what undergraduate engineers are being taught, this time I would like to address the other end of the spectrum. I vividly recall my redundancy from a position as Design Engineer a number of years ago, only one casualty of “restructuring” among many. The reason for my own dismissal was given as being that the company was going to use graduates to take a design from initial specification to a full set of detail drawings; a concept seemingly rather flawed to me both then and now. As, at the time, I didn’t have a degree that was me out.

Personally I have never bought into the general notion that a lack of formal qualification should bar you to any level within industry. There have been countless arguments about the status of the term “engineer”, and whether or not it should be tied in with holding a degree, but this is different. Formal qualifications and ability in pertinent disciplines (not necessarily always the same thing) are important but to be so focussed on degrees, or other qualifications for roles below that ceiling, is to cut industry off from a significant pool of talent .

However, if this resource is to be utilised a commitment by the company is required and a willingness to offer structured support and training is essential.  An added complication may be that any individual embraced by this process could have underlying reasons that have prevented them from achieving academically up to this point, with dyslexia in particular springing to mind. Thankfully a condition now generally recognised and with help made available to sufferers but, even so, it may have blighted someone’s experience of formal education.

 To be so focussed on degrees is to cut industry off from a significant pool of talent

The two extremes can be illustrated through one friend who runs a design office and has taken her qualifications all the way up to a Masters degree despite her dyslexia and another who, I fear, has always been held back by his. It is the latter who is the inspiration for this piece.

Sidney joined Sleepy Hollow Electronics part time to help out in the warehouse, primarily with the marshalling of build kits for the shop floor. As far as I am aware he has carried out these duties diligently and accurately, he is always pleasant to talk to, bright and has what is generally known as “a good attitude.” Look beyond this though, engage him in conversation, and you will find that he is a keen motorist who has carried out much of the work himself to modify his car in a number of significant ways.

The opportunity came to nurture and encourage his natural talent when a new position was created for a second Nurfing Machine Setter, a role that would probably not fill a complete week on its own but which had been declared as important to mitigate against an identified risk to the company.

Setting a Nurfing Machine is undoubtedly a skill, a skill that needs some engineering “feel”, but there are no complex calculations or other intricacies allied to any other form of “book learning.” Sydney therefore seemed ideal to me and I encouraged him to apply for the post. However, I am sure primarily due to the dismissive way he is viewed by his manager (possibly underscored by a lack of confidence due to his dyslexia), he did not. Equally his manager has not bothered to find out more about what his charge can offer and, sadly,  is so brittle that any other member of the senior team suggesting Sydney would no doubt count as a mark against him.

Thus the company failed to exploit a talent already available and Sydney was denied the first step along a path that I suspect would suit him very well. Sleepy Hollow Electronics ended up employing an experienced Setter who still needed training up on our machines and who spends a significant amount of time sat around bored and with nothing to do. Sydney remains part time on his previous duties. Multiple opportunities missed and, I suspect, no-one really happy with the outcome. A situation that can’t be good for anyone.

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