<![CDATA[George Edwards - Thoughts]]>Wed, 15 Oct 2014 05:59:00 -0700Weebly<![CDATA[The  Gender  Gap   in   Engineering:   Potential  Strategies   and   Pitfalls]]>Sun, 25 May 2014 13:19:59 GMThttp://www.georgededwards.co.uk/thoughts/the-gender-gap-in-engineering-potential-strategies-and-pitfallsThere is no doubt in anyone's mind, that the balance of males to females in engineering is frankly embarrassing. With the government's recent launch of the Your Life campaign,  aimed at addressing the statistic that over half of state schools don't have a single girls sitting A-Level physics, it is no surprise that this gender discrepancy is so endemic.  
In my talk at the Manufacturer Directors Conference last year, I talked about how this problem has now become self-perpetuating. With mainstream news filled with headlines shouting about how few women there are in engineering, it is unlikely that a girl considering a career in engineering, would interpret this as a positive, she would far more likely rethink as her decision would seem unusual and suggest there is an underlying reason why her peers are not following that path. This fits in very directly with my previous post on The Need for Engineering  Role Models, as there are very few strong female role models for these fields and often promoting weak role models for being women, rather than for the amazing work that they do. 
Here is an example, of what looks to me to be a somewhat thatcherite reminiscent  statutory women. The picture doesn't seem to give off the vibe of a woman at the top of her industry, in her dream job. She looks really rather bored if you ask me! However, having then read the story associated with this picture from Bloodhound SSC, it turns out to be a fantastic story about a student with a life long passion for high speed projects, chomping at the bit to become involved in Bloodhound and finally being accepted on a placement to work on her dream project. But seeing as most teenagers wouldn't click on the twitter link and would just take the view that a picture paints a thousand words, as is so often the case, it seems to be another wasted opportunity to inspire a generation. 

I was recently at MBDA, to see their award winning apprenticeship program.  The most remarkable part of it, was the gender take up, where they had more women than men! This turned out to be in no way as a result of a conscious decision to engineer their gender balance, but as a result of careful outreach, so  that then when the applications came in, they just selected based purely on merit, rather than gender. All of the schools outreach is done on a very local scale and is all done with a very clear goal, to try and encourage highly competent applicant to their apprenticeship program. They offer the sorts of programs you would expect, they offer work experience, schools visit and careers fairs. However, work experience placements are offered to schools in even numbers and they will only accept equal numbers of boys and girls, when they visit careers fairs, the stalls are attended by a mix of make and female apprentices, rather than all male managers as is so often the case - and so damaging. When they are attending talks, school visits or careers events, the apprentices always speak, again they try to ensure a mix of men and women, all apprentices are given public speaking coaching, to teach them how to effectively communicate their views and present a positive message. The results speak for themselves, MBDA are hugely over subscribed, with an equal mix of boys and girls and they provide enormous value to the company. 

The issue here which is so well dealt with is gender equality, which unfortunately is not exhibited in many of the schemes trying to achieve it. When courses, workshops and other opportunities are made available just for Women, I believe this to be fairly destructive. The Women in Engineering society, the huge emphasis by government to encourage girls at school into STEM etc. are all very one sided schemes and this would be fine if engineering had the necessary pipeline of students to fill their immediate places, but as we all know, this couldn't be further from the truth. We are certainly not in a position to discourage anyone from careers in technology and solely focusing on women in the exclusive way that it is sometimes done, is not beneficial. 

<![CDATA[Why  Does  It  Matter?  - why  are  engineering skills important?]]>Tue, 13 May 2014 15:51:18 GMThttp://www.georgededwards.co.uk/thoughts/why-does-it-matter-why-are-engineering-skills-important
What is the issue with loosing Britain's engineering skills. You may well be familiar with the governmental incentive for promoting both large and small companies in engineering.  Engineering represents 21% of the British GDP, which has in the past been as high as 34% (1990), so for the government, it represents a huge commercial opportunity for taxation, leading to more hospitals, schools or what ever else the taxpayers money is spent on. It also has the potential to put a huge dent in unemployment, which keeps the electorate happy, I may sound cynical, but there really isn't anything wrong with these motivations, but I want to have a look at the problem from a very different perspective. 

Below are two TED talks, from British inventors, who have made enormous impacts, to very different types of people, to change their lives for ever. I thoroughly recommend you watching them, if you haven't already. The first is Marc Koska, talking about how he invented a single use syringe, to stem the spread of HIV, due to the medical reuse of syringes. This invention by someone who wasn't formally educated in a technical manor, but had a pragmatic attitude when he went travelling as a teenager, has lead him to save the lives of millions of people.  The second is the much more celebrated Tim Burners-Lee, British inventor of the internet, who has played a role of similar significance to the discoverer of iron to the Iron Age. Burners-Lee talks about the power of information and the amazing things that are made possible by the innovative application of the vast array of information that is now available, with heart warming results. 

These two talks both show examples of stories where people have invented solutions of enormous ethical value almost serendipitously, through their experiences and an underlying optimism/pragmatism,  inspired by a basic grounding in technical possibility. For Burners-Lee, he was a world leading computer scientist/physicist at the time, but for Koska, he hadn't much experience at all. If these two people didn't have the mind set that was conducive to their "eureka" moment - to impose a cliché - the world would be unrecognisable, and millions of us wouldn't be alive to experience it. With the dwindling exposure of my generation, to functional understanding of their surroundings and the possibilities of technology, imagine the opportunities that are being lost, where people are in the right place at the right time,  but don't have the experience to capitalise on it? Think of the technological paradigm changes and the lives of the future.

I do not believe that morally, we cannot deprive humanity of the best possible chance of realising these innovations, especially given the scales that are possible with the developed population. Morally as well as economically and politically, we are obliged to promote technical subjects in education. 
<![CDATA[Use   your   apprenticeship   programs   to   gain   insight and   improve   best   practice   and   workplace   skill set]]>Tue, 06 May 2014 21:34:17 GMThttp://www.georgededwards.co.uk/thoughts/use-your-apprenticeship-programs-to-gain-insight-and-improve-best-practice-and-workplace-skill-setThe apprenticeship system has worked very successfully in the past and for some companies provides them with the bulk of their workforce, all of which are exceptionally loyal, motivated and have a custom set of skills tailored to your company.

However, at best, your apprenticeship program will only pass down 100% of its knowledge and will retain skills. It is more likely to pass down most of the skills and knowledge. Also, if your program is very tightly defined to provide apprentices with the skills they will need to work at your company, and then you are unable to employ them, you are leaving them in a situation where finding a job in a different company is difficult due to their specialised knowledge and lack of experience.

For various reasons, manufacturers tend to set-up in similar geographic areas. Your scheme may well be strongly enhanced by partnering with local companies, who are competing in very different areas. Apprentices from each company are recruited and then moved from company to company on say 3 month rotations, to learn the skills that that company specialises in, learning a wide range of skills from experts and providing new and potentially insights into processes and other working procedures. They then return to their chosen company for a longer period of time, to allow their new found skills and knowledge to percolate into your organisations and the skills to be put to use. If you are having a bad year and do not need to employ your apprentice, then they have contacts and skills, helping them to work with one of the other companies they trained in. Similarly, If you have a good year, then there may well be other apprentices who haven’t been offered jobs, who you have trained in the essential skills needed for your company.

The pool of local talent will be filled with people who have the necessary skills to perform the work you need, whether you directly trained them in the past, or they worked with one of your apprentices in another organisation.]]>
<![CDATA[Employers   can   use   necessary   redundancy   to improve   their   future   talent   pipeline]]>Tue, 06 May 2014 21:08:20 GMThttp://www.georgededwards.co.uk/thoughts/employers-can-use-necessary-redundancy-to-improve-their-future-talent-pipeline
For a whole multitude of reasons — usually commercial it is regrettably necessary for manufacturers to make people redundant if they are to remain competitive. Usually, most of the people made redundant will seek alternative employment along similar lines to their previous job. However, others see it as a good opportunity to pursue a radically different career path.

This is the mix when small teams are contracted or eliminated, however, due to the significance of manufacturing employers, they often represent a huge amount of the jobs in a specific area. So when BAE close the Portsmouth ship yard, and releases 1800 workers, similar skilled jobs are in something of a minority.These people will likely be forced to move elsewhere, or to change career, as Portsmouth cannot support this number of new jobs.

<![CDATA[The   need   for  role   models   in   british   engineering ]]>Tue, 06 May 2014 21:06:29 GMThttp://www.georgededwards.co.uk/thoughts/the-need-for-role-models-in-british-engineering
It is now widely accepted that the issues being faced by British industry due to the chronic lack of new students coming into the field are due to the perceptions and misconceptions of my generation.

A recent study by EngineeringUK found that 830,000 new engineers were needed by 2020, to fill the gap left by retiring engineers. To put this in perspective, the university system is currently producing around 23,000 students PA. — Our national finances are not the only worrying Deficit!I contributed to the ERA Foundations report into the reasons that students will not engage with manufacturing and engineering, this was carried out by a PR firm. They agreed that the issues people face with careers in engineering are widely due to misconceptions rather than fundamental issues with the jobs available. I had a long discussion with them about the role of engineers in society and the lack of clear high profile role models.

If you think about your car, or your mobile phone — items which require a huge amount of engineering — are you aware of any of the people involved in designing it, making it or even how it works? I think most people would only get as far as Steve JobsEngineers tend to be very modest and take a great deal of pleasure seeing their products and designs being useful in society, without needing to associate themselves with them. This causes people to disassociate engineering, which is a receptor for their conceptions of oily overall clad Victorian factories, with the exciting product which are fundamental to their everyday lives.

Furthermore, there is a bizarre feature of public perception, which has made the negativity surrounding engineering self-perpetuating. As people assume engineering to be profoundly “uncool”, when an engineer rises to prominence and features in the media, they are quickly promoted out of engineering. To me Sir James Dyson is a good example, he is an engineer through and through, whilst he is clearly a very successful business leader, his success has been down to his own innovation and continued technical advancement in his field. However, he is now often branded as an “entrepreneur”, as though he has been promoted out of “engineering”. It is media trends like these which have been hugely damaging to the industries perception.

Similarly, on a much smaller scale, personable, easily relate-able role models with in schools, are powerful forces to encourage students into taking engineering or D&T subjects. Within my own school, the statistics make it very clear, if you study the quality of A-Level candidates and the number of students taking DT at GCSE, when my own year took GCSE, there were 6 candidates, we all produced some really interesting and exciting projects and the following year, there were 23 candidates. This is evident throughout all subjects and schools, where minority subjects achieve unprecedented uptake, following social endorsement. This can certainly be enhanced, by providing opportunities to showcase exceptional work, amongst your peers. My school runs an annual exhibition and subscribes to a number of schemes recognising excellence, such as The Young Engineer for Britain competition and Crest Awards.

<![CDATA[We   Need   to   understand   the   british  skills   crisis]]>Tue, 06 May 2014 21:04:02 GMThttp://www.georgededwards.co.uk/thoughts/we-need-to-understand-the-british-skills-crisis
When I am troubleshooting a problem, I always revert back to a series of 3 steps. I find this a very useful process when I am engineering.

Firstly, Understand do you understand why what you are doing should work? Do you fully understand the theory behind what you want to do? Then, Do you Understand what is actually going on? What part of the system is failing and why?  What is it doing instead? Secondly, Re-design, propose a solution which gets around the issues discovered in the first step.Finally, Test, has your modification worked and does it perform as intended?

Now this is by no means ground breaking, however, it is a process which works for me and I think there are some serious benefits to applying it to the problem of the British skills crisis. Now my main argument is that we are failing at step 1.

We do not understand what is going on!Where are the greatest inefficiencies in the pipeline of talent, are there not enough motivated students going to university, are there not enough students graduating with a desire to enter engineering, how effective are apprenticeship programs? There are some statistics on this, however, they aren't comprehensive, or usefully assimilated.

There is a huge amount of effort that goes into providing students with information, experiences, recognition etc. for their involvement with engineering. I can certainly think of at least 30 different schemes aimed at school students trying to encourage them into engineering careers. But Does it work?

£10s of Millions are spend every year of school based outreach, but does it work? There is currently no comparable roach solid statistical analysis of the value of this outreach.The only scheme I can find which does seek to justify the spending and sponsorship it facilitates, is the Big Bang Science Fair, produced by EngineeringUK.

The Results of the 2014 Big Bang Science Fair — Are these statistics meaningful? Do they justify the cost?A 19% increase of students thinking that engineering “sounds attractive” is good, however, it certainly isn't a rigorous statistic, British companies are in crippling need of students getting into the correct further or vocational education programs. These events need to be stimulating students to choose technical exam courses and applying to engineering based university courses or apprenticeship programs. The Big Bang fair may well encourage this behaviour, but we have no idea to what extent and also how that measures up to the cost of the event.

All of the mainstream outreach programs need to be analysed numerically, to ascertain to what extent they actually meet their intended purpose and the number of extra students they place onto the engineering track. This then needs to be compared to their scalability and their cost. This report would very clearly outline where skills investments should be made and would be an enormously valuable way of extraction funding from Bluechip companies, Government, Brussels and other major funding bodies.

There is not time to waste with trial and error or to dither around with corporate lethargy, we need action, focused to the most efficient and effective areas.