Education, Engineering & Apprenticeships

Close to my heart is the subject of engineering education. Engineering of course covers rather a large spectrum of skills and sectors but for the purposes of this blog I wish to be fairly generalist.

The last 16 years of my life I have been persistently entwined with rotating equipment manufacture and distribution (as a headhunter), particularly in the compressed air industry. Many readers from outside this world may not be aware of the utility of air in manufacturing and general engineering but it’s uses are evidenced in almost every engineering site around the world.

Because I have been in and out of so many such establishments as well as been working closely with education (particularly for students of 16-24 years of age), I have recognised some huge failings which can be addressed in a fairly simple manner.

Companies are now struggling to recruit engineers with the requisite skills for their enterprises. This is not a new situation, in truth it has been a gradual reality over the last 25 years or so. My brother was one of the last people to do a full indentured apprenticeship in the late 80′s in electrical engineering. He moved out of engineering into commercial sales. So have many people.

We’re now faced with a limited stream of young engineers coming into the market and therefore old hands are propping up industry with insufficient new talent to replace them.

It’s a difficult one to fix overnight, in the past companies were blamed for not putting in the training schemes to develop new talent (because they feared they’d put their resources into a new recruit and once they were trained a competitor would poach them). This is still the case though now the additional pressure of tighter margins and increased competition has ensured that companies just don’t have the resources to spend on training new entrants.

As a headhunter, I could be selfish and say that’s a good thing as my services are needed to try to coax passive, well looked after staff from competitors to my clients. This will of course always be the case as companies always require the best and the best are always fought over (and you need to employ a mediator to stand a chance of attracting them).

My altruistic side therefore says we need to fix the problem a lot deeper into our socio-economic system.

We need to encourage youngsters and make them see how exciting, creative and diverse engineering is as a career. Not only that, if youngsters followed engineering in their education, they would have far more opportunities for their careers than in many subject areas (there are only so many Jonny Depp’s! – and I can talk authoritatively on this subject…).

Engineering is available in many forms and ingredients are available for students from a very young age. I believe it is up to parents and teachers to give youngsters experiences of making things, working with tools and starting places can be as simple as visiting the number of great museums and enterprise centres in every town, region and country.

Beyond this, there is another side to the situation and one that can be actioned immediately rather than waiting for youngsters to grow up. That is how employers look to modern apprenticeships to engage, train and develop potential talent.

Modern apprenticeships are different to how the 40+ age group remember them to be, but they are accessible, provide reasonable grant aid to support them and can be tailored with academic providers to the needs and requirements of individual businesses (within reason of course!). I would encourage business owners and managers to seriously look into this area. It will benefit your business in so many ways if you do it right and ultimately it will help to generate growth at little cost. Statistically, though 99% of the British economy is run by SME’s (small to medium enterprises), only 10% of these are engaged in running apprenticeships.

If time is precious and you as a business owner or manager cannot find the time to research, engage and establish apprenticeships, talk to someone who knows and can put the building blocks together for you – if you choose the right people it won’t break the bank, it’ll save you from the bank!

Due to this being such a topic of passion to me, I’ll bang on further about it and so please expect some more views for consideration in a short while….

Remember, these topics are meant to initiate conversation at home and in the office so have a break, talk with those integral to the topic and let’s all work to create more engineering jobs and thus regenerate the economy by making things.


Young Londoners to work for their benefits

Slave labour or genuine attempt to give young people work experience?

Yesterday it was announced by London Mayor Boris Johnson and Employment Minister Chris Grayling that under a new scheme, young Londoners who have not previously completed six months of paid employment must undertake 30 hours of work experience a week over a 13-week period, in a wide range of sectors including charities, social enterprises and voluntary organisations. In addition, they will undergo 10 hours of intensive job search training with DWP (Department for Work & Pensions) practitioners.

This scheme comes after the controversy over another scheme that obliged job-seekers to undertake work experience which led to accusations of labour exploitation by large high street retailers. A DWP spokesperson notes that this scheme is different to others (ie the one stated above) for specifically targeting “a very disadvantaged group, [who] have no experience of the world of work”.

My concern is that again we are missing the point and the reason people aren’t work fit is down to education and the lack of work preparation by teachers.

I have introduced this blog today in advance of me talking about the lack of engineers and technicians. In my next blog I will discuss how our economy is likely to keep shrinking as year on year UK companies are finding it ever harder to recruit quality engineers. The stats show that over half (58%) of companies wish to recruit over the next 12 months but there just aren’t the engineers available.

So rather than a reactive approach by Boris & Grayling in shoving young Londoners into voluntary service roles, why don’t the Government support the training of engineers and introduce the career paths within engineering to the academic syllabus at an early stage – maybe jobs can be filled and growth can be a real possibility !!! – isn’t this what the country needs ???

Let’s get properly into my passion (engineering) next time ……

Listening to Complainers Is Bad for Your Brain !!

It’s official!

Listening to nonstop negativity is bad for your brain – it actually impairs brain function!

Neuroscientists have learned how to measure brain activity when it’s faced with various stimuli, including a long gripe session. It appears that the brain works more like a muscle than we thought – If you’re pinned in a corner for too long listening to someone being negative, you’re more likely to behave that way as well.

Even worse – if you’re exposed to too much complaining, it will actually make you dumb!

Detailed research shows that exposure to just 30 minutes or more of negativity (including such material on TV) actually peels away neurons in the brains hippocampus, which is the part of the brain required for problem solving – in short, it turns your brain to mush!

From a psychology perspective, someone who is complaining in a negative manner about something (whether it is at work or in the home) is not looking for a solution to the problem they are whinging about, they simply want you to join in the indignity of the situation. So a conversation that starts with, “Isn’t it terrible?” is just an excuse for negative whinging and the participants brains are under attack – even if you’re just listening in passively. The problem is that if you try to change the behaviour of the miserable negative excuse for a human – you will likely become the target of the complaint!!

So how do we deal with this? We all come across such miserable people – sometimes more often than we like!

There are three suggestions:

  1. Get some distance! – ie run for it. This gives you ample reason for going to the shed to fix that problem you always wanted to fix, or to watch that prerecorded episode of ‘desperate housewives’ you always wanted to catch up on, or to just run out of the building screaming! You can blame your sudden actions on Professor this of that University and that you are protecting the very fibres of your being.
  2. Ask the complainer to fix the problem! – Now this may be the only obvious solution to prevent the complaint turning into a monster row by you just running from the room. We’ve said before though that this can backfire and you become the centre of the complaint! You may be lucky though and the complainer walks off huffily and maybe even tries to solve the problem!
  3. But by far the best idea is to put Shields Up! – When you’re trapped listening to Mr or Mrs Gripe, save your neurons by zoning out! We all do it from time to time. Just disappear off into your own world (sandy beaches, driving with the roof down, anything) just remember to nod and agree at various useful points of the tirade and sympathise to Gripey’s predicament.

So there we have it! Negativity is officially bad for your brain.

I’ve slanted these responses to the negative tirades witnessed in the average home but it’s a very real problem in the workplace. Many times, bosses and colleagues, end up in such pointless situations. Problem solving is of course a vital aspect of business, but we’re referring to negative whinging with no desire for problem solving. Sadly in this litigious world, you can’t just sack a whinger, but recognising a virus at least gives you ground to initiate the necessary changes – and changes need to be made – otherwise your workforce will all have mush for brains and who’s going to lead the ship then?

Back to the home however and if your actions get you into trouble “for not caring about the particular issue of the moment”, refer the whinger to this blog and tell them you’re only acting that way to save yourself – pretty darn watertight argument if you ask me!

I hope that makes a welcome change for this August Bank Holiday….Enjoy!

The Global Economy & importance of languages

I’m sure that everyone’s eyes are wide open to the reality of the global economy. Any individual or business should be fully cognisant of the skills and knowledge they need about the different cultures and markets that are now a part of the global economic infrastructure.

To truly embrace this new economic map, we need to level the playing field though. My business is all about creating efficiencies within companies and providing the correct level of expertise in the right roles. As a proud Brit, I am disheartened with the island mentality that still pervades a large percentage of individuals. I am delighted by the multicultural make-up of Great Britain and our island is all the better for it. I love the myriad of cultures which are apparent in our food and sewn into every layer of society. I do however dismay at our language capabilities. We are dependant on people speaking English and therefore miss the opportunity that multi-linguists have in gaining true understanding of cultural nuance.

The economy requires cross boundary respect and Europe and North America are now dependant and integral parts of the Middle-Eastern, Chinese, Indian, African, Russian, South American and Asia-Pacific economic infastructure. Yes it is vital there is a common business language everyone can utilise (and this has been long established as English) but the english speakers should be able to communicate in other tongues.

It comes down to education, education, education!

It is never too late to gain understanding and ability in languages and I believe children and adults should be encouraged to develop linguistic skills. Children should have three to four languages in their portfolio and adults should be given assistance by employers to gain at least basic language skills, particularly where their companies have export sales.

We’ll talk more about the international marketplace and how technologies and business ethics need to become synergous in forthcoming blogs but the importance of language skills is a basic foundation upon which the global economic infrastructure is to be developed.

Though I’ve talked from a business economic perspective in this blog, I would ask readers simply to think about how they can improve their lives by gaining such basic language skills. When you go on holiday, wouldn’t it be wonderful if you spoke to the shopkeeper or restaurateur in their own language – from experience I can tell you that the experience is far more rewarding and enjoyable let alone less intimidating for all parties.

As all my blogs are meant – this is really to just raise discussion. Talk over dinner with your family (better than silence!) and explore the beauty of language – it’s fun too!

Have fun while you learn – Viel Spaß beim lernen – Amusez-vous tout en apprenant – Diviértete mientras aprendes – Buon divertimento mentre si impara – 玩得開心,而你學習 – मज़े जब तुम सीख – Весело провести время, вы узнаете, – Bavte se zároveň se naučíte

Sorry I couldn’t translate to every language – have fun though! Catch you soon….


Digital Technology Skills

It may be clear to my wonderful readers that I’m not a specialist when it comes to digital technology – I’m trying – oh am I trying!!! But there’s a consideration to behold in such a simple admission.

Many of my fellow late 30′s upwards (I’m 40 in six months) will probably sympathise with me (if they’re honest) when I admit that my technical computer skills are adequate to orienteer the modern world but when I compare them to our young talent – I’m just woefully slow and persistently behind the times (if anything goes wrong – just ask a youngster!).

We now live in a world without secretaries and have to perform most of our administrative tasks by ourselves (particularly for SME business owners such as I). This is a good thing in many ways of course but has certainly limited the scope for adminstrative jobs and in many ways (as previously stated) has slowed down our productivity.

What is being missed however is the point of my blog today.

Of the pool of currently unemployed young talent (amounting to around 1 million at present in the UK) there could be a digital skills capacity worth up to £6.7bn to British Industry. Now that’s a lot of business being missed!

Digital skills are being considered on a par with new business development and customer acquisition in terms of skills that companies would like to acquire. A study states that 21% of growth over the next 3 years will come through digital channels and unsuprisingly 77% of businesses acknowledge that young people have digital skills in abundance (what the other 23% think is mind boggling – maybe they don’t know whether they’re on Earth or Mars !!).

So what should my young readers and parents of young talent read into this – well I don’t need to lead a horse to water now do I ? Young talent needs to be recognised, harnessed and managed. The economy is changing rapidly and worker skills are moving from one area to another. What our young talent lack in knowledge and experience, they can make up for in the utilisation of what they are good at. Remember when you’re next in an interview and they say – what experience do you have? – just reply with – the same amount as you had when you were my age!!! and then tell them why your digital skills and modern consumer experience is worth way more…

Watch out fellow oldies – the next generation are on their way!

Tough times never last, but tough people do ……

Health & Safety – Fee for Intervention

Slightly heavier topic than usual but rather important given the consequences and immediacy….

I’m sure most business owners are already aware that the Health & Safety cost recovery scheme is due to start in October – it is called Fee For Intervention (FFI) – link for guidance –

The proposed FFI hourly rate for 2012/13 is £124 and will be charged to businesses who break health and safety laws and where investigation and enforcement action is required.

This is of course fair and just as H&S is vital in the modern workplace (though the argument for the levels and bureaucracy therein can be tabled).

Though business is struggling to survive and the pressure on individuals to perform is at an all time high, it is vital for business owners and departmental heads to ensure they have ticked all the necessary boxes with regards H&S policy and implementation.

My advice would be for business leaders to outsource and bring in specialists from the field to monitor their H&S policies – even if it’s just to be on the safe side. Planning and preparation are king on such matters as the costs associated with FFI can and probably will be extremely high if oversights occur (and in many businesses it is far too easy to miss the less than obvious).

As with everything in life – follow the 7 P’s – prior preparation and planning prevent piss poor performance – excuse my language folks (but I didn’t invent the saying!!!)

Working on Saturdays!!!

First a big thank-you to the many kind remarks made by viewers of these blogs – I appreciate your sentiments and am pleased a few of my words are being positively received.

Rather than a statistic laden blog on this Saturday afternoon I thought a comment would be well received (I hope you don’t find it too preachy!).

As the global economy struggles to correct itself after (in my personal opinion) a large number of rather unscrupulous and greedy global bankers put us in this predicament, I find myself (and a large number of fellow workers) having to work much longer hours to achieve the same results (hence the title – working on Saturdays!!!).

We all listened to the creators of email and the web saying that technology would make communication easier and more efficient and thus business could be done in less time hence freeing up more leisure time – I think we all agree that now we are so bombarded with communication, everything works slower than before (it’s similar to the boffins of the 30′s/40′s saying that the advent of nuclear will make energy production cheap and reliable and the end user would get almost free electricity!!!).

My point is that the average worker can only respond to the actions and creations of others and though we all have materially richer lives, we are experiencing a worsening work/life balance. Stress levels are up and people are expected to work far longer hours without additional pay (and for some, far less pay).

In the noise of the media led economic gloom, we should all stand back and appreciate the vital things in life – our families, our friends and our health. This weekend the British Olympic medalists are leading a ‘Join in Local Sport’ campaign with a drive to get the nation healthy and find our next generation of talent. It’s a good opportunity to enjoy the rest of summer, enjoy being with friends and to getting a positive mental attitude for our lives. I would like to encourage everyone to bathe in the radiance of the post Olympic games goodwill and look to fair competition in work and play (ie no cheating and backstabbing) and to eradicate pointless greed and sloth.

The world will be a better and richer place if we look to achieve common goals, share, help and support each other. Fairness and honesty work well too. I can promise you that the utility of these simple ingredients in your lives creates a win/win environment – I believe there is no benefit in making an agreement with an individual or a business if a win/win result is unobtainable – and that’s the core to how I run all my personal and business affairs!

Work, Rest & Play – a perfect and balanced equation!

As Spock used to say – “Live long and prosper”.

You’re 18 – off to Uni or into work?

It’s ‘A’ Level results day and whilst everyone slaps each other on the back there’s maybe a more sobering consideration for your average 18 year old….

……Do I go to University and get saddled with up to £50k of debt which I’ll have to pay off for the rest of my life OR do I try to get into the workforce and develop myself vocationally!

Wowser – I actually feel sorry for them. When I went from school to University there were student grants and fees were paid for us. I still came out with a couple of grand of debt but that’s because i enjoyed myself during my ‘studies’. What’s more, upon completion, there were jobs and I could even afford to buy my first house at the age of 24 and start my way up the property ladder.

Young adults today haven’t got a hope where properties concerned and we all know the statistics for young unemployed. It’s a difficult decision therefore in deciding what an 18 (or 21/22) year old should do. Retirement is a long way off in the heads of the average aforementioned but how are they going to have a roof over their head (owned by yours truly) and resources to retire when they reach 65 (or will they have to be 70?!?).

Doom and gloom but this is reality for most. Self employment is one option but how are they going to get the skills, experience and knowledge demanded by potential clients?

We can provide a few answers for a select few but this is a large scale problem that the Government and education seem to be skirting.

The bottom line is that British (and global) businesses need to work hard to revitalise the economy and maybe a little more attention needs to be placed on supporting the creation and development of SME’s (and that’s internally as well as externally).

This is a mammoth topic but let’s get talking…..

Ps Positivity is STILL the answer

Too many staff !!

It may be suprising to hear but in spite of the current economic conditions, 1 in 3 companies are maintaining staff levels higher than they need to avoid losing skills, but will make redundancies if economic growth does not return soon. And this statistic is referring to private sector firms!

Skills are of course important to ensure customer satisfaction but firms don’t seem to realise that there are other options available to them. Too many business owners are holding on with their teeth and finger nails where a much more balanced and structured approach can be implemented.

The global economy has changed and there are further seismic changes yet to come. Old styles of thinking need to be refreshed…..

Nutrition in the workplace!

Suprise Suprise !! but another very useful academic paper has come out to state how effective a healthy workforce is!

Employees with unhealthy diets (I have to say this is undefined!) are two-thirds more likely to suffer loss of productivity…..

Regular exercisers are 50% more likely to suffer loss of productivity….

The stats go on and on but to be frank they don’t really define the differences between healthy and unhealthy etc. However, the point is that nutritious balanced diets and regular exercise improve productivity.

In tune with previous posts, why then don’t employers put a small amount of time into training and taking care of their employees? It’s a no brainer and with just a small amount of consideration, quite significant improvements can be made to productivity, efficiency, employee satisfaction and thus increases in profitability ….. time again for business owners to think!

Interim Managers to be taxed at source

On 16th August the government is to deliver approaches for consultation on proposals for taxing ‘controlling’ interim managers working for an organisation to be taxed at source for PAYE and NI Cont.

This will potentially be damaging and disruptive to the sector.

The reality is of course down to the wording of the legislation and efforts will be made to ‘circumvent’ the legislative burdens.

Is this another example of the nanny state and additional clauses to an already overly complicated tax system?

For consideration……

Financial struggles for employees

It’s good to see people enjoying the site – thanks for your attention and comments!

Though it’s something I’ve been banging on about for years (more specifically in terms of financial education early in academia) there is a new report out this morning that puts facts to the lack of financial knowledge and support British people are getting. Because people don’t know how to financial plan and structure their fiscal lives, they are putting themselves under unnecessary stress and strain. This stress is therefore having a major impact on their employers company’s performance.

The facts:

Three quarters (73%) of employees report that their organisation offers them no form of financial support or advice to help them better understand and manage their finances. The data highlights that, despite the rising pressure on employee living standards, with 59% of employees reporting some financial struggles, employers are missing a trick by failing to offer even basic financial education.
Among those workers who said that they were offered advice or support, the most common offerings were employee assistance programmes (13%); access to an independent financial adviser (7%); workshops on financial self-management (4%); online financial guidance (3%); access to a credit union (3%); and access to hardship loans (2%).

• 53% of employees reported that they are concerned about their financial plans for retirement, with one in five (20%) of private sector workers admitting to having no financial plans for retirement.
• 39% of workers report concerns about just about making ends meet (rising to 43% for women) and 38% are concerned about having enough money for day-to-day spending, with a further 27% concerned that they are not saving enough.
• 59% of employees report that they would be able to survive for less than six months if they were to lose their main source of income, with a quarter (23%) able to survive for less than a month before running into serious difficulties.
• 39% of those in employment report that concerns about how they are going to be able to pay for their summer holiday reduces their enjoyment of it and a further 24% reporting that, when they return to work, worries about how they are going to be able to pay for their summer vacation causes them stress.

I feel this is like a tradesman going to work without the right tools and those he has are all blunt! Companies and business leaders need to put some attention on this – productivity is a complex beast and a company won’t achieve efficiency if it doesn’t look after its most important assets – it’s employees.