Apprenticeships

What do you think are the reasons behind the overall decline in engineering apprenticeship starts in recent years? We are particularly interested in understanding more about supply and demand.

What do you think are the reasons behind the overall decline in engineering apprenticeship starts in recent years? We are particularly interested in understanding more about supply and demand.

Image. It persists even now. In fact, the paper[1] that asks these questions has images of spanner turning. It’s so easy to pick royalty free pictures that pop-up from search engines searches. These images show mechanics in blue overalls. Don’t get me wrong, this is not the least bit disrespectful of spanner turning.

A deep cultural memory persists. It has multiple elements. You could say, in part, industrialisation, still conjures up images of dark satanic mills contrasted with grand country homes of a class of business owners. Basically, dirty, and clean as two key words.

The Victorians did a great deal to both elevate engineering personalities, like Brunel[2], but to hold them as different or apart from the upper middle-class society that the fortunate aspired to join. Those who forged the prosperity of the age had to work hard to be accepted in “society”.

Today, it makes no difference that’s it’s American, popular comedies like “The Big Bang Theory[3]” entertain us immensely but pocket the “nerd” as eccentric, peculiar and unfathomable. I admit this is attractive to a proportion of young people but maybe such shows create exclusivity rather than opening people’s eyes to possibilities.

Having Government Ministers standing=up can calling for Britan to become a version of Silicon Valley doesn’t help. Immediately, that signal is heard from those in authority, young people switch “off”. To boot, the image conquered up is a whole generation out of date. We have the Windows 95 generation telling the iPhone generation what’s the best direction to get to the 2030s.

Here’s a proposition – you must see yourself as an “engineer” to become an engineer. That can be said of a whole myriad of different professions. Each with a common stereotype. Look at it the other way. If you cant’t see yourself as a person who can shape the future, it isn’t likely you will choose engineering.

My observation is that we need to get away from too many images of activities. In other words, this is an engineer at work. This is what they do. This is what they look like. What we need to address is the touchy-feely stuff. Let’s consider how young people feel about the world they have inherited from my generation.

A high level of motivation comes from the wish to make changes and the feeling that it’s possible to make changes. That the skills picked-up as an apprentice will help you shape the future. Engineering is part of making a better world.

[My history is that of an Engineering Industry Training Board (EITB) apprentice who started work in 1976.]


[1] https://www.engineeringuk.com/media/318763/fit_for_the_future_knight_and_willetts_apprenticeship_inquiry_euk_call_for_evidence.pdf

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isambard_Kingdom_Brunel

[3] https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0898266/

Still learning leasons

Mobility has transformed society. By land, by sea or by air the world we see around us has been shaped by the technology that has enabled us to move people, goods, and services. Aviation, the youngest means of everyday transport, has radically transformed society in just over a century.

Demand for air transport is linked to economic development and at the same time air transport is a driver in an economy. Nearly all States work to encourage the growth of aviation in one form or another. All States acknowledge the need for the stringent regulation of activities in their airspace.

4.5 billion people moved around the globe by air. Well, that is until the COVID pandemic struck[1]. Even so, there’s an expectation that global air traffic levels will start to exceed those of 2019 when we start to get into 2025 and beyond.

One quote, among many, sums up the reason for the safety regulation of flying, and it is:

“Aviation in itself is not inherently dangerous. But to an even greater degree than the sea, it is terribly unforgiving of any carelessness, incapacity or neglect.”

[Captain A. G. Lamplugh, British Aviation Insurance Group, London. 1930.]

Here the emphasis is on aviation safety and security as the top considerations. In fact, ask an airline CEO of the number one priority of their business and that’s likely how they will answer, if on the record. Much of that open expression will be sincere but additionally it’s linked to the need to maintain public confidence in the air transport system.

We need to remember that aviation had a shaky start. Those magnificent men, and women in their flying machines were adventurous spirits and born risk takers. That is calculated risk takers. Few of them lasted long unless they mastered both the skill and science of flying.

In the post war era, improvements in aviation safety have been dramatic. As the number of hours flown and the complexity of aircraft has grown so has the level of flight safety. Aviation has been an uncompromising learning machine. A partnership between States and industry.

Sadly, in part, the framework of international regulation we may now take for granted has been developed because of lessons learned from accidents and incidents, many of which were fatal.


[1] https://www.icao.int/sustainability/Documents/COVID-19/ICAO_Coronavirus_Econ_Impact.pdf

Artificial Intelligence

In an on-line event, I listened to Professor Dr. Saskia Nagel of Aachen University[1] speak on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Ethics last evening. It’s a topic that arouses a lot of interest amongst engineers and just about every other profession.

The talk was a round robin of the subject touching on points of debate that are far from resolved. Her talk provided an overview of key present ethical questions spanning the development and uses of “AI” technologies. It’s interesting that even the title of the talk was questionable. The debate rages as to what is encompassed in the commonly used term “AI”.

Scientific and technological advances have consequences that are best anticipated, in so much as we can. Far too often, as in the case of mobile phones, a capability has been launched onto humanity because of its great utility without much thinking through of potential impacts.

In a way, our collective mindset remains stone age. We do things because we can rather than asking the question as to whether we should or not. The Australian movie and musical Muriel’s Wedding captures this nicely[2]. “You Can’t Stop Progress” was the election billboard slogan of politician Bill Heslop in the story. The same theme might be posted as “Growth, growth, growth” in the current economic climate.

To an extent that’s what’s happening in the more audacious parts of aviation innovation. Different ways in which AI technologies can be used to facilitate autonomous flight are being explored and promoted. There’s no doubt such technology can process massive amounts of information in no time at all when compared with you or me. That advantage is only one side of the story.

Investigating questions of autonomy quickly leads to discussions on accountability and responsibility. In flight, there’s inevitably complex interactions between people and machines. On the normally rare occasions when this results in harm it’s essential to be able to say what or who was responsible.

It goes further than that too. Even to persuade a passenger to ride on an autonomous vehicle a good deal of confidence must be built-up. A fear of flying is often counteracted by arguments based on the long history of safe flight and the trustworthiness of those operating a transport system.

A question is: how do we trust something we don’t understand? Not a new question. Few members of the flying public may understand how a modern transport aircraft works. We put our faith in independent knowledgeable professionals asking difficult questions of the designers and builders of aircraft. We put our faith in rigorous controls and processes. If the internal workings of a complex machine are not explainable to those independent professionals, we have a problem. Thus, another key topic of explainability.

This is a fascinating research area. I’ve no doubt there are workable solutions, but we are some ways from having them to hand at the moment. Applied ethics are part of the toolbox needed.


[1] https://www.ethics.rwth-aachen.de/cms/ETHICS/Das-Lehr-und-Forschungsgebiet/Team/~fcnwz/Saskia-Nagel/

[2] https://fb.watch/h-uoLokeaY/

Poor law making

If you thought the Truss era was an aberration, and that the UK’s Conservative Party had learned a lesson, then please think again. Wheels set in motion by the ideologue Jacob Rees-Mogg MP are still spinning.

The Retained European Union Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill is trundling its way through the UK Parliament. The Government Bill will next be prepared for its 3rd reading in the House of Commons[1]. The Conservative Government has brought forward this Bill to revoke, reform or revise all the remaining law in the UK that was formerly derived from the UK’s membership of the EU. This turns on its head the normal approach to changing UK legislation. Revocation is automatic unless there’s an intervention by a Minister.

UK civil aviation depends on several thousand pages of legislation derived from EU law[2]. Much of this law was created with considerable contributions from the UK. There’s hardly any if any advocates for automatic revocation of current aviation legislation. Even the thought of this action sends a shiver down the spin of aviation professionals. Generations of them have worked to harmonise rules and regulations to ensure that this most international of industries works efficiently.

Unless amended, the Government’s EU Retained Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill[3] could turn out to be an absolute disaster. Even those who have an irrational wish to eliminate any and every past, present, or future link to Europe must come up with a practical alternative and do this in an incredibly short time. Without a consistent, stable, and effective framework civil aviation in the UK will grind to a halt. Again, even those who have an unsound need to change for change’s sake will be hitting a vital industry hard, as it is only just getting back on its feet after the COVID pandemic and now setting out to meet tough environmental standards.

It’s going to be interesting to see what happens when this poor Bill reaches the House of Lords. Once again, the country will be relying on the upper house to add some common sense to this draft law.  

POST 1: The 3rd reading debate makes it clear that the Government is unsure which laws are covered by the Bill. If the Ministers responsible for this legislation do not themselves know its extent, how can anyone expect civil servants working on this legislation to know the full extent of change? A most strange state of affairs Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill (Third si – Hansard – UK Parliament

POST 2: Retained EU law lays down rules for the airworthiness and environmental certification of aircraft and related products, parts and appliances, as well as for the certification of design and production organisations in the UK Commission Regulation (EU) No 748/2012 of 3 August 2012 laying down implementing rules for the airworthiness and environmental certification of aircraft and related products, parts and appliances, as well as for the certification of design and production organisations (recast) (Text with EEA relevance) (legislation.gov.uk)


[1] https://bills.parliament.uk/bills/3340

[2] https://www.eiag.org.uk/paper/future-retained-eu-law/

[3] https://www.gov.uk/government/news/the-retained-eu-law-revocation-and-reform-bill-2022

Where’s the common sense?

It’s two whole years since the end of the UK’s Brexit transitional period. That’s since the day when the UK fully withdrew from the European Union (EU). Have we seen any, I mean any, Brexit benefits from the day of the Brexit referendum? The sad truth is – No. We are worse-off. Investments haven’t happened, political turmoil persists and bureaucratic barriers have grown.

Certainly, it’s right to say that British politicians have been busy. They have found lots of targets to blame for this continuing underperformance. You name it; Remainers, young people, environmentalists, protesters, strikers, human rights, overseas aid, COVID, flu, global economic downturn, energy prices, war in Europe, Biden’s administration, China, France, Germany, hot weather, cold weather, the list goes on and on and on. The Brexiter’s blame list is an exceptionally long one. Add to this the fact that Boris Johnson comes in for caustic blame. Often strongest from the people who trumpeted his ascendancy to power in 2019.

Although we should not dwell too much on the past, it’s as well to not let what has happened in this last year be swept under the carpet. Remember 2022, after 44 days, Conservative Liz Truss resigned as British Prime Minister (PM). She was the first choice of the members of the political party most entrenched in Brexit thinking. This extraordinary farce made the country look it was run by like a bunch of incompetent fools, of ill-disciplined fanatics, of preposterous comics.

The blatant dishonesty behind Brexit can not be denied. A recent example was the Government statement on having not attained a promised boost from new trade agreements. A ridiculous political line about not signing deals until they are right for the country is a brazen smoke screen to cover-up a significant lack of achievement[1].

We need some serious common sense injected into our politics. The UK is not going away. The EU is not going away. Both share an immense common interest. Both are faced with similar challenges and threats. Both share the same values.

Brexit has added to costs, adding to inflation, labour shortage and under performance. Most people[2] now accept this analysis and want to see serious change[3]. The more both Conservatives and the Labour Party cling on to the mythology of Brexit, the more damage will be done. Keir Starmer has confirmed that the Labour Party will not seek for Britain to re‑join the EU. What a reckless folly from a would be PM.

POST: referendum – latest news, breaking stories and comment – The Independent


[1] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-63808657

[2] https://www.statista.com/statistics/987347/brexit-opinion-poll/

[3] https://yougov.co.uk/topics/politics/explore/issue/European_Union

Omnishambles

Ten years ago, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) Word of the Year was a word that is as usable as ever. It wasn’t brought to the fore by social media. At that time, social media hadn’t bitten such a big chunk out of our attention time. We even had enough time to sit in front of the box on an evening. That said, the box hasn’t faded into the background entirely. The massive screens displayed in electrical stores remain a standard part of a typical living room.

“The Thick of It[1]” ran for four series and captured the insanity of Government spin-doctoring and fanatical incompetence. Unapologetically self-indulgent Ministers and their aides scuttled around reacting to every small vibration coming from the media. This was masterful fiction but it’s closeness to reality is the story of 2022.

In 2012, the media political arena adopted “Omnishambles” as shorthand for chaotic behaviour on a large scale. Although it started life as a way of describing the Labour Party’s muddles and confusions before 2010, it has a universal applicability. Westminster can be a whirlpool of volte-faces, embarrassments and unfathomable twists and turns. 2022 ends with none of this diminished.

So, what have we to look forward to in 2023? This winter of discontent[2] is mostly likely to escalate. The impact of inflation and energy bills are like an erupting volcano. A few minor earthquakes, then an explosive plum and finally the top gets blown off the mountain.

Brexit and the pandemic have left people feeling exhausted. So, to see their standard of living diminish as this Conservative Government shamelessly wobbles on regardless, then this becomes the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

The Prime Minister may try to mine what popularity there is in the public mind, but this is not the time when a new Margaret Thatcher[3] will step forward. This is where simple analogies with the past quickly unravel. In this case the Conservatives own the problems. There’s no denying their responsibility for the last 12-years.

To restore the hope, that things can improve, a new formula is needed. People are not looking for perfection but a convincing vison, some basic honesty, and robust resolve. 


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_The_Thick_of_It_episodes

[2] https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p06yc8k4

[3] https://www.businessinsider.com/thatcher-and-the-winter-of-discontent-2013-4?r=US&IR=T

Cold Data

It’s cold. The numbers on the energy meter keep clocking up and getting to new highs. Compared with last year my energy bill is going to be horrendous. Add to that inflation on just about everything else and it’s hard work to make it a winter of good cheer. Smart energy meters are useful in that they give real time feedback on household energy use. I’m not sure they have an impact on behaviour, but meters do forewarn of astronomical bills to come. Comparing Christmas past, present and Christmas future gave author Charles Dickens an idea.

Looking at media reports this year’s Christmas looks more Dickensian than ever. That is without the transformation that Mr Scrooge[1] underwent. It’s certain the attitudes of Ministers resemble that of Mr Scrooge. Protect the moneymen in their obsession with money and penalise the ordinary working soul. This story is being played out up and down Britain.

The fact that it’s not seen as strange to be talking of freeing up the City of Lonon from regulation at the same time as restricting and controlling working men and women is a bad indication of these difficult times. The Prime Minister may look like a busy light-hearted mouse, but he has a heart as cold as the winter mists.

As the Government has said it wants to collect data from our smart meters, I wonder what can possibly flow from that intrusion into our privacy. In so far as it might guide national policy and reminds Ministers of the benefits of insulating homes, data collection could be helpful. However, there’s a dangerous precedent set when Governments collect every bit of data homes produce.

There’s a creeping tendance to always ask for more data. Mr Scrooge can then compile a leger on the comings and goings of every citizen. Don’t believe for one moment that GDPR will protect our data. Personal information such as names, addresses and bank details are not stored on a smart energy meter. However, computing capability being as powerful as it is, relating energy data to its point of collection and thus bill payer isn’t so difficult to do.

To me, this recalls the saying about knowing the cost of everything but the value of nothing[2].


[1] Ebenezer Scrooge, character in the story A Christmas Carol (1843) by Charles Dickens

[2] Oscar Wilde’s famous definition — someone who “knows the price of everything and the value of nothing”

Tramline

The time for change is now. It’s not much more than a year before a UK General Election. Sadly, we are seeing only reactive thinking from the two largest British political parties. Both bounce off each other like a game of ping pong. There’s a conversation going on across the country about the need for change, but the Conservatives and Labour Party are stuck on a tram line.

“It’s the economy, stupid.[1]” I remember reading James Carville’s book about Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign. It’s about the great political motivator of how people feel about the amount of money they have in their pockets. Probably shouldn’t put it like that anymore since we tap every purchase with a card and local bank branches are closing. Cash is no longer king.

As an example of the terrible economic damage that Brexit is doing, we need only look at trade figures between the UK and Germany[2]. There’s been a huge fall in trade between the UK and Germany during the first period of the post-Brexit trading relationship. So far, the impact of the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) has been negative.

Knowing the facts, the Conservatives and Labour Party still parrot the nonsense that they know how to make Brexit work. It’s a peculiar dance around an economic corpse. Where both political parties point fingers at each other for ruining the dance.

Except for trade specialists, the British media are being inarticulate about the failings of Brexit. It’s as if there’s a distinct fear of being called out and ostracised. Many of those who should be speaking out are sitting on their hands. Maybe this is the dull precursor to change since we don’t know what the public mood will be in a year’s time.

Brexit does not negate the facts of geographic proximity, globalisation and decades of close economic partnership. Close European links will continue and need to be nurtured. Politicians who have wilfully attempted to destroy the bridges built between the UK and the EU belong to the past.

A Government that continues to endanger more than just back pockets and living standards shouldn’t win another term of office – should they? Will people vote for candidates who plan to improve our dismal economic outlook? Those who will tell the truth about Brexit. Today, neither the Conservatives nor Labour Party are telling the truth.

POST: What can we know about the cost of Brexit so far? | Centre for European Reform (cer.eu)


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/It%27s_the_economy,_stupid

[2] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/56347096

Walk the line

Aeronautical products must be certified before entering transport services. Is certification too complex? Is it too expensive and thus a barrier to innovation? Hasn’t deregulation delivered successes since the 1970s? More choice and more aviation services across the globe.

These are perfectly reasonable questions. They are asked frequently. Especially during economically tough times and when new products are pushing to get operational. In answering, it’s all too often a butting of heads that results. Industry puts its point. Authorities put theirs. Commercial reality and public interests settle at some point which leaves the debate on the table for next time.

Walking that line between satisfying the demand of the new and protecting the good safety performance of the aviation system is a perpetual challenge. It goes without saying that we all know what happens when the line is crossed. Textbooks will continue to chew over stories like that of the Boeing 737 MAX development. In fact, the stories of safety lapses are an important part of the learning process that led to aviation’s admirable safety record.

The counter argument is that we are in a new situation and that technology has significantly changed. This argument of the “new” is not new. Every major new step encountered significant hurdles to overcome. Pick-up the story of the development of the Boeing 747[1][2] and it’s a real dramatic page turner. However, the problem remains the same but as much innovative thinking needs to go into certification as the products that are certified. There’s a reason that’s difficult and its called legacy.

On the public’s behalf, how big is the risk appetite of the certification authorities? At the same time how far do the innovators want to push the envelope knowing that liability rest on their shoulders?

What I find inadequate is that when reading reports like “Funding Growth in Aerospace[3]” I find little, or no consideration is given to funding regulatory improvement. Arguments are for product development and little else. It’s as if certification activities are to be blamed for holding up innovations introduction to service but forget any thought of increasing the resources for certification activities.

It’s short-sighted. Believe it or not there is money to be made in testing and validation. There’s money to be made in education and training. These go hand in hand with efforts to exploit innovative products.


[1] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-37231980

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/sep/07/joe-sutter-obituary

[3] https://www.ati.org.uk/publications/

Betrayal

One word that sums up this UK Conservative Government is “betrayal”. Certainly, that’s what British farming is thinking as people hear a former Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs rubbish a deal that he sold to the UK Parliament. The post-Brexit free trade deal between UK and Australia, which was much criticised when announced, is now described as a bad deal by the person who sold it. British farmers have been sold down the river.

It does say to the world that you are a complete mug if you believe anything a Conservative Cabinet Minister says. Breaking promises so blatantly has stirred up much disbelief and anger[1]. This case is especially shocking given that there was virtually no parliamentary scrutiny of the trade deal.

So, what’s Brexit advocate George Eustice’s[2] defence for such disgraceful behaviour. It’s to raise the flag of collective responsibility. In other words – I was only following orders.

Spearheading the trade deal, Liz Truss, under the leadership of Boris Johnson, it seems Eustice behaved more like a mouse than an honourable gentleman. If he truly believed that the deal between UK and Australia was a bad deal[3], he should have resigned and said so. To cling on to power these betrayers stand-up in parliament selling a deal that favours farmers in other countries.

Integrity is not just a word. Ministers should not stand-up and sell deals that they believe to be damaging[4]. Not only does it undermine trust in democratic politics but, in this case, it undermines the negotiating position for future trade deals.

Peddling an ill-conceived and appallingly enacted Brexit is immoral. Backing a party-line that is damaging to British interests criminal. Sadly, that’s where we are in 2022. This happened in the face of loud warnings being sounded. Dogma ment that Ministers activly ignored these warnings. Surely, it’s time to turn the tide on this dreadfully damaging behavour. We need a General Election – now.


[1] https://www.fwi.co.uk/news/eu-referendum/george-eustice-faces-farmer-backlash-over-trade-deal-comments

[2] Eustice stood unsuccessfully in the 1999 European Parliament Elections as a candidate for UKIP in the South West of England.

[3] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-63627801

[4] https://www.standard.co.uk/news/politics/george-eustice-australia-brexit-trade-deal-uk-b1039875.html