Sunday, February 15, 2009

Can we do it?

We live in an era in which every one of us needs massive amounts of technology just to survive, and lots more to stay as comfortable as we are. Yet, paradoxically, there is a great deal of denigration in the UK and US for mathematics, science and engineering and the people who have skills in those areas, which discourages many from those fields of study. It is to the point where there are sometimes two jobs per graduate.

Can we make the cultural shift to nurture and reward those people, or are we doomed to drop backwards?

Yet another conversation with a wealthy parent (she pushes papers, he is a corporate lawyer) does not give me much hope. All the ones that I have talked to assume that we need such specialists, who will be someone else's children, but their own will go to college, graduate in non-technical fields, and then have successful high-paying careers. I cannot make these parents understand that we have run out of the wealth to get the technology from elsewhere, so we have to make it here. Without a manufacturing base, those nice parasitic managerial and service jobs just won't exist.

Or perhaps I'm wrong, and should have gone into accounting, instead of mathematics teaching and engineering research.


sobers said...

Rather like oil, there will be a tipping point. See how the oil price rose when the fears about peak oil hit last year. The same will happen in the market for people who can DO stuff. Eventually stuff will go unfixed, because there aren't enough people to do it. Then the ones left will be able to name their price. Rather like Corgi registered gas installers.

Walk into any builders merchants and look at the ages of the tradesmen who come in for materials. They are all older. Pushing retirement. Same goes for the staff. Mostly older. Any the old ones know what you're talking about. The young one just look at their computer screens. They have little knowledge of their products themselves.

The same goes in precision engineering. Almost all the skilled machinists are near retirement. A friend runs a highly skilled precision enginering company. He can't get new staff. They just don't train them anymore. Plus what they do train is out of date. He's nearing retirement too. When he goes, so does all his skill. We are very near the edge in my opinion.

If I had children I would recomend that they went into trades. Get as much practical experience as possible. I reckon a skilled CNC lathe operator will be able to name his price in 10 years time.

Anonymous said...

Trust the market.

Once engineers and technologists are paid more than corporate lawyers and accountants, the change will come. And that will happen when businesses realise that there are too many pen-pushers, but that they can't recruit the techies they need.

Currently, the price system is telling us that the supply of hard scientists is more than we need, but the supply of drones and parasites is less than we need - hence they get the moolah.

Sebastian Weetabix said...

I'm with you on this one. I went through the education system picking up 14 'O' levels, 4 'A' levels & a degree in mechanical engineering and now work in manufacturing industry. It so happens I am now quite well paid. But from the point I chose engineering at university I've had to put up with being looked down upon by twats doing arts in their allegedly "creative" jobs thinking up drivel for advertising and so on.

What could be more creative than designing a bridge, building an aircraft or coming up with an idea for a new material? This country is going to be condemned to a third class existence until the moneyed classes of this country learn to value technical skills, yet as a graduate engineer I am not even considered in this country to be a member of a profession, unlike (say) a lawyer or a doctor.

Shoving money around, as we have seen, appears to require no great brainpower - and as the manufacturing moves to developing countries, so too will the design activities & eventually the service industries that go with it. As a society we have been living in a fools paradise since the end of the second world war.

OldSouth said...

Well said! 'Polite society' here is dominated by lawyers, bankers, academic administrators, politicians, those with inherited wealth.

People who actually design and make things are scorned.

I don't know how we would live without our auto mechanic, a man who actually knows how a wide variety of vehicles function, and knows how to fabricate parts himself if need be.

He runs a shop with 3-4 employees, and one major difficulty is locating qualified employees, who actually know the trade, and will show up to work.

TBR said...

No you're probably right. The same issues are faced by those who work in IT. There really aren't enough skilled people out there. They're are too many people working online who know nothing of the technical issues or how things actually work.

pedant2007 said...

Surely the problem is that the subjects that really count are often not obviously associated with a specific profession? If you study Accountancy you can reasonably expect to become an accountant, and everybody knows it. But a student of mathematics may well not become a mathematician, despite being better qualified for most jobs than the accountancy student.

Wolfie said...

At the centre of this Sackers is the simple observation that you just can't make enough money in science or engineering to support a reasonable, even lower middle-class existence. If you are a man that means you won't win yourself a "nice middle-class girl" (used to creature comforts) and you may even be spending the rest of your life wedded to your career instead. Asking people to forego wealth for the good of our engineering future simply results in genetic extinction and the illiterate breeders will inherit the earth.

You literally have the wrong end of the proverbial stick this time old chap. Need to fix the income cycle first.

Paddington said...

Actually, this was mine. I thank you all for your comments, and am glad that most appear to agree broadly with my views.

Wolfie - on attracting girls, I am of the educated opinion that girls are not generally attracted to the geeks - there is a great deal of evidence that technical skill is associated with mild autism.

As for 'doing things', I just cut goat hooves, hauled water, and am now settling down to do some mathematics on a wireless laptop - between the 17th and 21st centuries!