Mind the gap

23 July 2015

I have some stories from my days as a student that probably shouldn’t go on a web site. I also have some from my time spent on a graduate engineering scheme that sent me on work experience both within my sponsoring organisation, and also those up and down the supply chain. For several months I trained with craft apprentices, doing everything they did – welding, wiring, and metalwork. If I’m being honest, just with a little less skill. The goal was to create a rounded engineer, with an appreciation of the practical aspects that lie behind the all too easy impossible requests that young engineers can sometimes make of technicians. I remember that, even back in the 1980s, one third of the apprentices were women – a ratio that would put most modern schemes to shame. It certainly didn’t cause any problems and wasn’t remarked on at the time. 

After receiving what was, arguably, some of the best graduate level training available back then, I left the company. And with me left the investment my company had made in me. My generation was perhaps the first where the traditional bonds of “job for life” loyalty broke, and flexibility became the order of  the day, in the UK at least. With that flexibility came an understandable reluctance from companies to invest time and effort in engineering apprenticeships and graduate schemes, at least to the same extent that had been the case. In some countries, notably Germany, they never really went away, and it has been said that the relative international success of German industry is partly built on the consistency of their technical training.

Nowadays apprenticeships are making a comeback in the UK. The modern UK schemes include an element of government support, derisking some of the cost of learning for younger apprentices, and filling in the gap identified by many employers between the skills learned at school, and those required for work. 

But where are the equivalents for graduates, ensuring that staff at all levels have an appreciation of the issues behind the engineering drawing, and won’t ask for the impossible? 

Well, they are around, and exist at different levels, and it’s an area where EEMUA has been active for many years. 

The CompEx competency scheme, developed by EEMUA after the Piper Alpha disaster, and EEMUA’s own CompeTank competency scheme, sit at the practical end of the spectrum, focussing on the hands-on application of specialist knowledge – but this is not the limit of EEMUA’s involvement in learning. 

In June I visited the Department of Chemical Engineering at Imperial College in London, seeing the state of the art facilities offered to students undertaking the part-time postgraduate programme in Process Automation, which is overseen by the Partnership in Automation and Control Training (PACT). EEMUA has been involved in PACT since its inception in 1992 when it was formed to enable companies in the industry to maintain and improve their competitive edge by creating a supply of personnel who understand and are able to effectively apply both classical and modern automation techniques.

PACT’s motto – “independent training – neither vendor nor product specific” – fits well with EEMUA’s purpose as an organisation for the users of engineering assets. The programme involves both theoretical and practical aspects, and is modular, enabling it to be used as part of the professional development of engineering specialists.

There are other study programmes, in a range of areas, of course, and EEMUA is developing links with universities, teaching institutions and research centres worldwide. Our involvement runs from supplying our guidance publications free of charge to qualifying institutions, providing a view to future professionals of current industry good practice across a range of disciplines and industries, through to sitting on steering committees for research institutes, contributing our members’ view on where the complex technical issues are that need to be tackled, as well as providing pragmatism where needed. If you are involved with the sort of body I’ve mentioned, please contact us if you think EEMUA should be talking to you.

Our members’ industries are complex, and require talented, skilled staff to work in them. EEMUA believes it is part of its role to ensure that they are available, and we will do all we can to further their development.