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Manpower & Training at the Edinburgh Symposium

 
 

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MANPOWER & TRAINING at the M.E.E.I. SYMPOSIUM

Commentary by H.V.Beck

 

At the Edinburgh Symposium on Management and Economics in the Electronics Industry, the keynote to the session on manpower and training was sounded by Mr. F. Metcalfe of the Engineering Industry Training Board.  It was, he said, E.I.T.B.'s function to ensure a supply of well-trained people at every level.  Their approach to this task was to assist companies to carry out their own training and to this end the Board expended a great deal of effort drawing to the attention of top managements the importance of training and the necessity of top managements' involvement in it.  Certainly from the evidence of the twelve contributions to the manpower and training session and from the frequent reference to these topics in other sessions, companies and educational institutions are devoting a great deal of time and thought to these important aspects of the electronics industry.  While, however, Mr. Metcalfe may have sounded a keynote, it is clear that many tunes are being played and in different keys.  This was perhaps to be expected from the exceptionally wide coverage of the Symposium.  The 17 Societies and Institutions which collaborated in drawing up the programme ensured that it covered company functions and activities ranging from marketing; through R&D; management services, R&D administration, and manufacture to manpower.  Particularly important from the point of view of manpower and training was the participation of Technician and Trade Union organisations as well as Colleges of Technology, Polytechnics and Universities.  Taken with the E.I.T.B., this provided opinions on training covering a very wide range of skills yet concentrated on the electronics industry alone.

Manpower, which one speaker pointed out was the fashionable word for personnel, begins in our educational establishments.  There were several contributions from Universities dealing with the graduate input to the electronics industry.  A paper on this subject entitled "Education, Manpower and the Electronics Industry" by Professors G.D.Sims and W.E.J.Farvis contained much food for thought.  The authors point out that the rate of technological development in the electronics industry is so high that manpower will soon become its most critical problem.  Much greater attention should be paid to forecasting the real needs of the industry; the mismatch between the manpower that Universities supply and what industry needs has existed for so long that much of industry has ceased to be particularly discriminating and currently accepts the need for a fairly lengthy period of adaptation of the raw graduates to the industry.  In contrast to the mismatch perceived by Professors Sims and Farvis, Professor C.W.Oatley in another contribution reported that a working party of the Electronics Research Council had found that the industry was satisfied with its graduate input.  In the past two years, members of the working party had visited over 40 industrial concerns in the electronics industry and the relevant departments in most Universities.  In addition to establishing some useful manpower statistics, the working party had found that the industry had no serious grouse about undergraduate courses; they were well suited to those going into electronics design, research and development.  However, they may not be suitable for other functions in a company; for these, tuition in economics and the social sciences may be needed to supplement the existing courses.  The numerical aspects of manpower were dealt with in another contriburion by a team drawn from S.T.L. and Oxford University, D.L.Thomas, H.Motz, D.C.Young and T.A.J.Keefer.  Pointing out that a shortage of qualified scientists and engineers (Q.S.E.s) in the telecommunications sector of the electronics industry would be a constraint on innovation, not just due to its effect on R&D but in the implementation of the results of R&D in factories and by personnel elsewhere, the authors predicted the numbers of Q.S.E.s that would be available in the sector up to 1980.  They took into account factors such as "the swing away from science", retirement and the brain drain and have evolved a model which has shown up the sensitive factors and will enable them to correct their forecasts as factors change or new ones become apparent.

Several papers from the industry demonstrated the attention being paid to manpower and training problems.  A contribution by F.J.Bentley described some conceptual developments. It has long been the practice of companies to plan and control their financial and manufacturing facilities but they have rarely paid the same amount of attention to their people. Manpower is now being regarded as a basic, costly and valuable resource of the business.  The employees are stakeholders in the business, along with shareholders, customers and suppliers and not only have the right to expect reasonable pay, conditions of service and job security but also the opportunity to develop and use their abilities to the maximum extent.  None of these concepts are new in themselves but they are, said Mr. Bentley, beginning to be accepted by the most down-to-earth and hard-headed of business managers.  Mr. Bentley is with the Plessey Company, as is Dr. R.E.Hayes who presented a paper entitled "Educating the Electronics Graduate".  In his view, the electronics content of most undergraduate courses was not great enough; consequently industrial training of the electronics graduate usually had to start with a period of basic electronics tuition to make the entrant suitable for his first job.  Most training schemes seemed to be geared to turning out the electronics graduate as a mechanical engineer.  Dr. Hayes said it was about time electronics was treated as a subject and that it was realised mechanical engineering is no more important to it than other disciplines and sciences.  However, the basicanswer to graduate training is to help him develop•his ability to talk and aquire knowledge.  The training of an electronics engineer must be aimed towards showing him how to use people trained in other skills, either to help him or to teach him what he needs to know as his career progresses.  The need to correct in induction training for the low electronics content of most undergraduate courses was also touched on in a paper on educating the electronics engineer, presented by H.A.Dorey and R.D.Scambler of the Solartron Electronic Group.  The paper contains much useful information of their own derivation on the graduate and non–graduate input and population of the industry and describes in some detail the training policies and practice in the Solartron Group.  One unusual feature is the attention given to group exercises.  Graduate entrants form a natural group in that they are all new together.  From time to time they are brought from their separate project teams to take part in group discussions in which each airs his technical problems.  Their cohesion as a group is greatly increased and this is helpful in developing a team spirit.  The authors see this as a means of counteracting the effects of the examination system which encourages lone effort at the expense of the teamwork which industry needs.

Several of the contributors made reference to the problem of training engineers for functions other than research, design and development.  Mr. R.E.Schofield dealt with the subject of educating the electronics engineer for his role in manufacturing technology.  He felt that in the light of the 45% to 75% monetary investment in production facilities the proportion of graduates entering the production side of industry was far too small.  The electronics industry needed production engineers with an electronics background;and also electronic engineers are badly needed in many fields of manufacture.  Since there is a greater number of electronics graduates than there are production graduates, it was best to start from the electronics side and give them training in production methods rather than the other way round.  The question of hybrid undergraduate courses had been explored but these had been found to be unpopular.  It was best to give electronics graduates postgraduate training in production, either by an integrated programme of short courses or by a one year full time course with either perhaps leading to a Master's degree.  The E.I.T.B.. has published comprehensive recommendations for the training of professional engineers which if they can be implemented provide solutions to most of the problems raised.  There are five elements in the general training scheme, which E.I.T.B. are at pains to point out is very flexible and should be arranged to suit the individual needs of each student professional engineer.  The first element is Induction, in which the student learns about the company and industry in which he is employed, e.g. size, growth, products, industrial relations etc., and also about his training programme and opportunities.  Then there is an Engineering Practice element which, as one might expect, includes a great deal of instruction about manufacturing processes but also has the unusual topics of human relationships and administrative systems.  Thirdly there is a Design Appreciation element in which the student studies the design process so that he can develop a consciousness of value engineering and appreciate the influence of technical, financial, commercial, production and human considerations in design work.  Fourthly there is the Work Organisation element which embodies a broad approach, for example by encouraging the student to find out about the functions of management, the responsibilities of a Board of Directors in relation to the community, the employee, the investor and the customer, motivation and the role of informal systems of communication.  Fifthly and lastly there is Objective Training which is designed to prepare the student engineer specifically for an identified first post of responsibility.  E.I.T.B. have worked out several arrangements for the training, including a postgraduate course, thin and thick sandwich and 2:1:1:˝ courses.

Clearly, there is a considerable variety of opinion on the types of courses and the content best suited for the education and training of graduate or professional engineers to meet the complex needs of the electronics industry.  Methods of teaching are also being subjected to close ecrutiny and some new ideas are being put forward.  Mr. D.F.Dunster in a contribution on academic principles and practical realities in the education of electronic engineers, suggested that the students should be taught by means of two parallel streams of information.  One stream would be fundamental, using a "black box" or basic concept approach of general validity for all time while the other would be concerned with contemporary methods.  Mr. K.J.Dean and M.B.Mann described a simulation method of training with a particular emphasis on decision-making.  Several groups of students represent teams in competitive companies taking part in design, production or marketing activities.  In one form, which the authors call the Design Game, the groups are asked to draw up an instrument specification.  They have access to cost, market and other information and it is up to them to decide what to ask for and when, as an aid to their decision-making on the specification.  Typically, the Game lasts 6 sessions of 14 hours and ends when the design is complete and time and cost penalties incurred during the Game are added to basic design time and factory cost of the instrument.

(Several lines of carbon copy unreadable).

. . . . . unprepared for the demands of industry.  Courses should be designed . . . .

tendency to try any new idea which comes along.  What is difficult is the assessment of the effectiveness of any educational or training idea; there is not nearly enough sound information on which to base decisions.  Mr.B.Bolton was clearly aware of this need and in his paper entitled "Designing Undergraduate Courses" he described the results of analysing the . . . . . objectives against two taxonomies or classification schemes of intellectual activity, one in what he called the cognitive domain and the other in an affective domain.  He found that 48% of the objectives were concerned with knowledge alone and only 4% with Only analysis both of which are in the cognitive, or "knowing", domain.  Only very few of the objectives could be classified in the affective, or "doing", domain.  Mr. Bolton felt this imbalance towards "knowing" at the expense of "being able to do" prevents the full intellectual development of the student and makes him unprepared for the demands of industry.  Courses should be be designed against a full list of objectives set by industry, using the taxonomies as a guide to determine the content and methods of teaching.  It is the use of techniques of analysis such as that described by Mr.Bolton that will enable improvements to be made in training at graduate level in an objective manner.  The old dictum, "those who can, do; those who can't, teach; and those who can't teach, do educational research" is indicative of an over-emphasis on the subjective and qualitative approach to education.  This is the approach we are trying to correct in engineering activities and management in industry.  Great benefits could result from the reversal of the dictum or at any rate from the active encouragement of those few who have a real aptitude for educational research with a view to its application to the design of training courses.

By comparison with graduate engineers, the training of craftsmen and technicians in. the electronics industry is quite well defined. There are, however. some problems arising from Trade Union and professional status considerations and these were brought to the attention of the delegates in several papers by representatives of the organisations concerned or by academics concerned with industrial relations.  Mr. D.H.F.Gourlay, in a paper on Training Priorities and Trade Union Membership, pointed out that by tradition Unions favoured the fixed duration apprenticeship scheme for the training of craftsmen.  In a rapidly changing technological world this was no longer adequate; much greater flexibility was now required.  The duration of training should depend on what has to be learned and the skilled jobs available should be open to any worker who has demonstrated by his training that he is competent to perform them.  Unions had to be concerned with the further training or the retraining of its adult members and not just with new entrants.  Mr. Gourlay said that in the electronics industry, co-operation between Unions and management had brought about a progressive approach to training and indeed the industry was regarded as a trendsetter for employee-management relationships in manufacturing industry as a whole.  Examples of the type of training that is emerging were given in some E.I.T.B. literature circulated to the delegates.  A flexible module system has been devised for the training of engineering craftsmen.  After 12 months basic training, trainees make a choice of two or more modules, each of which is of approximately six months' duration.  The choice is dependent on the trainee's preferences and aptitudes, the firm's needs and the availability of a supervisor qualified and trained in the techniques of instruction.  Each module of training has associated with it a skill specification, a training specification, an instruction manual indicating methods of developing each element of skill, a set of sample performance tests which are to be completed successfully during the progress of the training, a recommendation for further education and a log book.  Examples of training modules for electronic engineering craftsmen are Electronic Maintenance I and II, Electronic Equipment Wiring and Assembling I and II and Electronic Test and Inspection.

In another paper, Mr. G.M.Jury discussed Trade Union interaction with engineering and its influence in the training of electronic engineers.  Mr. Jury makes the point that effectiveness in an enterprise depends on the skill of the labour force, which includes craftsmen, and also on the skill in organising that labour force.  The organising skill is exercised by the engineer, whose standards were in the main set by his professional institution.  The standards of craftsmen's skill were determined by the employers and not by the Unions.  It has long been recognised by. the Unions that an engineer must have an appreciation of the craftsmen's skills while being unable to exercise them all himself, but too often their attitude towards the trainee engineer has been to label him as a nuisance in the shop in which he has been placed. Mr. Jury went on to say that Unions were very concerned about the education and. training of their members.  They are strongly represented on the Industry Training Boards though their influence is not as great as they should be and steps are being taken to improve this situation.  The paper contained some suggestions for improvements in Trade Union participation, including the provision of a Trade Union mentor for each engineer in training, the recognition by professional institutions of practical experience in industrial relations as a training requirement for corporate membership, support for improving the training in management given to young engineers and fostering a good attitude among craftsmen and other members towards engineering trainees.

While much-needed improvements in the training of craftsmen is proceeding and their relationships to engineering trainees is receiving attention, there was, according to one contributor, likely to be a shift in emphasis from craftsmen towards technicians.  This would be the effect of automation and other technological developments.  Two papers dealt with the role of technicians and included some observations on training.  Mr. J.W.Grandey in discussing the Role of the Electronic Technician, described him as hardware oriented and concerned with making things work rather than making things. He was to be found in junior technical management exercising supervisory authority over other technicians and craftsmen in departments such as test, inspection, maintenance and installation.  He acted under a EUSEC general professional engineering direction, according to one definition, or occupied a position between that of the qualified. scientist, engineer or technologist and skilled foreman, craftsmen or operative according to the definition of the Haslegrave Committee.  There were two grades proposed by one representative body, It was pointed out that the qualifications required of the technician engineer, are very similar to those which were required of applicants for membership of Chartered Engineering Institutions not so many years ago. Mr. Grandey put in a strong plea for management subjects to be included in the training of technicians so that some who have the personality, character and ability are enabled to reach a reasonably high rung on the managerial ladder.

In another contribution, entitled The hole of the Electronics Technician Engineer, Mr R.C.Winton expressed surprise that the report of the Haselgrave Committee had made no reference to technician engineers.  He rated technician engineers a good deal higher in function than did Mr. Grandey, for according to his definition the technician engineer many perform technical duties of a novel character and may carry technical or managerial responsibility independently as an alternative to acting under the general direction of a chartered engineer or scientist.  There is often no discernible distinction between the performance of technician engineers and graduates, Mr. Winton said, going on to give reasons against assuming that all those capable of obtaining degrees invariably get the opportunity of doing so and that those who have a qualification lower than a degree are neccessarily of lower ability.  He felt there had recently been two developments of profound significance to the future of the electronics technician engineer.  One was the Haselgrave Committee's proposals for a completely new structure for technician courses, in which those more interested in the practical side could obtain a Technician Certificate after two years and a Higher Technician Certificate after another two years while those with theoretical leanings would obtain Technician and Higher Technician Diplomas respectively.  Both routes provide for further specialist studies after the fourth year.  Flexibility would be provided by the use of a credit accumulation system for the later stages of the courses.  It would even be possible for a technicians to move from one company to another while still a student.  The other development is the E.I.T.B. recommendation; if the Haselgrave report has not mentioned technician engineers the E.I.T.B. has certainly made good the omission by publishing an impressive booklet on this topic alone.  Their recommended scheme of training can conveniently be regarded as containing three main sections.  Firstly there is basic training which is an off-the-job introduction to engineering skills and knowledge, lasting one year.  Then there is general training, which includes design appreciation, commercial matters, manufacturing practice, control techniques and communication and which starts in the second year.  Lastly there is objective training which starts in the third year and is interleaved with general training until the end of the four-year course, the content and manner of training . . . . .

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