Where have all the Grey Beards gone?
I don't know if you've noticed, but everyone is getting younger. Yes, it might just be me getting older but I'm not so old as to be ready for my mid-life crisis just yet.
What I mean to say is the average age in the various engineering offices in which I have worked has been dropping considerably. When I was 28 I was in charge of an engineering team facing one of my then employer's biggest customers. And by "In charge" I mean the Lead Engineer and Engineering Team Leader. I was responsible for all the technical decision and the management of the people day to day, including doing their annual appraisals. I answered to the Head of Engineering and a Programme Manager, sure, but I calculated the team staffing levels, made the day to day engineering calls and signed off the drawings. I had already spent over a year running a team of 15.
OK big deal, I mean RJ Mitchell was the Chief Engineer at Supermarine before he was 30. Thing is, I'm not RJ Mitchell, Sir Frank Whittle, Barnes Wallis or Sir Sydney Camm. I love the aerospace industry but I am not the driven, focused, all or nothing character that designed the revolutionary. I am not Isambard Kingdom Brunel, driving great programmes against great odds. I am good at what I do, but not exceptional.
So it sets me thinking: where are these people? Or, just as importantly, where are the people that were apprentices in their offices. Where are the people that sat and watched an engineer draw out the springs and bellows and levers that made up the early jet engine fuel controls, or took down the readings from the gauges next to Sir Frank.
What perturbs me is that I'm afraid of is that they've all retired or passed on. At one company I know (and excuse me for being cryptic but I am operating a policy of not mentioning company names) a departing CEO bemoaned in the press that the average age of his engineering staff was in the late 20s. Their materials expert is only a handful of years out of university. That's the expert!
I have appreciated the opportunity that a young workforce has always given me, the progression I have made, but I know we make the same mistakes again and again. The world is changing, the products and techniques are changing and therefore the skills needed are changing, but have we enough people left that hold on to the feel for the subject?
Have we retained enough of the greatness now that the link is broken?