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Liberating Human Potential

Nazita Saye

Nazita Saye

Posted Oct 24, 2012
4 Comments

I was reading an article in City A.M a while back – a freebie newspaper containing banking and business news and distributed to those lucky souls in London who take public transport. On this wet and cold morning no one was interested in taking a copy so as I walked by the guy handing them out, I stuck out my hand. I wasn’t expecting much but it was better than staring into nothingness (as you do on public transport in London because eye contact with your fellow passengers is to be avoided at all cost). I quickly thumbed thru the usual stories about one company or another that had merged or acquired another company. Then I came across an article by Marc Sidwell who is the managing editor of the said newspaper. I loved what he had to say about the Paralympics. I am now paraphrasing but effectively he said that by using all the available technology available to them engineers have been able to design better equipment for Paralympians  who can then be faster and stronger. And by providing them access to the best equipment, engineers have enabled the athletes to liberate their human potential.

Image courtesy of Microsoft clipart. All rights reserved.

I think Mr. Sidwell’s editorial really hit it home for me because a few pages earlier I had read an interview with the new CEO of Dyson – Michael Bow. Dyson is one of those inspiring companies that got its start by taking a ho-hum product and market and slap it upside the head – ok I know vacuum cleaners are not something you write home about but Dyson made vacuum cleaners (or as they say hoovers on this side of the pond) cooler than a very cool thing on a balmy summer’s day.

Mr. Bow believes that companies need to invest more in R&D and to encourage risk taking in their engineers and designers. Apparently he practices what he preaches. Under his leadership, the company has reported record profits (profits have grown 30%) while their investment in R&D has increased from £45M to £59M – a very aggressive investment in their future. Unfortunately he has a resource problem – not materials, but human resources. In order for Dyson to continue innovating, they need a steady supply of engineers but according to the same article, the UK “produces only about half the engineers of say Mexico”; therefore, I suspect finding enough talented candidates may be a challenge for them. Now this is a dilemma and a half – without a steady stream of qualified engineers ready to innovate, the company may not be able to sustain its envious position in the market.

Reading these two articles in the space of 15 minutes got me thinking. It really is a crying shame that fewer kids decide to follow the path of engineering in England (I suspect this trend is the same in North America as well). Despite this trend, I personally don’t think the shrinking numbers should be a stumbling block for any manufacturer in the short term because those few who are entering the workforce are taught to use state of the art tools at school – from CAD to CAE and rapid prototyping. As a result, by the time they enter the workforce they hit the floor running. Therefore, their level of innovation hasn’t suffered because they can do more in a shorter period of time. And risk-taking has become more acceptable (I know many engineers by nature may even be risk averse). For example, simulation makes it easy to conduct multiple what-if tests to find the best possible design. As a result, you can take as many design risks as you like because you can test virtual prototypes and only advance the best of the best to the next step.

So even though this lack of engineering talent may mean that we may not have cooler and cooler vacuum cleaners or gadgets in the future, somewhere in the back of my mind I also think that fewer engineers means fewer opportunities for finding the next big thing that would further liberate human potential – whether it is to help Paralympians shatter new records or to help create prosthetic hands that help someone who’s lost his/her arm to hold his or her child. And wouldn’t that be a shame?
Until next time,
Nazita

CAE

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About Nazita Saye

Nazita SayeI have been involved with the CFD user community in one shape or another since 1999 -- when the NIKA team first introduced FloWorks to the engineering community. Over the years I've seen the market evolve and I still marvel at the wide range of products that are being designed with our tools. As the Manager of External Communications for the Mechanical Analysis Division at Mentor, it is my privilege to bring some of our customer stories to you. Visit CFD doesn’t mean Color For Directors

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Comments 4

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I suspect part of Dyson's recruitment problem may also be due to geographical location. Their UK R+D center is based in a very nice, but rather expensive part of Wiltshire (not confidential information - you can see a location map on their website). To entice engineers into the area from less expensive locations (e.g. most of the North of England), the company has to offer substantially larger salaries, to compensate for higher living and housing costs. Otherwise engineers have to live further away and put up with a long commute, which makes the prospect of moving to Dyson less appealing, especially for older, more experienced engineers who may already be settled where they are. The same would also be true, of course, for fresh graduates looking to get their foot on the housing ladder. I also suspect this problem may be industry-wide and not just limited to Dyson.

Chris Hill
8:32 AM Oct 25, 2012

Ah Wiltshire - my old stomping grounds and a gorgeous bit of the countryside if I may add. You're right Chris. Cost of living is always a challenge for everyone involved (and this is not just a UK problem). For example, doing the same job in the big smoke demands a higher salary than let's say Salisbury simply because it is more expensive to live inside the M25. But salary is not always the sole determining factor for employees - job satisfaction, company reputation, benefits, future earnings potential, stock options and quality of life all play a role. Over the course of my career, I've certainly been guilty of accepting a job with a lower salary simply because it allowed me to have a better quality of life since it cut my commute time by half. So it's not an easy puzzle to solve. If between us we could figure out how to solve this problem we'd be rich!

Nazita Saye
10:17 AM Oct 26, 2012

Well written as always. As for engineering in all of North America, I can't speak to that, I can only talk about what I know specifically. In my small town of 20k people the rather progressive public school system has put together an impressive offering for pursuing engineering. Included in the curriculum are CAD design classes, advanced and AP level engineering classes as well as team engineering for prizes at the national level. So I can say that I am satisfied with the level of introduction to these kids at this level. At the college level my son has chosen to pursue a Chemical Engineering path and my nephew is pursuing a Nuclear Engineering path and another nephew Civil Engineering. My husband is a Mechanical Engineer. (Oh my, I'm surrounded by engineers!). In this particular instance, product design engineering, there may be fewer children picking this route for whatever reasons. Just like I chose Marketing instead of Accounting with my business degree. The opportunities are out there for kids to pursue engineering, chemical, civil, mechanical, nuclear, design but let's face it, it's a hard program no matter where you live. Growing up kids want to be firemen, policemen, ballerinas and professional athletes. I have yet to meet a single seven year old who aspires to building a better vacuum cleaner ;-) We, as adults have to make engineering more appealing from a younger age and continue to emphasize the importance of engineering.

Sharon Sheppard
12:57 PM Oct 29, 2012

Hi Sharon, wonderful! Quite clearly engineering runs thru the veins of your family and I agree with you 100%. At Mentor we are trying to get the message across through our involvement with initiatives such as the Real World Design Challenge - a program where high school kids are challenged to solve a complex engineering problem by using CAD and CFD. One of my lovely colleagues saw the opportunity to get involved and I'm very proud to say that this year marks our third year of involvement with the program. While asking a child to pick what he/she wants to do for the rest of his life at the age of 7 is tall order, he/she should have a better idea (hopefully) by the time he/she reaches high school. And hopefully these types of programs help them unleash their potential.

Nazita Saye
1:32 PM Oct 29, 2012

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