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Thoughts from the Ed – We do need an all-round education

Author : Paul Wolfe

My recent comment (Thoughts from the Ed – ‘We don’t need no academic education’)  certainly got you all thinking and I’d like to thank the readers that sent their thoughts to me. A couple of them are pasted below and each make valid points…

Paul Wolfe

The first comment comes from Aris Potamianos, R&D Director at Sprint Electric Ltd. who wrote: Firstly, I agree totally with your analogy of education to learning how to drive a car; the actual harnessing of the skills in whatever profession or occupation is by doing it in the ‘real’ world, in other words, in practice.

But secondly, I cannot emphasise enough the importance (and, for some professions, the absolute must) of a good academic education.

That is to say, not necessarily any old academic education as some relatively recent-formed institutions tend to offer as university degrees and, on the other hand, not every student is going to derive the benefits I am eluding to, unless he is academically-minded.

But as a somewhat superficial and light-hearted comment (albeit in many instances it happens to be truly representative of the demeanour) as to who is going to properly benefit from an academic education, look at the term the student is using for the institution he is attending; whether it is ‘university’ or ‘uni’! The key point is this. Proper academic education will (hopefully) give you the principles and the structured thought process to truly understand the workings of your chosen profession rather than being more empirical and reverse-deducing in problem solving.

That said, I would come back to agree with your point of not being a proper driver until you have driven your car through busy roads as well as fast motorways. No amount of blackboard presentation and reading endeavour will ever give you that. However, you will be that much more successful at it if you have also studied and understood the principles of it.

Michael Rowe (Eur Ing C.Eng. MIET) also wrote in and he said: I’m a (retired) Chartered Electrical Engineer of the ‘old school’. I passed through an apprenticeship scheme which put me through everything that a craft apprentice would do – a wide range of practical training, machine shop, drawing office (in the days when those existed), foundry, forge, wiring shops and additionally silicon foundry and design offices. We just had to do it faster and still reach the same level. Not only did that give me a wide range of practical skills but it also introduced me to a wide range of people. Everyone from the hardworking, helpful machine shop labourers to highly skilled tool and die makers and pattern makers; very capable engineers over a range of technologies. Not only did I learn a great deal of respect for all of these folks, I could also do everything between turning out a good casting, ‘setting’ automatic machine tools, do complex wiring on railway signalling consoles (including that lost art of cable lacing) and designing a high power rectifier system or automation and control equipment. That stood me in good stead in my career, especially when running into difficult problems on remote sites with limited resources. In fact, I still demonstrate blacksmithing as well as giving lectures for my professional institution.

I have noticed several things with graduates over the last 20 years or so. These were all highly intelligent and well motivated people but they did not have practical skills and, for the greater part, had never come across skilled craftsmen or labourers. They also had a very shallow education; nothing on the arts or literature side (any references to Greek gods etc. passed them by) and, in some instances were barely literate, being unable to produce a carefully worded, correctly spelt technical report or paper. This bodes ill for our future. It does not, of course, help that a lot of manufacturing has been exported. Even if you’re producing high-end products, you still need low-end skills and understanding.

Thank-you to Aris and Michael for those comments. They each make good points and highlight differences between the generations. Whilst previously an apprenticeship was seen as a noble benefit to one’s future, the very art of learning, perfecting and honing a skill is seemingly dying. There could be a number of reasons behind this and one could be the prestige bestowed upon formal education.

The issue of apprenticeships is back in the news this week, and in ‘Government must build on Holt Report apprenticeship recommendations’, the Electrical Contractors’ Association (ECA) has announced that it has cautiously welcomed the Government’s response to the publication of the Holt Report into apprenticeships and SMEs. However, it says that more must be done to promote transparency in the further education sector if apprenticeship training quality is to improve.

Interestingly, Reading College has announced that it is bringing higher education back to the College. They say that six new courses driven by the local job market’s need for specific skills will be on offer across a range of subjects for the 2012-2013 academic year.

As the rise in university tuition fees starts to deter many students from higher education, the College has stated that it was keen to support the local community by introducing a more cost-effective option. Studying at the College can increase the financial stability of students in a number of ways including lower tuition fees and continuing to live at home.

For students looking to break into the engineering and construction industries, a Higher National Diploma in Electrical and Electronic Engineering is available in addition to a Higher National Certificate in the same subject as well as Construction. The foundation degrees and PGCE are awarded by Oxford Brookes University through its partnership with OCVC (Oxford and Cherwell Valley College Group) and delivered at Reading College.

Lesley Donoghue, Principal of Reading College commented: “I’m delighted that we are able to offer top quality higher education to the local area. This is very timely as university tuition fees treble this year and many people need a more cost-effective option available locally. The key strength of these courses is that they are designed by employers for employment. I’ve seen students start to worry about their job prospects after completing a degree, so we have worked closely with local businesses to ensure our higher education leaves students with the best possible chance of gaining employment after completing their course.”

The skill shortage we’re facing in this country is going to become a growing problem over time, but whether the best way of tackling this is by practical apprenticeships or formal education is still open for debate.

What cannot be forgotten though is that you only get out what you put in. If you’re going to learn, whether it is practically or academically, you have to want to learn.

Do you have anything to add to this? Let me know by sending an email to:

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