I am on vacation for the next month so I will not be writing new posts. Instead I have decided to delve into my back catalogue of more than 500 posts [see ‘500th post‘ on February 2nd, 2022] and republish posts from ten, five and one year ago. The short post below was published on September 15th, 2012 under the title ‘Innovation jobs‘. It seems as relevant today as it was in 2012.
Yesterday, I listened to an interesting talk by Dr Liang-Gee Chen, President of the National Applied Research Laboratories of Taiwan at the UK-Taiwan Academic-Industry & Technology Transfer Collaboration Forum organised by the British Council. He presented some statistics from the Kaufmann Foundation, which demonstrated that nearly all new jobs in the USA are generated by new companies. When you combine this with my conclusion in my posting on ‘Population crunch’, that we need a higher level of innovation in engineering, then we need to review the education programmes provided for our engineers to ensure that they include innovation and entrepreneurship. These need to be integrated in engineering education programmes [see Handscombe et al, 2009]. We seem to have lost the plot in the UK and retreated to teaching engineering science, design and management orientated towards the employers with the loudest voice, i.e. multi-nationals, who are not likely to be the source of innovation jobs that will pull us out of the global recession.
Handscombe, R.D., Rodriguez-Falcon, E., Patterson, E.A., 2009, ‘Embedding enterprise in engineering’, IJ Mechanical Engineering Education, 37(4):263-274.
You taught me a long time ago (in the late 1980’s) and I was one of the less exceptional students of my cohort at that time. It is difficult to know how the education that I received has influenced my career progress; there is a complex mixture of luck, observation and commitment to strategies defined by others that are equal influencers. In the early days I wondered whether everything that I was encouraged to study was valuable and yet there was a never a doubt that the rounded perspective offered in those lectures and projects had a profound impact.
As time and career opportunities have passed it is fair to say that I have been involved in my fair share of innovation. More development than research but often working within an operational environment the small steps are the most rewarding. The one thing that my studies led me to realise is that it is ok not to understand everything that challenges us head on; no matter how obscure it appears at first we can study, measure, model and develop an understanding. Applying a theoretical understanding to real life operations is the melting pot that creates innovative solutions.
I am not convinced there is a perfect solution to the challenge [how to inspire the great innovators of the future]. Business leaders and accountants demand answers to problems that they may never have fully comprehended; they also set constraints that do not liberate young minds to find their true potential. That perspective needs to be balanced with the fact that (most) young minds need some structure & understand why the accepted norms have been successful. The problem as I see it is that it takes time to create good engineers and scientists and that investment cannot be rushed. We need more people to be funded in the quest of finding things to improve while working in a secure environment rather than outsourcing all the detail and only offering short term contracts or grant funding for development of ideas.
The old industrial structures made space for engineers and scientists to develop while being mentored by the old hands (trades, technicians and professionals). The government research facilities that I had the privilege to work in (before they were privatised) provided a slow path to professional maturity and the diversity of experience we need in a flourishing economy.
I believe that UK society has fallen into the trap of believing that banking, formal education & fossil fuels can generate the short term financial returns we crave without the consequences we should all be complaining about.
I am pleased to say that my education at Sheffield has continued to support my working life and even now I return to the theories and practical problem solving methods I learned in that place. I still lack the confidence that could trap me into believing that I know all the answers or all the methods to find answers but I have found ways to deal with that. The satisfaction of addressing uncertainty, developing lines of inquiry and defining solutions that are subsequently seen to work is the reward but it all takes time.