50th birthday: guest RDI blog
I realised the other day that I am getting old... like Mr Stock Image here. Photograph: Shutterstock
This was during the Brazil vs Chile World Cup game when I quickly calculated that there have been 13 World Cup competitions in my lifetime (starting with 1966 I do not remember it as I was only one year old!) but it was in the 1978 final (Argentina vs Holland if memory serves) that I realised that the World Cup was a very special event.
Im 50 next year, but it is only a number I keep telling myself it still does not help the twinges, breathlessness, memory fade and relentless surge towards Grumpy Old Man status though. But it does get me reminiscing and I remember in 1982 (Italy vs W Germany) I was one year into working as an apprentice in the television service industry and completing my CandG224 part one certificate. Even back then, there was uncertainty within the industry about longevity and career progression but a few of the guys I worked with back in the 80s are still at the same company (and good on them) as they, and the organisation, have developed and diversified; one guy has even become MD!
My path was different and has enabled me to work for and perceive many other organisations, large and small, and one thing that they have in common in their successes is that they actively looked ahead (economically and technologically) to adapt to the many changes and challenges that they faced. Through the 80s I recall that things were pretty stable with many technical innovations that kept us on our toes; compact disc, home computers (Sinclair, Commodore and a raft of others), Laser Disc, NICAM to name a few, as well as new television chassis and electronics like switched mode power supplies, single chip colour decoder, microprocessor control etc. Philips were a real innovator back then; 2000 video system, CDi, Laser Disc and compact disc (only the latter a commercial success though). Most manufacturers had a commitment (and a budget) to develop the guys that needed to repair these products and I recall attending countless manufacturer provided courses free of charge.
Things changed somewhat as we headed through the 90s and beyond; the need for repair to component level declined and so did the training associated with it. As I developed into a training role for a major satellite television organisation, the impact of the change from analogue to digital hit home; after designing an analogue satellite receiver repair course (focussing on the Pace range predominantly) and delivering for a week, Sky decided to offer the free Sky Digital STB for analogue customers the course became obsolete overnight! And so, technical training had a new meaning and was more based upon induction, product, operation, installation and customer service.
I think this is where we are now; if something goes wrong in the home of the customer it usually requires a replacement, re-education or re-programming using the skills and knowledge of the service engineer, technician or installer. Take your pick which term you want to use there seems to be significant crossover; I remember that to be an engineer you needed to complete an apprenticeship, go on day release to a college and achieve a long term qualification But skills and knowledge are still required and always will be; we just need to understand what we need to learn and upskill into.
The really successful companies now are the ones that are already switched into this and have become specialists; high end product installation, LED lighting and advertising, digital home integration and automation niche areas but relatively lucrative and they have learned about these products mainly because the bosses are (or they employ) enthusiasts who are very passionate about the products and the technologies.
The thing is, it is difficult to independently upskill and learn about these areas and to gain some form of accreditation and certification. Some manufacturers deliver specialist courses on relevant products like the brown goods manufacturers did in the `80s but there seems to be a distinct lack of learning provision around the principles and to gain a qualification.
There are some FE Colleges like BMET and Gower College Swansea that strongly support these areas but a nationwide network is lacking to develop the next generation of technicians coming through. I hope that this is the next area for change and that we see a clearer pathway for school leavers in particular who want to make a career in this exciting, evolving industry that hopefully will always need a professional, competent and knowledgeable workforce