Sunday, 30 March 2008

Why can't this country do things right anymore?

In an earlier post about the chaos at Terminal 5 I speculated why was it this country can't seem to run large capital projects anymore. It was bit of a rhetorical question but interestingly the same question was asked in one of today's Sunday Papers.

The answer the columnist came up with was very disturbing. Basically he said starting 40 years ago and continuing to this very day there has been a sustained attack on our education system. The Grammar schools, which has been gutted by successive governments in the name of educational choice, were a conveyor belt that took children of academic promise and turned then into solid middle class professionals, the Doctors, Dentists, Engineers, Surveyors, Architects, project mangers, bank managers, etc, all those desperately needed professionals that are vital to keep our society going. Unfortunately it has taken 30 years for us to notice the supply well has gone dry. However, as the people who qualified in the 60's and 70's get older and retire then their replacements are not coming through and hence major projects are being left increasingly in the hands of people without the education or training to carry them through.

The "Operations Director" interviewed on the TV over the Terminal 5 debacle was a perfect illustration of the tend. He was young, clean cut, obviously at home in front of the media and totally incompetent if judged by the standards of how well Terminal 5 Operations were being managed. He probably had a degree in Classics from Oxbridge and an impeccable pedigree, exactly the sort of chap one always had on the board, the problem being there are no longer the professional highly competent, practically educated and trained Grammar School boys available in the levels below him to ensure the general direction he provides get translated into workable, real life solutions.

The worry thing about this theory of course is that its taken 30 years for the shortage too become apparent and so it could well take 30 years to put it right, even if we started now. The perfect analogy being the crippling shortage of skilled tradesmen caused by the UK's decision to stop training apprentices. The UK Skills gap that exists because of that decision has never been closed and probably the shortage of skilled professionals will be the same. Of course if we want a Media Studies Graduate then no problems! If we want an Engineer, Project Manager, Surveyor, Brick layer, Plasterer, plumber, electrician, etc then that's a bit more of a problem! Lets all hear it for Education, Education, Education!

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