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A masterly presentation by our host as ever. But may I say that the situation is mirrored and equally dire, in what's left of British manufacturing industry, I would suggest, it's the reason why so little is left. There is still a lot of able and talented technical expertise in industry, but it's the management which is so **** poor.
I started a second career in 2006 working in private manufacturing. In that time, I've machined parts, designed and/or built electronic equipment, compiled BOMs and assembly procedures, tested products, repaired equipment, researched new products, designed and built subsystems and once almost built a patentable, (according to my line manager), system for the computer alignment of inkjet print heads, (scotched when the upper management sacked me whithout knowing what work I'd been doing for the previous six months). I have been sacked from the three other, all very diferent manufacturers I've had since when they undertook cost cutting measures and it didn't seem to matter whether I was part of a team or the only technician in the company.
You might expect this experience for a duffer, but I've been consistently lauded and praised by senior members of the design and technical department where I have worked, (at least I get good references for the next fiasco). It doesn't seem to matter how many bosses with some managerial power that I meet, who praise my work and competence, there's always an even more powerful manager beyond him, who says 'Get rid of him.'
You see they have no respect for employees who can actually do something practical. They have their doctorates, their past and future positions from university; in top blue chip companies, where they managed 'systems' and bull****ted a lot. They have no compunction on their 70k saleries of getting rid of someone who builds things in their company for 22k - 'plenty more where you came from; ten a penny'
They NEVER ever feel the need to find out about their staff or their pasts which might have a useful bearing on the company's fortunes, they care only about their own status. I have just finished a 9 week stint filling in for a design support engineer who has been off with a heart condition. With the recession lifting, chronic shortage of assembly staff (they were all made redundant during the recession and have since found other jobs), more orders for their products and the directors avowed intention to roll out a raft of innovative new products to add to the range, you'd have thought they would have been crying out for at least one more technican who had served them ably over the past two months and who had asked to stay? Would they hell. Nope, goodbye.
Well I've had enough, I'm going to do something else with the rest of my life - and if I hear another pundit on Radio 4 asserting that British Industry is desperate for skilled people and good employees, I will throw my coffee cup at the radio!
I couldn't agree more, Orde. We see this happening all the time, and I've given some thought to why. Let me run this past you:
It's all about size. Adam Smith knew about economies of scale - a small business needs, for instance, a Receptionist, but (s)he is severely underworked normally. Therefore if you combine two small companies you can dispense with one Receptionist. So far, so efficient. The problems come with control. As an enterprise gets bigger, you get out of the situation where everyone knows a good proportion of the rest of the staff. Probably the first enterprises to get to this state were armies and so we should look to military organisation for hints and tips. As Alexander of Tunis said, "Army Group Headquarters only exist to enable the armies to win", and it is this attitude of service that seems so conspicuously lacking in big business
Undoubtedly the normal Government method of dealing with the problem would be to ban companies over a certain size, or something equally daft. What I'd suggest, though, is a very simple change to the Corporation Tax rules. If Corporation Tax was levied on profits at a rate derived from a function of world-wide (group) turnover, a one-man-and-his-dog outfit, turning over about £100,000 a year would pay so little tax it wouldn't be worth collecting, but BAe or Tesco would have to pay 98.99% of their profits as tax, thus making it completely uneconomic to be that size.
You might argue that small companies can't build an aircraft carrier, but in fact most work in industry is carried out by small teams who could easily be independent contractors to a very small company whose sole purpose is to coordinate the whole thing.
It might work.