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SPECIAL FEATURE CSP INITIA

Education. industrv and


you-a vital a1Iiance
by Sharron Thompson Burgmeier

Today’s cut-throat environment means that every resource has become critical.
Industry must be able to find skilled staff who can adapt to the flexible demands
of the real world. To succeed, we need to improve the vital alliance between the
educational and industrial sectors. This article, based on a recent lecture,
addresses the requirements for this alliance and how this must affect the
employee of the future.

T
his article is deliberately controversial: some passed around. Easy access to this information is going
of the points in it I even believe, but I certainly to change the way people take decisions and the way they
hope that it will spark some debate and leave interface with decision makers in their environment.
questions to be asked. But, most importantly, There is no question that the information revolution is
I hope that some of the points made will change the way having an impact on incomes. A gap between the
you are thinking about this alliance and what it is all knowledge workers and the non-knowledge workers is
about. opening up. More importantly, the people who will be
I wanted to call this article ‘The unholy alliance’ or the high earners in the future will be those who understand
‘Unholy trinity’, but I was persuaded otherwise. It is how to use the techniques of the information revolution
important to understand that an alliance is a relationship to access appropriate information cheaply and easily and
that is established for mutual benefit and that all alliances how to place appropriate information in front of the
have strains in them. The participants need to have self decision makers. So, knowledge workers are not just
interest in being involved. All alliances evolve, but what securing the information but securing the right
is happening with this alliance at present is that it is not information in the right time frame and at the right price.
simply evolving,rather one of the members of the alliance There is also the impact on work practices: I am not
is caught up in the midst of a revolution. This article is relying on the stories about automation and robots
about the effect of that revolution on industry and the replacing employees. I think we all know these are
perceived lack of response to that revolution from the simplistic and give a false picture of the change that is
education industry. It discusses what I see as a gap that occurring. What is happening is that we have this
is opening up and what action needs to be taken to start immediacy of information. If you think about it, probably
closing that gap. just five years ago, certainly ten years ago, you would
Obviously, I’m talking about the ‘information revolu- receive a business letter and you would consider your
tion’. It is scarcely controversial to say that the response and reply, by letter, in a couple of day’s time-
information revolution will have wider impact than you would actually have a couple of days to think about
the industrial revolution. To start with, consider our it. Today you get a fax in your office and you get a phone
‘lifestyles’.Consider the people working from home and call 30 minutes later saying: ‘Have you seen my fax? Can
playing computer games-these were all ‘nerds’as far as you respond now?’. There is a sense of immediacy and
we were concerned. But now many people are working urgency attached to all the information that is coming in
from home and getting their entertainment at home using to us.
information technology. I refer to these people as Being able to deal with that information and informa-
‘netheads’:these netheads are going to change the way we tion overload is a key point for managing the information
think about information and the way information is revolution. Recently someone said to me: ‘I have too much

COMPUTING & CONTROL ENGINEERING JOURNAL DECEMBER 1996


INITIATIVE
information to make a decision’. We need to develop the manufacturing facilities we have sensors and devices
fundamentally new ways of enabling people to deal with that tell you when jobs are done or where items are on
all the information that they are going to have available. pallets. (Interestingly, the level of IT now embedded in
Without question, the information revolution has medical devices is doubling or tripling every year.
changed whole job categories. At our offices, we have not Doctors who were trained ten years ago, if they have not
a secretary in sight and we have eliminated middle been retrained and stayed current, can be a danger.)
managers. In the USA a service has been launched where We have similar, if not as dramatic, problems in
you can not only buy shares across the network, which is manufacturing.
nice enough, but initial public offerings are being made We now have short product cycles and they are getting
across the network. I wonder what all those ‘pinstripe shorter all the time. New products are being introduced at
guys’ in the City are going to do for a living in the future an increasingly fast rate. In the USA products are being
__
because we apparently will not need them any more. We introduced that are making 14 month old programmes
are going to replace such people with obsolete. In the IT business we have to
online services. This is a whole new try to sell enough product in 14
industry, but traditional industries, months to recoup investment before
manufacturing for example, are also How do you give people stop buying it in favour of
being dramatically affected. One of the something else. It is not only short
new concepts in manufacturing is the
somebody an product cycles, whole markets are
idea of cross-stocking, where you education to deal becoming obsolete. Think about the
eliminate whole warehouses and do printing industry. Would you want to
not hold stock in any kind of interim these brand new be in the printing industry today? I
‘buffer’ stockholding facility By rarely send anything out to be printed
eliminating the warehouses you jobs that didn’t any more because I have all the tools I
eliminate all the people that work in need on my desk or sitting in front of
the warehouse and manage it. But a
exist five my PA to do the job.
new category in traffic management is years ago? Would you like to be in the
created. Someone has to figure out telephone business today? You and I
how to get the truck to the shop in the know that Ican call you across the
window of need, in the time frame that Internet and not pay telephone
the shop is prepared to take it, and how to manage this companies their extortionate prices! I can call the USA
traffic so as to minimise the impact on an already and never pay BT a penny.
overloaded infrastructure. So, whole markets are being changed.
So we have new job specifications and new online
services, but how do you give somebody a relevant Human resources
degree? How do you give somebody an education to deal What industry must have is human resources who can
with these brand new jobs that didn’t even exist five adapt to these kinds of changes. We do not need people
years ago? How do we, from within the computer straight from university with fixed or memorised ideas
industry, provide young people with an education that on how to design components. We need people who can
will allow them to cope with these things? adapt to the technology, who can adopt the appropriate
For me, one of the big issues about the ‘information technology and who are very quick on their feet.
superhighway’ and the WWW (World Wide Web) is that At the same time that new technology is entering
there is lots of information there but much of it is industry we can see the worldwide adoption of Western
garbage. The problem is that we have to sort out the good culture. If you listen to the Third World, America is
information and make people accountable for using the practising cultural imperialism! But what is actually
correct current information. Are you going to take a happening is that there are new ways of thinking being
decision based on information that nobody owns? There adopted even if they are not appropriate. One of the most
is also the issue of data security and data security interesting things that is happening in the USA right
analysis: one can see new kinds of jobs being created in now, using the WWW, is selling by telephone. This
the information world. eliminates the process of talking to the salesman and I
don’t know what that salesman is going to do for a job in
Technology e the future. But the change is cutting the cost of sales
We have a technology challenge particularly for UK therefore allowing a reduction in the cost of software; you
industry which has been forced on it by the information never meet your customer. You deliver the software down
revolution, and I want to consider this further. the line and if the customer likes it he registers ownership
There are integrated IT components in products that and you get a cheque two days later, if not the software
you don’t think of being computer based at all but they self-destructs.We are talking about new ways of learning
have integrated intelligence in them. On the work floor in to do things like home shopping-never having to go

COMPUTING & CONTROL ENGINEERINGJOURNAL DECEMBER 1996


down the high street again! And of course new consumer cannot really understand how these concepts are relevant
profiles and lifestyles mean new product requirements. in his workplace. Perhaps he isn’t prepared to cope with
For example, women in the workforce are not prepared to change, or many other more important issues. Delivering
stay home to cook, they probably don’t have time, and so training probably involves a very heavy need for IT.
they need convenience foods. The dependence of the whole company on IT is
Change isn’t just in traditional manufacturing industry something that we need to be more aware of. We, as
-in retailing we have global trading networks, that is, employers of ITpeople or users of IT, and you, as an
major retailers that practice ‘technology terrorism’ on Institution involved in IT training, need to be more aware
their suppliers. Suppliers are brought into very tight that the whole economy now rests on the back of this
supply chains, the lines between the enterprises almost technology.
disappear and a global trading network appears-a What about manufacturing? Jacques Delors says that
single entity, if you will. Such trading networks will manufacturing is the engine of the economy and Patricia
promote their products and services McConnaill used to say that IT is the
on the computer network and they spark plug of that engine.
never meet their customers. SMEs Manufacturing has always been the
(small and medium-sized enterprises), Electronic trading base creator of wealth and jobs, but I
with which I am particularly am not sure that will be true anymore.
concerned,may be able to compete on without question Certainly, in the USA, we are moving
an even level with companies which the hottest issue towards a service economy with many
have more money to spend on PR and new jobs being created in that sector,
grand offices if, in the future, people at the European m
but I do not know how you educate the
will not be visiting your office. individuals who are going to go into
There is an issue of standardisation commission in such an industry. In the UK, especially
beginning to affect retailing. I do not in engineering circles, the low prestige
know what impact standardisation is Brussels at of the service industries is a problem.
going to have on the retail world. If present . To me, service industry does not mean
everything is standard and you can waiting on tables, it means providing
buy the same item anywhere, and you any kind of a service to a consumer.
can buy it anonymously and without The information revolution is
ever seeing it in the store, then I don’t know how people resulting in our providing services across networks and
will differentiate between products, and there will be very this will have to be done with a smile.
little price differentiation. This will be an interesting issue
to watch develop. IT issues
Electronic trading is without question the hottest issue I would like to consider the ITissues that affect the
at the European Commission in Brussels at present. SME:this is my particular interest. We did a survey for
Right now there is a big demand for people who know the EU and sent out 5000 questionnaires. We secured
what we mean by electronic trading or electronic about a 7% response rate and respondents identified five
commerce. This is clearly a new paradigm for the way we areas as being critical for them.
are going to operate in the future. The first was l;gistics, by which they meant the
We have new engineering methods too-change is not pressure on SMEs, as participants in the supply chain, to
just affecting industry and retailing. Engineers will not remove costs anywhere they can.
do base design (this is no shock);we’re not going back and Next, the vivtual enterprise and the impact on the SME.
doing design from scratch, we are doing reusable The loss of identity, their forming a shared identity with
component design. Engineers will not be designers but their larger customers, shared data, which may give other
builders needing a different set of skills. We have studios peoples access into your financial data, your pricing
and I believe we will see people selling design capability algorithms. The feeling of exposure to customers in the
on the network. This will allow SMEs to put ideas on the virtual enterprise worries many SMEs.
network and sell design concepts and skills to people Next is the issue of distance training. SMEs realise the
who, in the past, would never have known that this importance of keeping their workforce current, but they
particular business existed. cannot afford to lose manhours for training, so there is the
potential for distance training for workers in the future.
Unsolved problem Fourthly, mobility of the wovkforce. We need to realise
We have to consider ‘simultaneous engineering’.This that individuals are going to have to manage their career
interests me because, in the information revolution, we paths for themselves and be responsible for enhancing
have to address this issue of shared common data access, their own skills and for seeing that they remain at the
a problem that has yet to be solved. An electrical engineer leading edge of technology. Perhaps we shall be virtual
trained ten years ago who has not received more training employees and the mobility of the workforce means that

COMPUTING & CONTROL ENGINEERING JOURNAL DECEMBER 1996


we will be carrying our skills set with us. teacher and the IT industry has moved toward this whole
Finally, the problems of the technology cwve for the area of user-built programs. If you think about it, a
SME-where does an SME buy into the technology curve spreadsheet is a user program-the user writes a little
to ensure that their product won’t be obsolete in 12-24 program which allows him to deal with massive amounts
months? of data in the future. Looking ahead, he is going to write
So let us return to the challenge facing industry. UK little programs to decide how he is going to process his
industries must cope with global competition--cheaper information and what information he wants to be made
products available globally and, because they are aware of. What is that going to do to the computer science
available through IT, transparently. They must also cope industry if we don’t need programmers anymore? Of
with short product cycles of less than 12 months, rapid course it’s not that we won’t need any programmers, but
market changes and the obsolescence in the economy of end user programming is going to be an important
marketdindustries that were once cornerstones. So, there paradigm.
is this huge challenge to the core economic base-how are Also industry is moving to user planning. One of the
we going to cope with this need to engineer products? things that is most interesting to me is the pressure to
But, here, we have the problem that move control onto the manufacturing-
engineering is a dirty word in the UK. I floor. We have provided tools for use on
don’t understand why this should be the factory floor to allow the factory
while we are talking about engineering worker to make decisions about the next
being absolutely essential. (The man who step in production. We have given them
comes to fix my sink calls himself an tools to look at the ‘what ifs’ and work on
engineer. Why have you corrupted this a real-time basis. They have all the
term? Why have you allowed this to information they need and, given the
happen?) Where is the UKsending its proper tools, they can run the shop floor
best people? Not into engineering or without middle managers.
manufacturing-you are teaching them It is important to recognise that
economics and Latin and sending them individuals must take responsibility for
into the City! And I have already said that user learning and user training and that
those jobs are going to go away, so what we need to see more tutorials and case
will they do with their Latin in the year COM P U T E R studies. This will ensure that workers on
2000? S Y S T E M S the shop floor can be continually re-
By the way, one encouragement for me PROFESSIONALS educated and kept current in technology -~
is the breakthrough that has occurred at with user training tools. There are new
Cambridge with the establishment of a Masters degree in learning paradigms that have to be addressed. It is an
manufacturing engineering. The fact that Cambridge is issue of continuous education by which Ireally mean
offering this qualification gives it some degree of continuous re-education because it is not enough to say
credibility. If it’s OK for Cambridge it must be OK for the you have a first degree. That first degree, in industry, is
rest of us! no good in five year’s time. Take it off your CV and don’t
In the real world of industry we have a major admit you are that old! Get some new education and new
revolution. We’ve addressed the fact that we have new skills sets. Distance learning really is the way people will
tools, we have to respond to quick market changes and learn in the future. Modular certification is an interesting
yet in education we are still using blackboard tools. In an idea I’ve been thinking about. What we really need is
interactive world, where education must be a continuing people who identify a specific modular skill they need
process, the education industry is still teaching using the and get training in that particular area. They then get
tools of the 1980s.It is still teaching management theories certified with some kind of a time stamp that says they
of the 1980s when even theories of four years ago are are qualified in this subject up to a certain time point, e.g.
obsolete. Marketing strategies of four years ago will get the next 12 months.
you nowhere. In computer studies of four years ago were Classroom teaching will become the exception. This is
students taught about Java, about the WWW, object- already true in my own environment. Within Kewill we
oriented databases and about shared common access? If certainly recognise that more than 57% of our revenues
we do not keep students aware of emerging technologies come from what we call ‘soft services’.We get very little
a computer science degree is obsolete. If someone comes from hardware revenues and our software revenues are
to me with four years’ experience I discount the content decreasing as the price of software applications goes
of his computer science degree completely-it’s no use to down. Our revenues come from training, consultancy,
me. I don’t even look for people with computer science maintenance and hotline support. We used to bring
degrees anymore. people in and give them training at our facility, but not
Where industry has accepted these challenges, the any more-you may get one employee in for one day.
result has been that the user has been identified as Your hope is that he spreads the word back at the office

COMPUTING & CONTROL ENGINEERINGJOURNAL DECEMBER 1996


so you send him away with a video and a CD-ROM and graduates into our facility and not only do they not speak
hope that he gained sufficient knowledge to load it so he Spanish but they can’t read and write English. They are
can get the next level of education that he needs. not literate. The focus seems to be narrow too early-the
Classroom training is not going to happen. Blackboard result is that new graduates are not in any way equipped
training is not going to happen. We need a new from their education to cope with the breadth of the issues
educational paradigm to match the new way that they have to confront.
industry is working and to take account of the impact of Now my favourite subject is the MBA! To us the UK
the information revolution. MBA has become known as the ‘marginally beneficial
There is no question in my mind that the UK is asset’! The ‘clean-hands’MBA is coming to us with no
linguistically challenged! You have an advantage in that relevant experience, no credibility in our end-user
English is a major language of commerce but not in the community but lots and lots of attitude. So what do you
SMEcommunity that I work in across the EU. I was do with the cocky young guy who has got his MBA? We
in Bordeaux recently, I’m going to Toledo in Spain soon stopped hiring them. The MBA is very valuable if the
and the end users that I work with there do not speak holder has been out in industry for 5 or 10 years and has
English. In the traditional industries some real world experience, and then
across the EU they do not speak English. goes back to try to learn some of the
We have developed some lexicon tools techniques and some of the management
which allow us to take the technology theories that one gets in an MBA.
and the words that we use in Combine those two together and you’ve
manufacturing and feed them through got something of value but, please, let us
this lexicon, and actually produce not produce any more cocky 23 year old
something that our end users can MBAs who have all the answers.
translate into something that they So what does industry need? We need
can understand. But we haven’t really bilingual people. They must be
cracked the problem: we do not have any conversant in Euro-speak and realise that
qualified people with the right language what’s going on in Brussels and
and I’m afraid that the educational Strasbourg is really affecting the way we
industry in the UK is not helping us. are going to do business, the way we are
Now, in the USA, our second language C O M P U T E R going to educate our workforce and the
is loud English on the apparent theory S Y S T E M S way we are going to compete in the
that decibels will shatter any linguistic PROFESSIONALS markets of the Millennium. We must
barriers that we encounter across the understand and be aware of what is going
world! But this isn’t working for us and it isn’t going to on in the Euro centres. We need bicultural staff. It is not
work for you. You must realise that having a second EU enough to speak Spanish; you have to be comfortable in
language is going to become more and more crucial. One a Spanish culture.
of the questions is what should that language be? The Our new people will be ‘net resident’, maybe not
Germans all speak English but the language that is not netheads or nerds, but anyone who does not know how
well represented despite being spoken by about 40% of to get on the WWW, how to surf the net, how to get
the world is Spanish. information from the net or how to direct someone else to
Let me now turn to education products. You have to it, will not be employable. They have to understand the
understand that within the educational industry you are technology and be comfortable with it.
producing products. Think of them as products! I have a They need to think of themselves as ‘virtual
couple of things to say about the educational industry. employees’; people who understand that employers will
When I first came to the UK I was very impressed with not be taking responsibility for their education or their
the idea of polytechnics. The idea that you have very careers or advancement. My role, as an employer, is to
close links to industry and some real-world work going guide them, give them opportunities and make them
on: real-world work that SMEs could identify with. That aware of how I would use the skills that they are going to
faded away as polytechnics became universities. They gain.
cannot do some things as well as the old universities and Incidentally, the Japanese haven’t got it right either,
yet they have stopped doing the things which they did even though we always hear about how wonderful the
very well and that we desparately need. As I see it, they Japanese system is. I spent some time in Japan and they
were producing a product that was widely used and they learn too much by rote-we’re not talking about
are now producing one that isn’t competitive.I think they innovative thinking or the ability to create. I know that
should be moving closer to industry, not closer to the these are sweeping generalities, but their education
academic ivory towers. system is not producing the kind of people needed to cope
So maybe we really need to produce the generalist, not with, and benefit from, the information revolution. We are
the specialist. One of the problems is that we get new talking about training people to develop new information

COMPUTING & CONTROL ENGINEERING JOURNAL DECEMBER 1996


and to cope with, adopt and adapt to new conditions and can’t cope with managing change.
new trading and operating paradigms. So what do I really want? I want reality-based
In a word it is about change. experience. I don’t want someone who has never ‘done it’.
I do not think that it is useful to debate who failed I want those of you in education to make sure that their
whom. If the alliance is failing, and I think that it is, there ‘product’ has been out in industry as part of their
are a lot of people to blame. I think the question should be education and real-world experience. I love the sandwich
who failed who first? We have a lack of input from idea that you h a v e t h o s e that survive get to do their
industry and a lack of communication. If we don’t tell the final year and those that die, well, they get to go into
educators and the Institutions what we need, we have service I guess!
little chance of getting it. If the Institutions do not I want them literatethey must be able to read and
communicate with us then you have little chance of write. If they cannot express an idea clearly they are of no
providing it. So, academia has not got a detailed user value to us at all. I want them ITconscious-not a
requirement specification from the customer-assuming nethead but they must see IT as just another tool in
your customer base is industry and not students-and if their tool set. Multilingual, well I’ve discussed that long
they don’t have a detailed requirement spec. from us then enough. Flexible-they have to cope with working
there is no way that they are going to produce what we conditions today and next week which will almost
need. Just as important, they have no marketing report certainly be different.Mobile-willing to travel (mentally
which details the changing market as well as physically). What I want is
requirements. One of the things that the 21st century work person and the
worries me is that ‘we are going to Education is only way I will get that is to tell you very
update the curriculum’. This is not a one clearly what exactly I want from the
time only thing. One cannot start to not giving us education system.
update the curriculum and say that in products that So what is the responsibility of the
five years it’s going to be right. We’re individual? They must manage their
talking about continuous change, allow us to continuing education; it’s up to them to
continuous evolution, new training get modular certification, to get time
modules-every year. The pace of meet the global stamps in their workbook to show that
change is relentless.
competition we they keep their education current and
that you offer them opportunities to do
Proper specification are facing that. We have to accept that change is
Any product will fail if it hasn’t been the nature of the business and of the real
‘specced’, and I’m arguing that the every day world, and that change is never going to
suppliers haven’t ‘specced’ the product slow down. Individuals must arm
properly. On our side we have not themselves for the jobs war. There is a
generated a functional specification or understood the jobs war on and there will be a demand for people
need for that. We need to see education as a product we equipped to deal with the exciting, innovative and
purchase-we never spend this much money on anything challenging jobs that will be created in the next century.
else without specifying very clearly what we want, how So, our ‘unholyalliance’.The alliance must be based on
we are going to use it, how we are going to test it and how industry defining its product requirements and academia
we are going to maintain it, but we buy educational producing product specifications-of individuals doing
products that way. We have to define product standards quality checks on themselves and all partners in the
and say what is the minimum we will accept on these alliance understanding the dynamic nature of change. It
products. We also have to develop monitoring systems so is not enough to change the curriculum o n c e i t must be
that, as the process of change continues, we can monitor a continuous process.
what effect those changes have on both the product and So academia, industry and you-a vital alliance, the
the product users. unholy alliance, the unholy trinity? Whatever it is, it’s all
I call what we have right now a Mexican stand-off. The we’ve got and we’ve got to make it work.
supply doesn’t satisfy the marketplace (if you weren’t
aware of that before you started reading this article then This article is based on a lecture given at Savoy Place on the 18th
hopefully you are now). Education is not giving us April 1996.
products that allow us to meet the global competition that
0IEE: 1996
we are facing everyday. Industry is running quality
checks on the people we are employing and we are Sharron Burgmeier is Managing Director of Kewill GCS, Case
not satisfied. Everyone we employ, almost without House,85-89High Street,Walton on Thames,Surrey KT12 1DL,
UK. She graduated from UCLA, USA,took a Masters degree at
exception, requires additional training; we cannot the University of Southern California and an MBA at Stanford
see self-starters and lateral thinkers coming out University. She moved to the UK in 1988 to work for the Kewill
of the education system, and what does come out Group.

COMPUTING & CONTROL ENGINEERINGJOURNAL DECEMBER 1996