We’re getting old…

Some assembly required… X 30…
But who is going to do it when we’re gone?

I’m on the road again, putting stuff on a boat to go test it and I’m looking around and other than the geeks, everybody else has gray or white hair (if they have any hair left)…

Ages are 68, 67, 66, 66, 63, 61, 59, 58, 58, 56, 53 and 51, or an average of 60+ years; and all of the scientists were over 60 too (one is 79 years young). Two guys were lured back out of retirement to come work on this stuff. We were in at 0630 every morning, worked until about 1900, and did it again and again till we were done. And some of the stuff was ‘designed’ on the spot to get things done…

There was an immense amount of experience at work, and it was actually funny a couple of times, because most of us have interacted off and on for years; so some of the ideas were ‘floated’ and shot down by somebody else going, “Now wait a minute, you remember back in 93, you tried that s**t and it didn’t work THEN; now I’d do it this way..” And away we’d go again…

But a problem (or at least my perception), is there are NO younger people in training for any of our jobs. I literally went around to the various organizations represented and asked! The consensus was when we all retire (I think ALL of us will be gone within 5-6 years), there will literally be no one with the capability to build/integrate/assemble/deploy/retrieve systems like this; much less anything larger.

It’s NOT something that lends itself to automation, and requires experience, ability to think out of the box, manual dexterity, knowledge of strain limits (and how to take a strain on a line), field operations, weather, safety, and most of all the ability to remain calm when literally crap is coming down around your ears…

Who is going to replace us? The geeks? Well, they complained that the tent didn’t have air conditioning (one), that they didn’t have Internet connectivity (two), and what did we mean Monday was a workday, it’s a HOLIDAY (three)… (OBTW, they are both post-docs from a reputable institution which shall remain nameless to protect the guilty) Sigh…

And then one of them has the balls to come on the ship and ask us to step out of the way so he could take a picture of all the work HE did… (so we turned around and mooned him)…

But seriously, what’s the next generation going to do? Forfeit the capability to the Asians? Hope they can pay somebody to do the work for them? Just stop doing R&D? I don’t know, but I’m not getting a good feeling here…


We’re getting old… — 21 Comments

  1. I imagine there was a guy on a ship in 1880 that thought the exact same thing.

    Someone will be around to do it. They may have to make the same mistakes all over again but the job will get done.

  2. Sorry to say…. the very act of asking the question clears the way for you to become an instructor. What will ‘future generations’ do? What you teach teach them to do.

    Sorry about that…. good luck on the new career. 🙂

  3. Something I’ve pondered and lamented for quite some time. It’s the inevitable effect of our society mutating from one of industry to one of service.

    Plenty of book-smarts out there, but books will only take you so far.

    We’ve reached the point where entry-level positions – in almost ANY field – require a bachelor’s degree or are even “masters preferred”. Why? Because undergrad college work is now an extension of high school.

    Instead of teaching a college student to apply their brain and THINK, it’s four (or five, or six) more years of regurgitation to a tenured talking head. It’s in the post-grad world that critical and applied thinking skills start to become necessary. When you have to decide on, design, research, report on, and defend a thesis, you have to cover all your bases, not just spit back some dates and numbers.

    Thing is, if you’re spending north of a hundred grand on an education, you don’t want a $30-35k entry level position. You want middle management. Team lead. Project coordinator. Prestige suitable for your high level of education – nevermind that you aren’t proven yet.

    In my area at least, the kids who choose to get off the college path and go to vocational school tend to get mocked. The “dumb kids”. Of course, those “dumb kids” leave high school with a marketable trade; often for damn good money. Unfortunately, not many of today’s youth are going that path because it’s not the expected course.

    Manual skills are something you call someone to take care of. Plumbing. Electrical work. Carpentry. Engine repair. Masonry. Welding. Etc.

    I won’t claim I’m an expert at any of those things; not by any means. But – my father taught me by example to be self-sufficient. I can solder copper pipe, pull a new circuit, frame a wall, hang drywall, change oil/filters/plugs, mix concrete by feel… and I’m not afraid to fail at any of them. I’ll damn well TRY to do something before I admit defeat. Yes, it costs me a bit of money now and then (there’s a pile of mis-cut lumber in the garage from various projects) and has been known to result in some profanity… but by gum, I WILL try.

    Gen Y is in for some rude awakenings.

  4. The Dark Ages after the Roman Empire fell were from not having the technology and knowledge that had built and maintained the Empire – and that is History. What happens now is dependent on if the Civilization collapses or is sustained. Or we can hope for change, and get it – ready or not, here it comes!

    wv throgr

  5. My father was a carpenter who worked on submarine bases and nuclear power plants. There were young bucks hired (mainly the son-in-laws and relatives of the foremen who would show up for work with new toolboxes and never been used tools). The old guys wouldn’t share any work tips with the young guys, who had the energy, but not the experience- it was a way of preserving their jobs. It sounds harsh, but when a kid with absolutely no experience is hired, and you have a family to support, you do what you have to. They eventually got the experience they needed to carry on, but it wasn’t at the expense of the guys that busted their asses the hard way for 30 years. Just my double pennies.

  6. Alan- I truly hope so…

    Carteach0- I was an instructor in the Navy off and on for 17 years… sigh…

    Zer- Excellent points, and yep it’s going to be rude!

    Earl- Dead on…

    Mrs. C- Understood, but there are NO young people even wanting to do this stuff….

  7. What I see is the lack of work ethic more than anything else. One of my bosses told me that he can’t give out days off on Saturdays. That’s not his decision, the order came from on high.

    Why is that? Saturday is the highest day for sick calls because the young guys don’t want to work the weekend. Too many parties, so they just call in sick. Which means that 30+ year guys like me can’t get the day off, but can pick up a lot of OT on weekends if we want.

    Apparently, no one explained to them that when the job posting said “nights and weekends required” it mean nights and weekends required to actually show up and work.

    Alan is probably right to an extent, but from what I see we are in for a rough few years before the young guys (and women) get it.

  8. They get to reinvent the wheel. Usually means we all suffer because an important piece is missing.

    When I was a youngster, not doing the job right meant an ass kicking, verbally and/or physically. If I’ve given my children anything, it is having a strong work ethic. Few of their peers have it.

  9. I kick myself now for not finishing my engineering degree and going all the interesting places it could take me – but when I’m up to my elbows in MEK-thinned dope and whittling a tongue depressor to be the perfect tool for the job, or working out where to put the bend at what radius on .010 gauge alclad, I realize I’d never have learned any of this in engineering school anyway.

    Hopefully they’ll come from somewhere – they don’t have to be common, just out there.

    Now, to bed, so tomorrow I can sacrifice going to the range for work. Work, work!

  10. TOTW- Yep, my daughter usually tries to pick up a 12 on Saturday and lots of times is told no, because she’s getting too much overtime… sigh…

    WSF- Our concern is they are going to kill somebody while they ‘learn’… 1500-3000 lb moorings are NOT something you try for the first time at sea…

    drjim- yeah…

    Wing- You are learning ‘practical’ applications, which would never have been taught in class, but by the same token, having that sheepskin would help with the pay!

    CS- Agreed, the whole coddle the learners crap has led to where we are now!

  11. The 1990s “peace dividend” resulted in the loss of over 20,000 YEARS experience in less than 6 months at my old outfit. The retirements were not all voluntary. And yes, we have paid for the loss of all that experience in lives. And no, some of the skill sets have never been replaced.

  12. Sounds to me like you’re working in the old Colt Firearms plant when they were building double-action revolvers. When all the old guys, those who knew how to build the guns, died off, they are OUT of the double-action revolver business….and 60 years ago they were considered the standard of quality.

    And they could still sell some IF someone actually knew how to build them like they used to…

    All The Best,
    Frank W. James

  13. I have a degree in mathematics, mostly because I was made to feel fairly unwelcome in the physics dept. (Math was a little better, because that is where the computer scientists lived at the time, so they were a bit less ancient.)

    A dear friend of mine was told by 2 different professors that women didn’t belong in the engineering department.

    So excuse me if the “they didn’t do enough to train the next generation” falls a bit flat.

    How many of those 50, 60 or 80 year old engineers, PhDs or machinists made it impossible for women or blacks to enter the field or made it tough to stay when they were there.

    A few years ago, I was working for a defense contractor. Hard times came along and every one of the engineers I worked with under the age of 45 was part of the layoff.

    They weren’t the worst/stupidest/etc. They were just the most expendable. I doubt half of them are still in aerospace.

    And while I agree that a lot of the younger generations are whiners, what are you all doing but whining about the younger generation?

  14. Disclaimer: You is used collectively here, mainly in reference to a generation.

    Coming from the flip side, I’m an engineer with close to 10 years experience. I started out of school working for a major defense contractor. Of the five years I was there, I never got paid more (when you look at it in $/hr). The first couple raises mirrored inflation, and then we got health care costs pushed back on us. By the time I made it to a senior engineer I was working more hours so I really didn’t make any more per hour. To get ahead the conventional wisdom was you had to leave the company, go somewhere else and come back later. The process in the company is designed to retard growth and not reward those who excel. They tried to put lipstick on it, but it boiled down to, “we treat you good enough to keep you here, and no more.”

    I left that for a stint running a lab at a major university. There I saw the ugly side of academia. After a few years of that I knew I had to move on. I looked around and had an offer from a different defense contractor to be one of the graybeard trainees, to soak up all their knowledge. The locale wasn’t the best. When I looked at the “benefits” I was put off. When I got an offer, I told them I needed at least $10k more before I would even bother to see if I could keep my standard of living. The wouldn’t budge.

    Instead of doing that, I sold my home and moved back closer to family for the support (for me, my wife and kids) while I try my hat at consulting and contract design.

    [continued in next comment]

  15. [continued from prior comment]

    There’s a myriad of reasons why there’s only graybeards left at a lot of engineering companies. While many complain about these kids, which is a valid critique of many of them, remember you created the world they live in. You created the world where the only way to get ahead in America is by selling something or being in business. Creating something of value doesn’t get rewarded that well. Oppressing the hireling pays much better. You created a system where academia is into itself more than education. You created a system where you have to be morally bankrupt to win a bid. You created and perpetuated a system that at all levels of government and industry promised entitlements that are paid for by theft from future citizens/employees.

    With the system you created, why should someone go do something hard like engineering when the real money is made being an #$% in business, both foreign and domestically. Why do engineering when those same people are going to offshore your job. Why go into defense when the government is going to have to cut it to pay for entitlements? Why go into engineering when what you may design goes against what this country was founded on? Why go into anything when the government will take care of you, because it’s not your fault?

    When you gripe about these darn kids, remember this isn’t a stateless machine. They are a function of what is input into them, and that’s all you baby. What have you done to turn back the erosion of the constitution for the last 100 years? What have you done to save our sovereignty from being outsourced to SE Asia? The problems are coming to a head on your generations watch. Some of you are getting religion now that it’s time to go out to pasture, I mean retirement. Where was that when you were 30 and starting your family, if you had one?

    If we’re going to clean up this system, it’s not going to be by doing the same thing your generation did. That’s what got us here. That’s why you don’t see a lot of us in corporate USA engineering. It’s called conscientious objections. Do you think it might have anything to do with why so many extremists are engineers?

    … and if any of you need quality RF electronics designed and built, give me a buzz.

  16. What sort of R&D do you do? I’m 38 and run my own engineering consulting company: http://www.sector7g-systems.com.

    We are always interested in new work. Our biggest clients have been in the marine industry, and we are capable of all sorts of fancy control and optimization work, and lots of other stuff as well.

  17. What Chad K. said is both true and completely irrelevant. A smart, motivated person can still do well by themself in any of those fields- but it can still be disheartening to to run up against those glass walls and ceilings.

    I’m out for me and mine, and if I can make society slightly better along the way, that’s a bonus.

  18. Chad K’s attempt to shame older engineers is completely wrong.  Today’s world wasn’t made by the engineers graduated in the 80’s, 70’s or any time later than the 40’s.  The political influence of engineers and real scientists has been nil for a couple generations; today’s world was made by people who majored in law and Poli Sci, and driven by the filthy rich, their hired-gun lobbyists and their bought-and-paid-for pols.