Daily Challenge Day 66

“Jack of all trades, master of none”

Whilst the above phrase is typically taken negatively, an alternative view would be to consider that the “jack of all trades” is capable of recognising the false master. In the modern world it keeps becoming apparent that the proclaimed masters, have mastered very little, so little that they have mastered nothing. So little, that generalists know more than those purporting to be specialists, experts and masters.

Generalists are necessary to safeguard against self appointed masters using fear, uncertainty and doubt to grab power and exert authority over us. For example increasingly groups of people want to define professions, and have legislation implemented which restricts work to those who join some club. They contend there is asymmetry of knowledge between the now defined profession and the public, and such monopoly is to protect the public.

Far better than protecting the public through legislation is removal of the asymmetry of knowledge. Rather than creating closed groups and talking in jargon, knowledge should be curated, guarded, disseminated and shared with the population at large. If knowledge is shared it can be criticised, confirmed or refuted.

Consider health care where have to typically visit a general practitioner (GP) who then directs to specialists if needed. Or in law where the public typically deals with a solicitor, who then obtains the services of a barrister. Or when it comes to building design, there is the architect who is responsible for the whole building and obtains the services of electrical engineers, mechanical engineers, HVAC engineers, structural engineers and civil engineers as needed. However in all these cases we potentially have a learned elite who do not necessarily serve well, the community at large.

Engineering takes place at the frontiers of science and technology.

Buildings are an established technology, as are a buildings various subsystems, such as structure, mechanical and electrical services. The design of buildings requires neither architects or engineers: the requirement of such depends on how close the building technology pushes to a frontier of science. If when designing a building we hit a frontier of science and technology, then we have a high risk situation with an uncertain and unpredictable expectation of performance. If no prototypes are built and tested, then the potential hazards are great. A lot of high rise buildings are real world experiments: with the occupants being experimental guinea pigs.

To avoid the avoidable defects and failures, each occupation needs their own bible which defines their body of knowledge. Each technology requires a bible. The body of knowledge also needs dividing between the various levels of a qualification framework such as the Australian Qualification Framework (AQF). The AQF has ten levels, therefore each thread of knowledge needs dividing into no more than 10 levels: assuming it cannot be compressed into a single level. The levels of the AQF represent increasing depth, moving across levels represents increasing depth. At some point acquiring more knowledge just becomes impractical for human life. It is here suggested to keep things within the practical that systems be designed requiring no more than a 2 year Associate Degree, and further more that we do not go around inventing occupational bachelor degrees which are based on breadth. Most of the existing occupational degrees have significant overlap and cover breadth not depth: but the degree titles hinder mobility between occupations. So most occupational shortages are imposed by those defining professions based on vested self interest rather than the needs of society and industry.

As I have identified previously most 4 year engineering degrees can be split into, one common year of technical science, followed by 3 years covering 4 to 5 major areas of practice. Thus 3/4 to 3/5th’s of a year for each major area of practice, combined with the common year of technical science, means each area of practice can be covered in less than 2 years. Given that do not require all the technical science for each area of practice, potential exists to collapse the whole area of practice into a single year of study.

If we separate education from training. Education provides foundational knowledge and enabling competence and training develops proficiency. Soldiers and firefighters train, olympic athletes train. At the moment society relies on industry for training and on extending foundational knowledge. I suggest we provide specialist training academies to augment education. Say 10 weeks in a training academy for each year of formal education. Thus a 5 year Masters Degree would require 50 weeks in a training academy, bringing total duration to 6 years.

If I take AQF-5 as a 1 year baseline qualification, then Certificate I, is 1/5th of a year duration. Whilst everything above AQF-5 adds one year. So AQF-6 is a two year qualification, AQF-7 is 3 year, AQF-8 is 4 year, and AQF-9 is 5 year, whilst AQF-10 is undefined duration but typically 5 years or more. These durations exclude the training, and training is additional to the award. That is for completing the additional training a certificate of practice is award beyond the AQF award.

Thus by reprogramming and rescheduling the knowledge content of formal education, we can educate people faster specifically for the task at hand. What we really need to do is toss occupations aside, and pay more attention to the AQF, to create a flexible workforce. It is better for industry and society for people to have two AQF-5 qualifications than to have one AQF-6 qualification. For example there is little value in getting a B.Eng in civil engineering if after graduation become specialised in stormwater drainage and then cannot gain employment in structural design: or vice versa. The educators contention is that we cannot know where they will be employed, therefore need to cover breadth. I don’t believe such assertion.  It should be relatively clear that Australia oscillating between drought and flood, that management of water resources is an important and on going need. That the need is not sat in a design office dreaming, but out on site constructing. Therefore churning out people with B.Eng (civil) doesn’t actually fulfill a real need. We need people who can design and implement rainwater harvesting systems and stormwater drainage systems. The number of engineers required is few, the number of technicians required is large.

The need for engineers, which by my meanings can only be AQF-10, becomes apparent as get to work on real world projects. The AQF-5 works with those at lower AQF levels, there is no asymmetry of knowledge between. The AQF-4 will be acutely aware that the person with AQF-5 does or does not know the fundamentals of the task at hand and whether or not they can provide any real assistance. The AQF-5 will know whether to turn to AQF-6 and whether such person can or cannot provide real assistance, and so on up the ladder. So their should be an appropriate hierarchy within industry, the larger the gap between the AQF levels in an organisation the greater the communication problems. For example engineers thinks builders don’t know what they are doing, and builders think engineers don’t know what they are doing. Neither as  adequate knowledge of the others task, and each causes problems for the other. Which is good reason to get the technical officers back.

As for the public, well they are generally concerned with getting physical objects, not pretty pictures of physical objects, so they mostly deal with people at AQF-3. At AQF-3 mostly concerned with physical objects people have seen and are aware about, and which they can describe in terms of their needs and experienced interactions. The AQF-3 supplier can describe what they are going to provide and it can be understood. Does a builder need to be licensed? I would say no, not the least of which, licensing doesn’t work anycase: if people don’t check licenses then not much point. Further just because someone has a license doesn’t mean they are any good. As a buyer you need to become adequately informed, and be able to ask questions, so that you can determine for yourselves whether a supplier is any value.

Put simply licensing doesn’t protect anyone: just check the South Australian Office of Consumer and Business Services. People who provided services without license make promise not to provide any future services. Those who had license lose license. Its all a low quality, quality control exercise rather than quality assurance. That is defects are permitted: and the gate is closed after the horse has bolted. Or its just a bureaucratic exercise as for example the issue of RPEQ status and management of dam, during the Queensland floods of 2010/2011.

What we require is qualification defined by proper education and training, not annual purchase of a license or registration. Proper education can consist of recognition of prior learning.

But the first requirement is to define the body of knowledge: the common and accepted reference manuals, along with necessary journals and newsletters for keeping upto date, and forums for questioning and criticizing any proposed and actual changes. Knowledge needs to be defined, published and open to confirmation or refute. Bowing to authority is not acceptable.