I paid a visit to the Electronics and Electrical Industries Benevolent Association (EEIBA) at its new offices in Wandsworth in sunny Saarf West London recently. Apart from the fact I had a little trouble announcing into the entry phone who I wished to visit- the name hardly trips off the tongue - I was intrigued to find out a little more about the organisation.
It was set up, can you believe, 107 years ago by ten of the then leaders in the electrical industry. Its first Charity Ball was at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London as long ago as 1931 and that annual event is still going strong at the same venue. It raised £270,000 last year at the Power Ball, as it's now called, alone!
The thing is I have known about the EEIBA for about as long as I have been in the industry - and no I don't go as far back as 1904 despite what my so called mates might suggest. What I failed to realise is that while most of the captains of our industry are reasonably aware of the good works the Association does, it is the grass roots level where there remains an education to be done. How many electrical engineers and contractors know what the EEIBA can do for them should they ever need help?
There are some incentives to invest - such as the regular EEIBA lottery in which those donating have a chance of winning regular cash prizes of up to £1000 - but it really lies with the employers, owner-contractors and other enterprises to bring the Association's benefits to bear.
For example, how many electrical engineers know that employees can donate at source from their pay packets and gain not only the reassurance of support from the Association, but also get entries into the monthly lottery (each £1 donated gains one ticket effectively)?
When one reads some of the case studies about those who have benefited (visit www.eeiba.org) it brings home the good that's done for those that need it most. And that can be any one of us at any time!
On another note entirely, the government has declared it realises we have a shortage of engineering graduates. Actually to the tune of 10,000 per year over the next five years if we are to address the imbalance between making things and our preoccupation with the financial services sector. Well look who just got to smell the coffee! This is something I have blathered on about tirelessly (surely you mean tiresomely - Ed.) for at least the past thirty years since I stopped getting my hands dirty with cables and such like.
So, we need 50,000 more graduate engineers do we? How about we create a resurgence of engineering apprenticeships at all levels instead? A young person with an ONC/OND or even an HNC/HND or whatever the equivalent NVQ is these days, is just as likely to be competent as a theorist churned out from one of our newer ‘universities'. But, they [the apprentices] will, in all likelihood have greater application skills and a better work ethic.
I've said it before in this column, electrical firms need to be incentivised to provide modern apprenticeships and this is something only Government can do. Yet, no doubt as a nation we'll continue to pray that somehow young people will be encouraged to study physics and engineering at degree level (whatever that is these days). Maybe offering unconditional places and full, non-repayable grants will do it. But I doubt it will really give us the engineers we need!
I know I'm old, crusty and embittered, but I see the good works of the EEIBA and realise so many don't realise what a good thing they could have. Then I look at the abject lack of awareness by politicians of what industry really needs, and I wring my hands and start tugging at what remains of my former cascading ringlets.