Tips and a bit of a rant from the Technical Director

You should only apply for a job with us if you answer yes (and can provide convincing evidence in your application) to these questions: 

  1. Do you have engineering aptitude? Unfortunately a distinction average on your transcript is a rather poor indicator. That has a lot do with Australian universities.
  1. Do you have passion for engineering? If you have aptitude, chances are you will also have passion, but your trail of achievements (even as a graduate) confirms it.
  1. Do you get results? Far too often we see people with a bit of aptitude but no horsepower. We work in a fast-paced (I'd avoid that cliché if I could think of a better term) commercial setting and we need you to deliver. Consistently and to a high standard.

We don't get too concerned about lack of experience. It is much more about your potential. However if you have engineering design experience, that is absolutely fantastic and we badly want to hear all about it. Sadly it is rare these days. As we accelerate our descent back into being a farm and a quarry there is not much experience to be had. You may be one of the last exiting the car industry that actually had a chance to design something real, or you might have had some real design experience in the defence technology sector before the DMO and their ilk destroyed it. Either way you are probably aged 50 or more and too demoralised to be looking for another job. We value your skills and badly need you for technical leadership and mentoring roles. Please apply! You may also be from overseas from a place where real engineering is not the rarity it is here. We value EU, UK, US experience highly - please apply!

If you have read this far and it is all making sense you will no doubt be ready to fire off your carefully considered CV and supporting material. To help us sort the wheat from the chaff please put "this Dilbert wants to sit the test" as the title on your cover letter. That reminds me. We have a test that you will sit before we spend much time talking to you. If you are cut out to be a design engineer it will become apparent very quickly. Your chance to shine!

Applidyne is committed to making a difference. In doing so we will offer clever, motivated design engineers an awesome place to work and succeed. We are not an outfit content to see the missed opportunities of the past repeated and are doing our level best to ensure that this does not happen. We are doing this by actively pursuing opportunities to develop new products of our own as well as assisting our clever, creative and resourceful clients. If you can contribute we want you on the team!

 

Australian universities

Unfortunately an engineering degree from an Australian university is increasingly less valuable. The courses have been dumbed down over the last couple of decades to meet the imperative of sending overseas full-fee paying students home with a degree. It appears that today's P1 is yesterday's Fail. Government funding is now based on the level of research output, so most academics are focused on pumping out papers, many of them so esoteric as to be largely worthless. So the good old days where you could learn how to design things from industry practitioners seem to be gone - there are not too many research papers to be had in design. As a result, design has largely disappeared from University courses. If you are contemplating studying engineering at an Australian university do your homework. Find out what design content they have left.  Who teaches it?  Do they have many years of real industry experience? Does the university participate in exercises that keep it real, such as the Warman competition or Formula SAE? How well do they perform in these? Don't feel compelled to go to your closest university - go to the best one you can get into. Unfortunately, there is precious little useful information out there ranking universities. We’ve collated some statistics on how students from different universities have performed in the Applidyne Scholarship test. The most striking result is that the New Zealand universities on average outperform those in Australia, a result that correlates with the Warman results over the years; the Kiwis are over-represented in the winners list. Maybe we're starting to redress this a bit - these results are only up to 2014 - in 2015 RMIT won and Monash Clayton won in 2016.

We can't entirely blame our universities.They have been forced to convert their first year curricula into remedial teaching programs. Maths and physics at Australian high schools has been dumbed down. Exams have been largely replaced by continuous assessment. It is possible to get a great TER without doing many or any real subjects or enduring any stress (God forbid!). How does that prepare someone for university or real life for that matter?

For more information on how the universities compare have a look at this presentation I did for the National Committee on Engineering Design. And it even includes a useful set of tips on CAD and drawings.

 

Australia - a farm and a quarry

Nothing encapsulates this sad story better than South Australia and Sir Thomas Playford. After the war Australia realised that it needed to do more than farming and quarrying if it was to defend itself in future, let alone achieve the high standard of living that the US and other western countries were rapidly achieving. South Australia was a small isolated state.  Sheep and wheat provided most of the income. Sir Thomas Playford, South Australia's Premier who would run the state for 26 years realised that the state needed to industrialise if it was to flourish. A Liberal (that means conservative if you are reading this overseas, paradoxically he would be more at home in the current day Greens than Liberal or even Labour), he understood that while private enterprise builds companies, governments build industries. He set out to do just that. He attracted Holden (GM) to South Australia to build cars. He set up the Electricity Trust of South Australia and built the infrastructure to ensure industry had a reliable supply of affordable electricity. He built the town of Elizabeth to ensure that Holden had workers. And for the next 40 years or so that worked well. Not only did South Australia build cars, it built televisions, washing machines, air conditioners and many other things. But after Sir Tom moved on governments took their eye off the ball.  They neglected to maintain and nurture the industry and to support the infrastructure that would allow them to evolve and grow as new technologies dictated new products and lower labour cost countries took over old products. This became almost a badge of honour when the economic rationalists took over in the eighties and nineties. As a result those industries are now mostly gone and there are few new ones to take their place. So in the space of 70 years or so we have seen the rise and fall of an industrialised society in South Australia (as one of our clients put it to me, "we are in a post-industrial era minus the industry"). When the last of the car industry closes in 2017 we will be pretty much back to where we started, though there are probably more career opportunities now in aged care or as a barista. At least the old folks reminiscing in their retirement village about the days the first Holden came off the line, WRESAT soared towards the heavens, and a new Kelvinator fridge took pride of place on the kitchen lino, will not be short of a good coffee. The good news though is that Applidyne remains, supporting those companies developing new technologies, systems and products, though increasingly these are interstate or overseas.

 

Missed Opportunities

It was Bob Hawke that said in 1990 that we need to become the clever country. But it would appear that we instead decided to do the opposite. We have gone backwards in education, arguably have gone backwards in research and have been poor at developing and commercialising new ideas and innovations. We are avid consumers of new technologies but laggards at developing it. Don't let the mirage of mining booms fool you, trading iron ore for iPhones is not a path to economic prosperity. So why didn't we develop the iPhone, or the Tesla motor car?  Why are we not a hub of renewable energy research and innovation? How have we got to the position where virtually all solar energy technology and every wind turbine is imported? Because we are not a sunny or windy place? Why are we a nation of price takers, not price setters? Whilst our politicians must shoulder a lot of the blame the problem runs deeper. Our business leaders predominantly have a merchant mentality and an incredibly short term focus. Certainly not conducive to investment in R&D and driving it to success over the longer term. And with politicians that mostly have never had a real job in their lives we certainly can't expect them to drive change in this area. We need a massive cultural shift and with best efforts all around this will take decades. And it requires our business leaders that "get it" to step up to the mark and make themselves heard. They will also need to have incredibly thick skin to rise above our uniquely Australian tall poppy syndrome (don't get me started on this!). Look at what happens when business leaders such as Clive Palmer and Dick Smith, both who have achieved more than 99.99% of Australians and 100% of journalists at The Australian, do step up to the mark. Watch the media and our pollies try to cut them down to size rather than support them. See how they get painted as buffoons, nerds, geeks, mavericks, and misfits. No wonder our best and brightest head overseas. And so the cycle continues.

 

The DMO

The Defence Materiel Organisation (DMO - but now renamed) has much to answer for. They (and their precursor organisations) have presided over a massive decline in the capability of Australia's defence technology sector over the last 30 years. Incredibly, we are the only country in the world that I can think of where defence prefers to buy overseas rather than locally. Strategic capability does not seem to be something they consider. If we can't keep a steady flow of ships arriving from overseas, from countries with sufficient surplus capacity and the inclination to supply, we will be back to using sticks to defend ourselves pretty quickly. How has this come to pass?  In my experience it is because we run a massive defence bureaucracy based in Canberra of which the Soviets would be proud. The Soviet system worked better though; there at least if you made too big a hash of something a visit to the gulag was a distinct possibility. Here a promotion is more likely. We are just seeing their ineptitude play out again with the Air Warfare Destroyer (AWD) project, a contract so poorly conceived, structured and managed that it never was going to succeed. But you will read in the media that it is all the contractor's fault and they will never challenge that publicly. Don't bite the hand that feeds you.

And if you think I'm just being negative or don't know what I'm talking about, I started working in defence engineering in 1986 and have on and off ever since. Tell me, where are the current equivalents of Jindivik (lost drone opportunity here), Barra Sonobuoy, Nulka ship defence system, laser airborne depth sounder (LADS) and Jindalee (over the horizon radar)?  Mmm, thought so. Remember the days when we could build and launch a satellite? Or build an aircraft?

 

Paul van de Loo

Founder and Technical Director

Applidyne Australia