Opinion – Eschew the tools of today?

I shouldn’t have risen to it. I am a grown man, not a 12 year old girl. I know that online talk is generally just that. But every once in a while, I find myself sucked into a discussion so baseless that it needs to be addressed. I confess that I took the bait.

A good friend of mine had posted a video of his 15-year old son learning about things like GPS, machine control and excavator operator aids.

Someone (I won’t name him because that’s probably precisely what he wants) responded to say that young operators should not have access to such systems (including tilt rotators) until they have learned on a stripped down, bare bones machine.

I responded: “So, by that token, young operators should probably be forced to watch only black and white TV, live on rations, drive a car without power steering, ABS and electric windows, and should probably contract a nice bit of character-building rickets and polio.”

I know. My trademark subtlety has broken early for the festivities.

But the more I thought about it, the more ridiculous I found the suggestion. Would an apprentice chef be denied access to an electric food mixer until he/she had mastered whisking by hand? Should an apprentice carpenter learn to use a hand drill before they’re upgraded to an electric drill? Should a demolition operative be required to work their first six months sporting a flat cap to give them a true understanding of site hazards before they earn their hard hat?

The fact is that tilt rotators, GPS, ground penetrating radar and driver aids are part and parcel of the modern demolition and construction world. They are the tools of today – Why would you choose NOT to use them? Should we insist that schoolchildren carry a dictionary, even though they have the sum of all knowledge right there on the electronic device that is never more than four inches from their hand.

My brain then started to get carried away. If we could somehow bring Einstein back from the dead and give him a second shot at the Theory of Relativity, do you think he’d do so with pen, paper and a dog-eared book of logarithmic tables while deliberately ignoring the calculator at his fingertips?

Or that Shakespeare, granted an opportunity to write one more play, would cry: “Verily and forsooth. Taketh away this confounded computer, and bringeth me a quill plucked afresh from the hindquarters of a goose of finest provenance.”

Moreover, many of the electronic systems on modern machines don’t just aid the operator; they feed data back to a central hub to keep main contractors and clients informed and to ensure that predetermined parameters are being met consistently.

So, on a major project – HS2 for example – are we to have hundreds of machines delivering real-time data on project progress and accuracy while one lone machine operated by an industry rookie is an ongoing blind-spot?

The timing of this conversation was remarkably timely. I had only just recorded and edited an interview with Erol Ahmed at machine autonomy specialist Built Robotics for our brand-new Tech 4 Sites video and audio podcast.

During that interview, Ahmed states that construction has “had a decline in productivity over the past 50 years”. One of the key causes of this, he believes, is the industry’s slow take-up of technology.

I guess my final thought is that, for years, we have tried to lure young people into the industry by telling them that operating an excavator is similar to operating an Xbox or PlayStation. We want to attract the expertise of young people that have grown up surrounded by technology and that have never known a life without it.

Yet we still have individuals within the industry that believe that when those tech-savvy young people join the industry, they should do so on a Drott, a Hymac or an RB.