Teaching old dogs new tricks

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Recession, depression, whatever you want to call it, it’s upon us. Skilling up on the latest CAD software can help ensure you’re in an advantageous position when we come out the other side, writes Martyn Day
Apparently it’s never too late to say sorry. At this very moment in time a right bunch of bankers are lined up in front of a Treasury committee of MPs and some TV cameras to use the ‘S’ word to the nation. From a viewer’s perspective it seems a very co-ordinated and rehearsed performance, and according to The Times, indeed it is. Ahead of the meeting they had PR folks to coach them on tactics prior to their grilling – ‘fessing up’ can be stage managed, it seems. Two key points of interest that have come out so far are that HBOS sacked and gagged its head of Risk Management four years ago after he pointed out the bank was taking excessive risks since 2002. He was of course replaced with someone who was ideally qualified for the role as he had no Risk Management experience at all. Talking of qualifications, it also turns out that the majority of these people running, ‘managing’ these now toxic, nationalised banks didn’t have banking experience or qualifications either.

However, to practice engineering, to design rockets, qualifications are not optional. Also, in the process of design, risk has to be limited and assessed within any company. If designs for airplanes, spaceships, cars, electrical products, buildings or bridges aren’t fully tested or analysed and fail, then the cost can be measured in terms of lives lost. In banking, we are realising that the cost of ignoring risk is measured in livelihoods lost, mainly other people’s. I’ve heard so many statistics, million, billion and trillions and percentage losses that I now only hear the ‘numb’ in numbers. What’s clear is that the global economy is shrinking, UK jobs are being lost and it will be right across the board, from cleaners to CEOs, engineers to the shop floor, crushed by the wheels of the banking industry.

Look at the jobs out there, make a note of the dominant platforms, and then get skilled up in the package with the most demand

So what’s an unemployed engineer or designer to do? Well, obviously look for another job but in the meantime how about improving your skills and learning the latest software, or another modelling package? I’ve been doing some research and seeing what access there is to the latest CAD software tools. While none of the major developers have announced specific retraining or access to tools for unemployed engineers, there are a great number of student editions that can be either downloaded for free or acquired for a fraction of the cost. All the software vendors have upped their game in the education sector, competing to get more users of their tools into the marketplace and easing adoption for companies considering standardisation on a particular package.

To gain legitimate access to a student version, it may require enrollment in an actual recognised course. So it’s a good idea to contact your local further education college and see what courses are running. Hopefully they will be able to tell you which courses entitle you to have home access to the CAD software that they are running. Some may even be able to resell the software on to you when you have enrolled.

Autodesk offers free access to pretty much all its latest tools if you are on a qualifying course (http://students.autodesk.com).

SolidWorks Student Edition comes at a small cost but is accompanied by a complete and comprehensive curriculum with all the courseware. It’s available from authorised SolidWorks education resellers. www.solidworks.com/sw/education


PTC also charges a small amount for its multi module student edition, which offers a lot of bang for the buck, and can be bought online. There’s also an online University for eLearning and Coach but these elements are expensive by comparison.

Siemens PLM Software sells yearly Solid Edge Student licenses for a small fee to students of verified courses. (www.plm.automation.siemens.com/en_us/about_us/goplm/app/resource_center.shtml).

There is a Student Catia Edition from Dassault Systemes (www.3ds.com/education) At the moment it’s still V5 and appears to be US only.

When choosing a system to train for, obviously keep up your skills in your current system. However, it’s a good tip to look at the jobs out there, make a note of the dominant platforms and then get skilled up in the package with the most demand – even a banker would understand the benefits of that supply and demand curve.

Globalisation was once the worrying business trend, now I’m not so worried about engineering, design and manufacturing jobs going abroad. Instead we’ve probably managed to export some of our job losses.

I remember the last two recessions and try to take some comfort that even before we were heading into it people were trying to predict when it would end. Speaking with Carl Bass, Chief Executive Officer of Autodesk, the economists he has been talking to are saying mid-2010 for an upturn, although he quickly added that these were the same people that failed to see this one coming, somewhat undermining their credibility.

Over the coming months I intend to press the CAD software firms to open access to these student editions to unemployed engineers and designers. Having such people skilled in their products made sense last year and it makes even more sense now in preparation for the expected upturn.

Martyn Day is Consulting Editor of DEVELOP3D. He fights a daily battle to try and hide his total disdain for bankers. Most days he loses.

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Unemployment can be a time to refresh your CAD knowledge, says Martyn Day

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