Lost engineering skills

I was recently discussing energy strategy, and it was pointed out that reopening deep coal mines in the UK is easier said than done because the skills and body of knowledge relating to coal mining have now been practically lost. It's all there in books, but the number of people in the UK below retirement age who still possess such skills and knowledge are very few in number, so experienced people will have to be brought in from foreign countries in order to resurrect British deep coal mining.

This made me wonder what other engineering skills have largely been lost in the UK - or even worldwide - over the past few decades?

Are there any endangered niches where no formal training and education still exists, so anybody who wants to learn such skills has to do so via self study or workshop dabbling unless they personally know somebody with the skills?

Are there any areas of engineering where skills and knowledge are being lost because it's too risky (from a career perspective) for young people to devote too much time to learning them?

Parents
  • This made me wonder what other engineering skills have largely been lost in the UK - or even worldwide - over the past few decades?

    I guess the 'currently useful' skill set is always evolving - my Dad had all kinds of skills and knowledge that I still lack and can't imagine ever having, but then my Dad would have been completely lost given an Arduino or even the inside of a CU.

    On the positive side I don't think skills are every truly lost - collectively we might forget them for a while, but even in the worst case we should be able to re-discover them. Skills aren't created by passing them on from one generation to the next or from master to apprentice - they're only perpetuated in that way. Originally each skill had to be worked out from scratch - and well still have the same ability to invent new as we always did.

        - Andy.

  • I agree that skills are not necessarily lost, but can be rediscovered when there is need.

    In the 1990’s I was volunteering at a steam museum (kemptonsteam.org ) restoring a 1920’s Thames Water pumping station.  It originally had mercury arc rectifiers that were destroyed when the building was decommissioned.  I had recovered a pair of 1930’s mercury arc rectifiers being scrapped, in poor condition and needing refurbishing, but I could find no one who had any experience of them.

    The IET library loaned me three books (1920’s vintage) that detailed mercury arc theory and practice, and using those, other internet sources and our engineering acumen, I and a colleague regained  the skills and knowledge and refurbished the rectifiers. They were put into service and can now be seem operating on public steaming days at the Kempton Steam Museum.

    Interestingly, once the word spread we had many enquiries for help on other rectifiers including from abroad  (“ no one here knows anything about them, they just sit in the cabinets and work, but…..”).

Reply
  • I agree that skills are not necessarily lost, but can be rediscovered when there is need.

    In the 1990’s I was volunteering at a steam museum (kemptonsteam.org ) restoring a 1920’s Thames Water pumping station.  It originally had mercury arc rectifiers that were destroyed when the building was decommissioned.  I had recovered a pair of 1930’s mercury arc rectifiers being scrapped, in poor condition and needing refurbishing, but I could find no one who had any experience of them.

    The IET library loaned me three books (1920’s vintage) that detailed mercury arc theory and practice, and using those, other internet sources and our engineering acumen, I and a colleague regained  the skills and knowledge and refurbished the rectifiers. They were put into service and can now be seem operating on public steaming days at the Kempton Steam Museum.

    Interestingly, once the word spread we had many enquiries for help on other rectifiers including from abroad  (“ no one here knows anything about them, they just sit in the cabinets and work, but…..”).

Children
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