Diary of an engineer: "I realise it's bullshit"

Submitted by AWL on 27 April, 2021 - 6:44 Author: Emma Rickman
Engineering plant

After a botched job where we failed to weld pipe brackets onto a steel girder, I decide I need to get the hang of welding. Most of our time between jobs is taking turns at the workshop stick welder. L is the most experienced, J is very proud of his straight lines, and I’m happy to have overcome my fear of burns and electrocution — progress! The time spent concentrating intensely on a small dot of molten metal make me feel a bit light-headed.

When we’re not practising welding, me and J are trying to use the new job-logging software. Unlike the old software, getting hold of jobs directly relevant to the Fitters takes a bit of sorting and filtering. Some of the Fitters who struggle with computers find the whole process demeaning.

D: “M, that wanker, gave us the training, but he kept flipping backward and forward between screens so we couldn’t follow him.”

A: “He’ll do that. He’ll give you a brief round of training, patronise you, make you feel really stupid and ‘illiterate’, so you won’t understand it. Then it’ll be left to those who do get it to do all the training.”

J: “Or all the logging.”

D: “Well we can’t do that can we? Cause what if there’s no apprentices here, or J’s not here? We need to be able to see what our work is for the day, in order of priority. I can’t believe — I just can’t believe — there isn’t a simpler way of doing this.”

I speak to M, our manager and trainer. He’s two years younger than me. Sometimes he’s a genius and sometimes he behaves like a teenage boy. I got him on a good day.

Me: “Is there a way of saving the filter settings, so that the Fitters can just log on and see their jobs without having to go through all these steps?”

M: “Nope. I’ve been on at IT about this and they say first: look at the training manual (which I’d already done and it’s not there); second, we can’t save filters — the jobs are all just there, in no particular order. Fitters will have to just filter them out.”

Me: “I mean the start and end date tabs are off to the right of the screen — having to drag them into view each time is very annoying… I found a way of exporting a set of jobs into a spread sheet, but that would involve someone doing that every morning….?”

M: “And even then, jobs will change. Fitters need to be able to log in regularly and see that latest activity. It’s bollocks — I realise it’s bullshit.”

We go through “closing” a job. Before any job can be marked as “work completed”, labour hours must be attached to the job, along with who did the work. The Electricians have been wreaking havoc with this already:

Me: “What did we agree on for an instrument check? Four hours?”

M: “About right — when in doubt aim high.”

Me: “What’s this ‘scheduling’ thing?”

M: “If me and D were into micro-managing, we could use this to organise every hour of everyone’s day. Dictate how many jobs per day, how long they should take, who should do them, what materials should be used etc. But we trust you lot to know what you’re doing — because you’re engineers and you’re not stupid.”

Me: “Cheers. Is someone checking these labour hours…?”

M: “Probably. But it won’t mean anything to them the way we’re logging it!”

To close a job, I have to allocate labour, switch the job status to “released”, save it, switch the status to “in progress”, save it, then finally switch the job to “work completed”. Once the managers have reviewed it, they can mark it as “closed” and the job will disappear from the list.

Me: “Are they expecting someone to be logged in all day making changes to these? This takes longer than actually doing some jobs.”

M: “Yeah, it’s very frustrating, it has no relation to what we actually do.”

• Emma Rickman is an apprentice engineer at a Combined Heat and Power plant

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