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“Why do we need to train our Military Maintenance engineers?”

This short piece is adapted from a presentation delivered back in 2012, in that presentation I corrupted the “Reductio ad Absurdum” concept somewhat, by presenting an extreme case of an argument to make a point, (rather than simply using it to prove or to disprove an argument). That ‘extreme’ argument was, that with modern technical publications we can eliminate the need to train our maintenance technicians. That argument is even more relevant today because the technology available has developed rapidly since 2012, however, it seems that defence is still lagging far behind commercial industry in respect of electronic publications. Are we missing out therefore on a strategy that could deliver increased operational effectiveness whilst reducing through life costs?

So: “Why do we need to train our maintenance engineers?”

The training and the maintenance manuals provided to a military technician have a common aim, namely to enable that technician to carry out maintenance tasks, effectively and efficiently. New technology serves to emphasise this point, as the boundary between training applications and electronic technical publications is increasingly blurred.

If we follow the logic, should there be any distinction between the technical publication and the training solution development processes, and the products of those processes?

Why provide training when we could, instead, provide really effective, very capable, high quality, advanced electronic technical publications?

Let us consider the situation in the Defence sector from the training perspective:

How much time does a military technician spend undergoing technical training; what percentage of their military career is spent “in the classroom”?

The turnover & churn rates of military personnel result in both a high training burden and a high ratio of junior technicians to supervisors; the supervisory burden can therefore be very high. Could this burden be reduced if we deployed advanced technical publications?

If technicians have insufficient opportunity to utilise knowledge, acquired through formal training, when they are in the field, if that knowledge is not used, if it is not reinforced, it will be lost. The equipment the technicians are responsible for may also undergo technology refresh over time, a problem that has been greatly exacerbated in recent years due to the reliance on Urgent Operational Requirements [UORs]. The result is that the training that a technician underwent 2-3 years ago can become nugatory fairly quickly, this may be especially relevant for the more senior people, the Chiefs, Artificers and Engineering Officers.

How much does that technical training cost? Consider the full cost of training, all the costs, the direct costs, the cost of the trainees, the real estate, the facilities, the trainers and support staff, the training materiel, the training aids? The answer is, of course, a very great deal.

Consider that this problem is exacerbated as our military shrinks, the range of the equipment that the technicians need training on will not shrink in line with our shrinking forces, the opposite is more likely in fact.

Could we eliminate the training burden by deploying our highly effective, highly capable, electronic publications? Consider now how many additional man years of effort would become available, what equivalent number of additional servicemen and women would be released for operational duties?

In reality of course, for a number of reasons, we cannot eliminate technical training entirely; we need a minimum of theoretical training, there are physical skills that can only be learnt through practice, and there are some tasks which have to be performed instantaneously, if, and when they are ever required. In those circumstances, there is no time to review how to perform a task beforehand, no time to look up information in a technical manual, in this instance ‘Over Training’ is required.

So a 100% reduction in training is not a reality, but what about 50%, 25% or even a 10% reduction in the training burden? This is a much more realistic aim, and whilst it is impossible to quantify, it should be feasible to reduce the training burden by 10-15% with no negative impact on performance, with a potentially positive impact indeed, if the appropriate technologies are deployed.

Consider all the technology available:

  • ‘Standard’ electronic publications
  • Audio
  • Video
  • Mobile Device Technology
  • Development Software (including CAD systems which produce appropriate outputs)
  • Presentation Software
  • Manuals with embedded, manipulatable, 3D graphics
  • Gaming/Simulation technologies
  • Augmented Reality
  • Virtual Reality
  • Mixed Reality
  • Personal Telecommunications
  • Projection Technologies (e.g. goggles, glasses, etc)
  • Camera Technologies
  • Eye synchronisation
  • Gesture Control
  • Voice Control

By utilising these technologies, we can SHOW, SEE, TELL, GUIDE, HEAR, engineering tasks, in 2 or 3 dimensions, in very high fidelity, and in real time. We can interact with, learn from, provide feedback to, our technical publication/training application.

The technology is not only developing at a rapid rate, in the main it is getting cheaper and ever easier to use – we can produce VERY high-tech Technical Publications cheaply and quickly: so, is it time to rethink the balance and the relationship between training and technical publications?