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As an interest in wildlife conservation developed, perhaps my most important realisation was that wilderness – understood as a primordial habitat – is now vanishingly rare. What we have is man-made landscape, the product of centuries of work and exploitation. Conservation is now a question of deciding which of our created landscapes we want to maintain, what we want to re-create and what new grounds we might build. These decisions are tightly fastened to deciding the flora and fauna that we want. While there are exceptions, in most cases ignoring the land and “letting nature take its course” – a superficially attractive notion – will create wastelands. Conservation has become a matter of husbandry; it needs to be seen as an industry which is surprisingly labour intensive and expensive. It will happen by way of direct state action, state subsidy, regulation and successful, sustainable agribusiness, tourism and catering.

A component of this industry is shooting and the production/rearing of game birds. Yes, a landowner /farmer will profit from it. Yes, birds will be reared and killed for the table – not unlike any meat industry. However, what separates it from the meat industry is that it is utterly uneconomic without the relatively rich people who pay to shoot. It is their money that bridges the enormous gap between the cost of a mass produced chicken and a partially wild pheasant. That is to say, because those who shoot are prepared to pay a great deal, this form of farming is viable.*

Viability is not sufficient justification for any enterprise and a major part of the argument for supporting the shooting industry is that it is environmentally desirable. The landscape that needs to be created and maintained for shooting not only appears as pleasant and traditional but supports the kind of living diversity that has fallen victim to more recent farming methods.

Moreover, the people involved – in particular the gamekeepers but also the landowners, guns, beaters, dog handlers and others – are interested in and committed to conservation; the shooting landscape with its mix of vegetation – open field, woodland, wetland, cover – and wildlife is the environment they want not only for themselves and for anyone who will respect it but also for their children.**

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* Apart from the driven shoot discussed here, there are gun clubs doing more or less the same thing but they are not operating as a business and their labour input is voluntary.

** If you have a grá for poetry along with gundogs and shooting, this collection by my lifelong friend, Maurice Spillane, may interest you:  http://sciroccopublishing.com/our-first-poet-maurice-spillane/

 

The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) has found that an RTE * programme in the series Prime Time Investigates, “Mission to Prey”, was not fair in that it broadcast serious, damaging and untrue allegations about Fr. Kevin Reynolds.** The reality is more serious. A good man was cruelly injured. He was trampled in a bovine lust for a story.

Once the truth emerged, the response of the media industry generally – in failing to call a spade a spade – has been ridiculous. Leaving aside management structures, guidelines, “group think”, standards in journalism, “best practice”, legal advice etc., something quite brutal needs to be said: On the verge of publishing an allegation of paternity, it requires an enormous level of stupidity to refuse to defer publication when the man concerned is offering to take a paternity test. While there can be many determinants of stupidity, the word still needs to be said without professional prevarication.

Incidentally, we all do stupid things from time to time. We learn from them. The costs of stupidity can be viewed as an investment in the avoidance of similar mistakes. It is therefore silly to get rid of an employee whose stupid error has cost the organisation a great deal. Look at it this way: It can be said with enormous confidence that such a person will be very careful in future. Their replacement comes with no such guarantee and the person in whom so much has been “invested” goes off to work – carefully – for someone else. In short, the stupidity has been compounded for the sake of creating a tough image.

Publication of the BAI report prompted the familiar balm: comments by industry worthies processed in ritual seriousness. However, the BAI investigation and report turns out to be a veritable rescue package for standards of operation that any thinking person would regard as ordinary – indeed, as minimal. Absence of records and notes, and failure to perform checks do not constitute a problem specific to journalism; this would be maladministration in any industry or organisation. It is a description of inefficient, wasteful chaos.

It is impossible to believe that such chaos existed in one isolated area and that word of its existence never reached the outside world. It is more likely that it was learned and accepted in RTE, in the media industry and very probably in industry generally.

A long time before “managerialism”, management was in trouble. It was fluttering from fad to fad, guided by well-meaning people who thought they had found a career in promoting some fundamental truth. Routine, well-tested, ordinary – even boring – management was interrupted by or abandoned in favour of a series of fashions. Let’s put it this way: The study of management in order to make it better is desirable and necessary but like life in general, there is no blinding liberating truth and proposals for change have to be plausible. Moreover and much more importantly, there are basics which if removed, draw the enterprise into inflicting and incurring damage. The chaos that was Prime Time and which the BAI reveals is all too familiar: The triumph of a slipshod, bogus iconoclasm over planning, minutes, research, questioning etc. – all very likely dismissed as “bureaucracy”.

* I worked in RTE for more than three happy decades. I seldom criticise the organisation now for a few reasons. Firstly, there are fond ties of loyalty. Secondly, if tempted, it would be wrong to use insider information in argument. Thirdly, while RTE is subject to all of the fads which pass through industry generally and while RTE journalists are too like journalists generally, it remains an exceptionally good organisation which deserves to be spared overly harsh criticism.

** http://www.rte.ie/news/2012/0504/baireport.pdf    http://www.rte.ie/news/2012/0504/baireport1.pdf

There are two linked errors in Tom Garvin’s article in the Irish Times of Mayday.

http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/education/2012/0501/1224315400547.html

Firstly, managerialism is not exclusive to UCD or to universities generally. It had infected and depressed many other industries before it arrived quite late in education. Secondly, Tom links managerialism to business and argues that business approaches have no place in university management. Now, the latter may be true but the former does not support it.

To get a hold in an organisation, managerialism must first oust efficient managers; it is no friend of business. The bizarre language used cloaks futile activity in terms that give the impression of innovation, progress and effective decision making. It also creates a layer of employees who live off information processes that effective management would never tolerate. It is a very, very serious problem and dealing with will be difficult because its adherents now hold key positions and because doing away with it would result in many job losses.

I was posting over at Ferdinand von Prondzynski’s blog   ( http://universitydiary.wordpress.com/) when I thought that I should make the point on my own blog. Ferdinand was saying in support of changing university education that, “we simply cannot run a university system that now admits a large percentage of the population as if we were running small elite institutions. The elite students of former times generally had very un-specific expectations of their education. For them it was all part of assuming the knowledge and the style of privilege, not about undergoing specific vocational training.” I disagreed. Of course increased numbers and different times mean change but the whole purpose of increased access is to make higher learning available to all who can benefit. Moreover, that’s what the world of work now requires.

More vocational training rather than education is the demand of people – including students – who fail to appreciate what has happened to work and yet are aware that too many graduates complete their education lacking important skills.

The “information society” has consequences for university education. As a term, it is often reduced to meaningless guff but it should not be dismissed by thoughtful people. In careless use it becomes fused with “knowledge society” and provides a justification for a pretty daft approach to education: an increased emphasis on mere training for the majority and an increase in the number of PhDs. I don’t want to talk right now about the latter but training in preference to education is precisely what, let’s call it, industry doesn’t need right now.

Anyone who has given serious thought to the concept of an “information society” either from a political or a business perspective realises pretty quickly that such a society depends not merely on skilled people but on educated, thinking, and – yes – innovative people. In short, the humanities graduate’s time has come! (I recall commenting during a discussion with a group of lecturers that innovation is what separates a 2.1 from a 2.2.)

There are however “employability” problems with some graduates and the problems have nothing to do with the traditional university approach to learning. Too many students lack the skills necessary to making the best use of their education. Too many are not fully literate, cannot cope with the mathematics essential to a full life today, have no real understanding of technology or economics, have poor general knowledge and cannot present themselves or their work in public. These are mere skills and could never figure in a university education. However, it should not be possible to achieve the status of graduate without these skills. They are essential and they should be mastered while in primary and secondary school. Most lecturers are aware of the literacy and the general knowledge problem. Many may be aware that perhaps the majority of students are poor communicators and that work today demands effective participation at meetings and making presentations. Some lecturers may not have noticed the mathematics problem. What do I mean by this? Here are a few examples that I’ve come across. Students frequently have no grasp of the magnitude of numbers. They would find the creation of mathematical expressions for, say, a spreadsheet very difficult. The concept of random distribution would be new to them. I won’t labour this on into basic science, technology and economics. The point is that today effective citizenship – never mind a job – requires these skills. While someone without them should not be at university, most certainly a graduate must have them.

A university is not the place for teaching skills. However, until such time as the rest of the educational system addresses the problem, universities in order to maintain standards and credibility should test for them. There can be no question of awarding grades, let alone making it part of the degree programme. This is about finding competence; it is pass or fail. I realize that suggesting such tests – and I’m not talking about labour intensive exams. – seems impractical or extreme for institutes of higher learning but I can’t come up with another short term remedy.

It may be that we need an inquiry into the conduct of Irish banking and its regulation. However, the complexity of banking operations should not obscure the obvious. It was clear to any person with average intelligence and a passing interest in current affairs that the property bubble would end in tears. It most certainly is not true that everyone was deceived or mistaken.

Let’s be blunt: Anyone who failed to recognise the problem is not a person to be taken seriously in future. Anyone who did recognize the problem but remained silent has questions to answer. Sensible people in the banking and finance industry must have felt intimidated by the tide of nonsense in support of the clearly unsustainable; they must have had to weigh good conduct against career prospects.

Here we have an industry in need of changes in personnel. The one fortunate outcome is that people have been tested. Some have proved themselves but it is clear that those who did not speak out clearly and strongly lack the ability, integrity or courage required to manage at any level.