The Future By Josh Valman

Posted on: 20/09/2019

Last week I had the pleasure of returning to St. Helen’s College, to speak at the annual Prizegiving, 13 years after I left my class of Year 6.

I’ve returned to the school several times during the new Year 7s’ time at St. Helen’s, introducing conversation around robotics, engineering and entrepreneurship. I felt it was timely to talk about the potential they all have to shape lives and careers that have true impact on the world.

When I left St. Helen’s College, not that long ago, technology was still new. Touch typing was an exclusive skill, and a mobile phone was yet to become the constant interface for life. In the last 10-15 years we have seen technology dominate our lives, as it makes everything easier and quicker. However, this incredible development has had vast impact to both us and our planet. Our decisions are driven by ease, and the impact of those decisions are largely overlooked. We have created a society and a way of life that has enormous consequence on the world’s resources, our environment and even our own health.

We are at a point where change is necessary, but we are limited by the fact that humans are creatures of habit. We are unlikely to see massive change in developed generations – purely from new awareness of our impact. Previously our behaviours were influenced by those around us, our parents, schools, peers and government. But in this new world of technology, it’s the machines that define us. Our phones (even as a Year 7!) are the things we wake up to, and go to sleep next to. Our behaviours are shaped by the products that enable our lives.

It’s for this reason that the future of the world is very much in the hands of the engineer: the problem solver, the creative thinker. It is our responsibility, as the younger generation, to create the future of our world, and how we all behave around it. It will be the engineers who create the products and experiences that change human behaviour to become more sustainable.

I began my engineering career aged 10, whilst at St. Helen’s College. Fascinated by the BBC TV show, Robot Wars, I set out to design and build something competitive, beginning with Lego and Sellotape, until I learnt the Maths and the CAD design skills to create something more advanced.

It’s essential that parents and schools support young people with the ability to match education with reality. The intensity of exam schedules and the sheer volume of curriculum that needs to be consumed can make additional work feel oppressive and unnecessary. However, bringing practical application of subjects into the classroom has a huge impact on engagement and the ability to understand and visualise theory. We can provide examples of how the current curriculum applies to the real world through embracing extra-curricular clubs and competitions.

In the time I have spent working in industry, it’s perhaps surprising to note that a technical problem is incredibly rare. The majority of work problems and restrictions in the real world have been focussed on people, process and communication. Promoting stronger presentation, negotiation and communication skills through practical teaching at schools has a massive impact on students’ ability to succeed in the real world – with or without that A* in maths or extensive knowledge of the Battle of Hastings!

It’s been important also to note the importance of enjoying the work you do. Nobody really knows what they’re doing, but those who are most successful are those who are passionate about their life and have made it a career. The pressure to select a career and pursue it is intense, but helping children to explore interesting subjects with a link to potential careers is possible and exciting! The standout trends of our most successful young team members and graduates is always their exposure to varied work experience, cultures, challenges – and not the nth percentile academic results.

In 2012 we founded RPD International, with the purpose of making the development and manufacturing of new products accessible. We now power R&D departments around the world for many new, big brand products in the market. We craft everything from sustainability developments in shampoo and deodorant packaging, to medical devices that improve the accessibility and power of modern medicine, and every strange new invention between these. It’s our role in the world to empower people to create the next generation of products which will change the way we work, behave and live our lives.

I need the help of you as parents and influencers to encourage play and practical learning as part of schooling, creating exposure to the real world and making it known that we’re all still working it out! It was my mission, in the conversation with the graduating pupils of 2019, to urge them to consider this the first step on an engineering career. To see through the maths lessons, and see that we all need their help to invent, develop and produce a positive future for our world.

Josh Valman is CEO of RPD International. He attended St. Helen’s College from 1999 to 2006.