This is an observation, initially prompted by an experience I had this week in talking to a 62 year old carburettor and engine dyno-tuning maestro mechanic called Kelvin who was back working in his business after having stroke and wanting to, but not being able to find any young mechanics who want to learn how to actually repair faulty components, not just bolt on new pieces and throw way the old. He has been trying for 10 years to find somebody to train to take over his business.

But before the comments launch, upfront, I acknowledge that yes, Kelvin’s business is about internal combustion engines, and yes they are being phased out for good reason, and yes while my daily drive is a Tesla Model 3 (largely powered by my own Photovoltaic panels) I do enjoy my one or two hours a week (or sometimes month) behind the wheel of a restored 60s sports car that I and my son Tony (and with professional help) had a large part in restoring personally, with all that entails. An before anybody asks, yes, all its emissions are carbon offset with biodiversity rich bioregeneration.

This is actually an observation or extrapolation about what is going to be needed for a full transition to a circular economy.

Because a true circular economy is not all about recyclables and reprocessing. It is also about reparability, the ‘right to repair’, the availability of spare parts for the life of the equipment whatever it might be, but also the availability of appropriately qualified and impassioned people to repair things.

It is also not just about people, or the absolute dearth of education availability relating to repairing both everyday and household equipment, it is also about keeping the industrial means to do the mass recycling, reprocessing, and manufacturing, and the very means to keep these new industries moving forward once commenced by maintaining and repairing the equipment when it breaks.

Seemingly, we need not only a shift in mentality in our young people, but in those in the halls of power as well. Those who must create the policies and set budgets and curriculums to train students and indeed teachers to think and teach about the worth of ‘getting ones hand dirty’.

How do you teach the satisfaction of taking something that is broken and fixing it, making it whole again? How do you teach passion?

Only I suspect, by doing it…and doing it often enough so that it is no longer difficult, but enjoyable and challenging. How many high schools still have woodworking and metalworking classes? What would the 21st century equivalent even look like? I know from personal experience, there is nothing so satisfying as taking something rusty and broken and making it shiny and working again. Whether it is a car, a coffee machine, a toaster, a truck, an earthmoving machine or an air conditioning plant, the same principles apply.

Not only does there need to be a legislated ‘Right to Repair’ so that any qualified or skilled technician can repair goods, but the bits that can be fixed should be able to be, down to the tiniest pieces. The bits that can’t be fixed should be available as spare parts and must be available to purchase from the OEM source (or similar quality third party, it matters little) and then the people capable to undertaking the repairs need to be available, adequately skilled and accessible.

These people we need are not just ‘servicemen’, but makers and real repair people, male and female who are actual skilled mechanics and technicians willing to do more than plug a computer diagnostic tool into a machine to let the IT systems sort out the problem and then remove, throw away and replace the part with new (although that may be required as a last resort).  They need to be able to pull things apart, fix them and put them back together, quickly and efficiently. More and more they need quite sophisticated multi-disciplinary skills with high levels of mechanical, electrical, electronics and computer capability. But we also don’t want to lose all the skills of old, older machines will likely for some time yet be important in some potentially niche sectors or locations.

We need to be focussing on a cultural change, in thinking, in attitudes, encouraging and upskilling a new generation of makers and repairers. They may well need university degrees to understand all the technologies, but probably not. It more likely needs a new injection of courses into the TAFE system I suspect and careers advisors aware of the needs and the courses.

The ‘Green Jobs’ we are hearing so much about are absolutely needed, but they will not all be in new manufacturing plants. Many will be about remaking, repairing and re-configuring, maintaining and servicing plant, equipment and appliances.

This is as much about change management as it is about resource efficiency and circular materials chains. Change is hard, and requires massive effort and planning and its time-consuming. Knowing where we need to go helps though. But to end up there, we need to work backwards from the outcome we desire and figure out what will be needed to get there, so we can take the necessary steps now and not wait for 5-10 years to hit a human resource barrier we originally had time to fix but did nothing about it (does that scenario ring any bells for anyone?).

I hope Kelvin finds someone for his business, but I suspect he will close his doors for good once he retires. I also suspect he won’t be alone unless massive recognition is given to what, to my knowledge, is a massive gap in current thinking, planning, educational resources and an almost complete lack of appreciation about the deep well of satisfaction and passion that can drive a whole new maker culture if we just do the work now and create the environments and opportunities to allow it to blossom.