About the Author:
Paul Casebourne has spent a life time in service to the Materials Handling Storage and Distribution Industry with over 50 years in materials handling experience from the shop floor to running and operating businesses. He has worked in over 7,000 locations and handled over 20,000 business enquiry problems. In this personal sharing of his experience with you he means you as part of us, the people who provide an amazing facility without which the modern world ceases to function and is held in fine and delicate balance as the events of the early parts of the 21st century have reminded us all only too well. Author, engineer, installer, designer and manufacturer these are some of the fundamentals he shares with you. Please feel free to use and enjoy the ‘takeaways” Sign up here to receive this series in monthly instalment building up into a set of usable, practical help for modern warehousing for businesses in all stages of development.

Chapter 7:

This is what most companies ask for in recruitment:

Most businesses have at least 5 main core faculties, find out how to create opportunities from simply asking “so what” and follow the answers.

The curious case of faculty in the workplace might be the least visible but most valuable asset to any business, if you only knew where to look for it.

It starts at interview and continues through your career

  • Prestidigitation
  • Workmanship
  • Accuracy
  • Forte
  • Speciality
  • Workmanship
  • Proficiency
  • Endowment
  • Acumen

I am not sure I want to cover this topic on a blow by blow basis, rather to call in to vogue the “what of it” since we already know all too well the “how of it”

Why You – The Pitch

Demonstrate you are a good choice  –  Background

Tell us why  –  Ambition

How you fit  –  Collaboration

Who are you – Integration

So what – where is the benefit

Creativity –  Problem Solver

Proactivity – Step out of your shell

Passionate – Self belief

Confident –  Challenge the status quo

Stable choice – Be yourself

Comfortable with Accountability – Be organised

The Faculty of Why you “really” don’t put boiling water in Glasses

In case nobody ever mentioned it, if you can say “so what” after your astonishing revelations, you have probably delivered a feature based presentation, you gave them the view, a view or your view.

People rarely buy views. Creativity is a view, I am creative, so what? The company I helped rescue from insolvency provided construction equipment that piled the Thames Barrier, with the only machine in the world capable of doing the job at the speed and depth that was required for the conditions.

That’s the narrative, packed with features, the benefits are the outcomes, money saved by speed, safety and engineering.
The 1412 piling hammer was the largest eccentric vibro-piler in the world (at that time).  We went on to pile the East Coast Electrification Railway Scheme, harbours and motorways, creating a strong, profitable UK market for the equipment. The secret was that we could make special jaws and fabrications which really made the work fast. We did it because each task presented its own problems which needed adaptations to solve them.

You don’t put boiling water into glasses because you can’t pick them up without a handle. Creativity is the handle. The person who put it there was a problem solver, the problem was how to pick up something which is scalding hot without burning yourself, answer: A handle.

The faculty of handle making is born. Creativity is invisible without a problem. A problem is definitely a catalyst, which makes creativity visible.

You always need 3 things, the problem, the creativity to produce the outcome, the first two are the “so what’s”, the outcome is a facilitation. The facility answers “How”  Your only job at an interview is to find out what and deliver how, the rest is probably going to be in your contract. As for the “How”, people usually want not one how, but two hows, the first is how you know how, which normally needs a what, which is as a result of an action. Better still show them, Quod est Demonstratum.

Maths is difficult to teach because its rammed full of creativity. It can be hard to visualise.   To really understand maths it needs be your “forte”. Maths is a form of prestidigitation, magic, it lets us see the invisible, provides the basis for electronic drawing, becomes formula that exposes or proves.

You don’t need to be a boat builder to sail a yacht. Sailing a yacht proficiently is some people’s specialty, how capably it sails is down to workmanship, which may have been endowed to the workforce who have acumen to construct it.  Collectively the business becomes a centre of excellence, a micro university with its own entire set of faculties. Equipping a yacht with a spinnaker sheet is one thing, having the skill and knowledge to know how and when to use it is something else.

    The Faculty of Prestidigitation

    A friend of mine some years ago went for a job with a national organisation, they really wanted to hire him, the trouble was he lacked a specific qualification which was a deal breaker. Two weeks later they rang him out of the blue, history doesn’t recall why, probably to confirm he wasn’t going to be given the job. The recruitment manager for some reason asked him where he was. He replied, collecting my certificate of qualification that you said I needed to be able hire me.  He got the job.

    I think my favourite word out of all of the words in the Faculty list above is “prestidigitation”. It is associated with magic, skilful use of hands. It’s awesome. There used to be a program called the Generation Game, it goes back to 1971. In it, ordinary folk would try their hands at skilful tasks previously never tried out, following a brief demonstration.

    The results, often hilarious, would then be marked out of 10.  Obviously, you need aptitude, ambition and ability. But where does teaching end and learning begin? Whose job is it?  Yours to learn or your teacher’s to teach? I would say it is down to how much you want something, or maybe it’s just being a quick learner.

    The curious thing about faculty is it is a word which is very human, your faculties are both physical and mental. It means  that a place of learning or teaching is quite specific in its language of faculty which it then divides up into specific areas of mental and physical development and research. It’s about seeing everything as it is before trying to develop it for concern that it may have surprising knock on effects which in turn produces the spectre of the Law of unintended consequences and for that we have procedures and they in turn have procedures for change.

    The curious thing is how prestidigitation actually leads the way, another simple example is when you make something look easy, which actually takes hours, sometimes years of practice and skill building, those skills become more valuable to you.

    The consequences of losing a pallet and its content are just as critical as a surgeon losing a patient, which is why fork truck drivers are regarded as critical  site workers. A fork lift driver can put away about a 125 pallets a shift in ideal circumstances.  I wouldn’t use the same terminology to describe a surgeon’s productivity with patients. However engineering is just as critical to both teams as is the skill to use the tools to hand. An engineer doesn’t have to know anything about brain surgery, but knowing the rules and requirements are a major part of the survey to develop what is needed.

    The whereabouts of Faculty in the workplace is worthy of thought at all levels.  ‘Forte’ for example is a word to define something at which someone excels.

    The Faculty of ‘Forte’

    This is no ordinary word.

    To me this word is highly significant, it has to be earned, it is packed with emotion and passion and cannot be broken. It is so clear cut, it either is or is not. No grey areas. It also comes, like people in all shapes, sizes and types! It never starts out as a “forte”. Forte is created by a situation, almost anything can create it.  It may be used both positively and negatively. Resilience is a form of Forte, resilience like Forte may be built, worked on, created. Many a dark day has been lightened due to injustices.

    It is our drive towards a euphoric outcome which is often the creator of fortitude. True Forte is founded on fundamentals. The notion that they can imprison you but they can’t imprison your mind, nothing is for ever, where there is a will there’s a way, are all statements of fortitude. Someone who sincerely and actively has lived this is a person of fortitude.  Everyone has forte, something at which excellence is measurable.

    Businesses have it and above all materials handling is the very definition of it. Tidiness was never his Forte, until he learned to drive a forklift truck. John’s Forte was checking the warehouse first thing in the morning, he could spot the smallest dent in metal work and loose bolts at 20 meters. Linda was one of the finest tool makers I ever knew, her forte was precision. Immediately you are in the game with the description which transcends doubt and creates trust. It is that ‘uh oh’ moment, when someone is challenged and the challenger has no idea what’s about to be unleashed.

    The faculty of Speciality

    You’re not paid to think is an expression which has cropped up once or twice in my life, but then again context is self defence and defence is the best form of attack. So it rapidly becomes a method and after all isn’t that what faculty defines if forte is ability?

    There are literally thousands of areas of speciality. In materials handling it starts when you stop selling and start helping people to buy. I remember my old boss years ago, head in hands, saying when are my sales people going to bring me orders we actually make.

    What he really meant was they were problem orders, that was when design really raised its head and the point at which it became my “forte”. Because I had actually created products in steel, knew and understood the feel of it, I knew how it could be formed, manipulated and shaped into useful products which helped my customers.

    Sometimes a tweak here or an extra piece there utterly transformed the outcome. The piling hammers for example could also be used to extract. Vibro-piling is the ultimate exercise in materials handling equipment. You take a long piece of steel or wood and hammer it into the ground. Piling hammers need jaws to grip the pile top. I remember pulling piles out of the River Tees, the kit on site (not ours) went to grip the top of the pitch pine staith timbers and crushed them like a wet match stick end, the final attempt at pulling saw the hammer on the end of a crane, which weighed over two tonnes, lose its grip and disappear over the top of a 30m crane derrick like a tennis ball. The operator dived into the mud, just in time to miss it colliding with the cab.

    That’s when we arrived. We made two big hydraulic rams which drove left and right into the top of the timbers about 1m down, making it impossible for the hammer to come off. Additionally we fabricated a box sleeve to slide down the post onto which the rams mounted.  The work which had taken weeks of messing around in dangerous conditions just to destroy one timber pile in location was concluded in a few days with all 44 removed. 

    Standard Vibro piler, same hydraulics, different jaws. Result.  Specialists are not cheap. When they save you vast sums of money and time with their know how, payback is rapid. 

    As Red Adair famously said “Never fear a job, always respect it, and always leave yourself a hind door to escape. May your hind door always be open” The crane driver owed his life to that! Red Adair also famously said  “If you think that hiring professionals is expensive, try hiring amateurs.” The faculty of speciality is now out of the box.

    Speciality is an essential workplace skill, if you have it, use it, if you haven’t hire it. In materials handling terms it is surprising how many companies have lost the ability to improvise, create and problem solve. I once heard the definition of Heaven and Hell defined as two rooms in which people sat round a table piled high with food, both groups had chopsticks with which to feed themselves.

    The chopsticks were nearly 3m long. One room thrived, the other starved. To thrive we need 3 skills, creative use of available tools, awareness and a desire to help others. The room in which everyone thrived was the room where they learned to feed each other. The allegory is attributed to Rabbi Haim of Romshishok in Lithuania, itself a town which has had more than its share of trauma over the years

    So in engineering, with all I do, I survey, design and plot out what is required and take those creations to other engineers with the skill sets to deliver the required results. There are well over 1500 branches of engineering. Self taught engineering is a thing. It is a valuable asset and you can start at any age, just find someone to feed you! How well it is learned and where it is taught is down to the pilgrim’s progress and how the encounter unfolds.

    The best materials handling projects I have ever been part of have have been made up of specialists, many of who nobody ever sees or knows about, but without whom problems don’t get solved.


    The Faculty of Accuracy applied to Materials Handling – Buyer Beware

    Often controlled by standards, dictated by limitations and safe practices based on failures, destruction testing and converted to algorithmic formulas. In materials handling lifting, load control and containment of forces all play major parts in what we do. For example imagine a 5 bar gate, take the two lower bars out and the gate is free to deflect at the base since there is nothing there to restrain it. Remove the diagonal brace and it now twists too. Do that with pallet racking and you could be in trouble, the effect is the same!

    Yet people still ram pallets into frames and bend uprights oblivious to the trouble they are depositing in the bank of catastrophe. Trolleys are supposed to take a dynamic load over only 3 out of 4 castors and a safety factor to guard against uneven surfaces. Few if any of the imports in the naughties ever met this criteria, but the price was so cheap that nobody questioned it amidst the political sleight of hand which bypassed years of standards, all to create global societies. Nothing wrong with that, just some very doubtful practices being tolerated in the years it took to reach standards critically established in western engineering institutions, where the UK  for one had just waded its way through metrification, harmonisation of engineering standards on going which had taken 20 years and cost hundreds of millions.

    I remember looking at an imported sack barrow in 2008, I calculated that in the life of one British built sack barrow complying with the clearances for wheels in axles, load safety factors over the wheels which were more than 4 times that of their competition imports (for which restrictions had been deliberately relaxed)  was over 27 times greater than that of the import. The imports were being sold for just £13.00 (and not worth repairing) where as the British product which met all the standards with precision accuracy was £80.00 and fully repairable. A no brainer you might be forgiven for thinking, except you would be very wrong. I still run a sack barrow I made 35 years ago, hardly a mark of rust, same wheels, paint looks great. The £13.00 sack barrow would cost £350 in replacements and leaves a carbon foot print at 1.85 tonnes per tonne of steel of 324 kilograms of carbon before it leaves the factory. This figure is truly shocking. Such an import barrow weighs about 12 kgs as opposed to its UK counterpart at 23kgs. That gives the UK product a carbon footprint of 43 kgs ex-works, it does not need a ship, and container or any sophisticated transport system to get to destinations and at one time could be picked up from the factory door here in the UK because each area had its own facilities handed down by blacksmith and engineers over the years. The import on the other hand might last a year as a dray barrow for example (drinks industry), has a transport carbon foot print in excess of 110 kgs to add to its steel carbon foot print of over 324 kilogram.

    Due to the lack of durability the sack barrow actually costs £351 over the same life span and put nearly half a tonne of carbon pollution into the eco-system and that’s on a good day, the weight loads are static, not dynamic, they don’t meet UK standards but they are cheap. They have put companies out of business and are destroying the planet. Above all they are totally false economy. We still import thousands of them, because industry keeps buying them. Well over 12,000 tonnes  and nearly 20,000 tonnes of carbon, just in this type of equipment.  Steel is nearly 10% of our emissions, dumping it in other countries is not solving the problem,  it’s making it unnecessarily worse.


    We import millions of tonnes of similar equipment every year which could easily and competitively, all things considered, be made here in the UK every year. Accuracy is now holistic on a scale never before imagined. This is low hanging fruit to save the planet. Cutting unnecessary global trading cuts out the billions of tonnes of unnecessary global equipment and activities and human travel required to sustain it.

    Accuracy can no longer be measured by a products compatibility to agreed industrial standards unless they too take into account energy and efficiency. The answer to these problems is now blowing in the wind, but it could have been stopped in its track years ago by buying holistically, it’s not too late.

    Faculty in the workplace now exceeds shop floor activities and normal engineering interventions to ensure integrity. It definitely has been tested in the materials handling industry, with vast swathes of ownership changes sweeping globally across our industries with decision processes no longer being made logically when there are so many better options open to us. The requirements are still there along with the underlying needs. The faculty needs to be thought out again and regrouped to make better use of what we have. It starts at a micro level.

    The Faculty of materials handling in the work place has revolutionised freedoms for creativity. At one time it was all about leverage, pulleys and wheels and literal horse power with goods starting on the top floor and working their way down to the goods door on the ground floor with additional power provided from the basement hydraulically, by waterwheel and drive belts.

    Today we have mastered the art of micro mobilised hydraulics, power packs and energy systems which deliver localised  controlled power for access that puts pallets 12m up in the air. We don’t need stone multi-level factories and warehouses any more. As beautiful as Yorkshire mill architecture is, it is blisteringly expensive. A modern portal frame steel structure provides a much more compact facility at a fraction of the cost. Mechanical handling equipment today is like deploying a range of facilities which have so many combinations of use that just to know how to put it all together effectively requires a whole special set of facilities which are on a breath taking scale.

    27 years ago I fired my employer and hired myself, actually he fired me for refusing to remove a 1000 tonne press 4m into the floor, out through the roof. It was Thursday, they wanted it out on Saturday and work as usual by 0600 on Monday. The RAMS for such an operation are highly specialised, the job would have had to have begun the week before and that is assuming that the manufacturing director even remotely understood what he was asking for in terms of a mobile crane capacity. This was on top of the 30 non conformance reports he had done nothing with for 3 years prior to my arrival and the quire of orders he had imposed on machine operators who he didn’t trust whilst he permitted his welders to drag their welds to make more bonus at the expense of a 75% QA failure rate in an antiquated test facility for which they had no mechanical handling equipment. I was nick named Sonic the Hedgehog. I fixed it all in about 8 months, but when the Pied Piper was asked to move the mountain as well as clearing out all the rats, it was clear I had sorted out their mess and it was time to go.

    That’s when I started recruiting companies instead of looking for jobs. With vast resources to deliver the work I creatively needed to handle, store, lift, move, distribute, construct and install the solutions needed to operate factories, warehouses, packing operations, manufacturing plants and find space to work which would otherwise be invisible to those in the thick of it.

    If you hire a company you get a ready made team of specialists to do a job. Hire two companies and you can put systems together, hire three companies and specialist projects start materialising which on their own the three companies don’t have the required faculties to create, nor will they come together to create them. There has always been this grey area between forklifts and storage systems. The brave will sometimes venture into the others’ faculty, however the potential loss of control, risk and outcomes are not for the feint hearted. When your core business is engines, hydraulics or forklift lifts you really have your work cut out. Diluting these cores is risky and self limiting.  The materials handling engineer is a very specific animal, ideally working for the client, but delivering well thought out equipment and layouts which deliver the ultimate systems holistically required by the client as a finished product. Just because you build yachts doesn’t make you a mariner, a weapons system specialist or a farmer, but you may contribute to their recreational activities. All of them have one thing in common: Materials handling, storage and distribution equipment.

    The curious case of faculty in the workplace might be the least visible but most valuable asset to any business, if you only knew where to look for it.


       Whether you are an employee, employer, the owner or a director, it never hurts to look over the stern of your ship and see where you have been and remember how you got where you are now. It’s how you became your own faculty and what you have brought with you. It is of significant value and adds mutually to everyone’s career path.

       I have never met any business which does not have its very own faculty of maths, specially carved out to measure, direct and verify.

       Problems are why businesses exist, never pass up the chance to deal with them.

       What is your thing? Everyone has a “Forte” whats yours. Forte is also for hire.

       Prestidigitation is how you make that thing you do look really easy, however there are lots of engineers around queueing up to help you take it to the next level, especially when it comes to materials handling, storage and distribution equipment, layouts and modelling.

       I made a career out of discarded “Fortes” and made them my own, the tougher they were the more I liked them, the less the completion and the greater the rewards and freedoms.

       Buying is not as easy as it looks. It takes years to create standards and agree practices. Following the herd and believing in the Lemming myth is the opposite end of the same problem.  Firstly the 1958 Disney film White Wilderness, was contrived forcing real lemmings off a cliff whilst filming them. Lemmings don’t do this naturally, but humans are pretty good at it.  See past what people would have you believe and find the truth.

       All businesses have faculties, the closest you get to them are departments. Departments have faculties. Take time to discover yours. You can join the dots up with suppliers and outside contractors or specialists, few people evaluate their businesses this way, it’s a mistake. Think of it like “ is there a Doctor on board please”. It is always useful to know.

       Just because it’s done that way doesn’t make it right. There are always alternative methods.