Employers Needed

As a graduate of the Durham College welding program I found this article interesting as it spoke to something that I have witnessed over the span of my working life, the looming shortage of trades people.  One of the big problems that we have in Canada is a lack of on the job training that an apprenticeship program requires.  The Conference Board of Canada in 2011 found that spending for on-the-job training had dropped 40% since peaking in 1993.  This despite the fact that a study by the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum found that employers received $1.47 for every $1.00 spent on training.

The new federal government program of Apprenticeship grants and  will only work if employers get on board and hire more apprentices.   To this end the government is working with the provinces to bring in the Canada Job Grant program.  This program will provide $15,000 per person so Canadians can access the training they will need to get jobs in the high-demand fields.  It is hoped that this will encourage Canadian businesses to take on and train more apprentices.

Some employers are trying to get around the skilled labour shortage by bringing in foreign trained workers through the Temporary Foreign Worker program.  This despite an unemployment rate of 13.9% among youths 15  to 24 in January 2014, almost 400,000 young Canadians.  If they are truly concerned about the future employers should be looking to partner with government and educational institutes to train and create opportunities for these young people.

As more and more baby boomers retire from the skilled trades we will need more and more young people to step in and take over.  Apprenticeship is one of the most important mechanisms we have to ensure that we will have a skilled workforce in the future.

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A “Connected Learning” Experience

Today I had a perfect example of what is meant by “connected learning” in the age of the internet. I was on my computer working on PIDP 3240 Media Enhanced Learning a course I am taking in pursuit of my Provincial Instructors Diploma.  Part of the course consists of finding and evaluating Web 2.0 tools.  One such tool I found was Scoop.it a site that uses human curation, along with algorithms to sort and evaluate content into Scoops, pages that are organized according to tags that you provide.

I created an account and set up a topic called Adult Education using: teaching,adult,technology,social media,education, learning as my keywords.  One of the first articles of the 100 in the list was “Theory of Knowledge, Social Media and Connected Learning in High School” on the digital media and learning central site.  The article introduced me to the concept of connected learning.

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A Learning Approach Designed for the Demands and Opportunities of the Digital Age: Powerful, Relevant, Engaging

Logging into my account today I there was a Scoop from the connected learning research network.  I went to their publications page to see if there was anything I could use for my PIDP course and I came across “Re-Mediating Current Activity for the Future” by Kris. D. Gutierrez.  It must have been something about the title of the the mention of “growing poverty and inequity” in the short description but I decided to read the paper.  The paper was about American educator Mike Rose and his methodology that has come to be associated with cultural historical activity theory (CH/AT).  I became intrigued by Mike Rose and googled him to read more of his articles and papers.

The first thing I read was an article in American Scholar “Blue Collar Brilliance”.  As a blue collar worker myself the choice was obvious.  It was an autobiographical piece that described his mother who was a waitress and talked about the cognitive skills involved in her job.  He described other relatives who worked in blue collar jobs and how they used their intelligence as well as their psychomotor skills in doing their jobs.

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Staying with the American Scholar I next read “When the Light Goes On” in which Mike Rose describes his high school education, how a mix up had him in the vocational stream.  Later he was transferred to the academic stream where he languished in mediocracy until he was inspired by his senior year English teacher.  This reminded me of my own high school years where we streamed into arts/science, business or technical courses for four or for those going onto university five years.  In Grade nine at the age of 13 or 14 we were supposed to have some idea of what career we wanted to pursue.

Next I read  Sara Goldrick-Rab’s paper “Comments on Mike Rose’s Essay “Rethinking Remedial Education and the Academic-Vocational Divide” which prompted me to read Mike Rose himself “Rethinking Remedial Education and the Academic-Vocational Divide”.

So what did I get out of all this?  Was I just surfing the web or did I actually have a learning experience?  It made me consider something I have been witnessing for a long time in my industry that more and more of the cognitive work and planning is being taken out of the scope of blue collar workers at the point of production and is being managed by workers in the office.  This is dangerous because it creates a disconnect which I have seen lead to many errors being made and much productive capacity being lost.  It leads to a disengagement of the workers and lack of a team effort between white and blue collar workers in a company.

In my teaching practice I want to be able to not only teach my craft but to teach it in such a way that it engages my student’s imagination and inspires their intellectual appetites to learn more.  I don’t want to turn out automatons who can perform tasks with machine like precision as they will soon be replaced by machines.  Rather I want them to develop the critical thinking skills, to be life long learners and to have the ability to work as part of a team as these skills will always keep them on track and current in whatever career path they choose.

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Facebook and Higher Edcuation

Social networking sites have become a major part of young people’s lives.  Many professors are angered when students will check their Facebook feeds while attending class while others are embracing the technology and incorporating it into their teaching.  They posit that the interactive nature of Facebook allows students to collaborate and share information.  While many studies have done on the effectiveness of using Facebook in education, the conclusions vary.

In his 2009 paper Neil Selwyn found that students use Facebook to:

(1) recounting and reflecting on the university experience

(2) exchange of practical information

(3) exchange of academic information

(4) displays of supplication and/or disengagement

(5) ‘banter’ (i.e. exchanges of humour and nonsense) (Selwyn, N. 2009. p.161)

He found that students saw Facebook as being part of ‘their’ internet and resented its appropriation by the hierarchal university and suggested that his data showed that Facebook as a “backstage space” that augmented their university education.

One way that Facebook has found to be effective is when it uses Facebook pages to form online study groups.  An example of this is the School of Instructor Education Facebook page allows students to share information that they have found on the internet.  This allows students to access a portal that has much relevant information to their studies rather than tedious searches through a search engine.

Dr. Nisha Malhotra at the University of British Columbia uses Facebook groups to answer student questions, post relevant articles and engender online discussions.  Dr Leah Donlan in her 2012 paper concludes that students are happy using Facebook for academic purposes when it is on their terms as they wish to keep their private and academic lives separate.  This suggests to me that any teacher that wishes to use Facebook in their courses might want to have the students collaborate in designing and defining the Facebook group and how it is to be used.

The use of Facebook and other social media in a formal institutional environment is still in its infancy and much study still needs to be done to assess their effectiveness.  Searching the anecdotal information available one finds many successes and failures, but we have to realize that Facebook is a vital part of student’s lives and it is where they spend much of their time.  As Susan Erdman writes “Perhaps the bruising immediacy and startling intimacy of Facebook will indeed offer a way out of the ritualized

Donlan, L. (2012). Exploring the views of students on the use of Facebook in university teaching and learning. Journal of Further and Higher Education, (ahead-of-print), 1-17.

Erdmann, S. (2013). Facebook Goes to College; Recent Research on Educational Uses of Social Networks. Nordic Journal of Modern Language Methodology, 2(1).

Selwyn, Neil. “Faceworking: exploring students’ education‐related use of Facebook.” Learning, Media and Technology 34.2 (2009): 157-174.

Selwyn, N. (2012). Social media in higher education. The Europa World of Learning 2012.

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Canada Gets Serious About Apprentices?

Right now Employment Minister Jason  Kenney is leading a Canadian delegation to Germany and the U.K. to study their apprenticeship systems.  He hopes to apply “best Practices” to Canadian apprenticeship systems.  The German “dual system” is world renowned and the unemployment rate for youth in Germany is 8% compared to 14% in Canada at the same time that energy projects in western Canada can’t find enough skilled labour.

Many people point out that aspects of the German system is incompatible with the Canadian reality.  German children are streamed into a trades education when they are as young as 10 or 11.  German industry has always had a strong presence in the training of apprentices who work at the same time they go to school.  In contrast Canadian companies have cut investment in employee training by 40% since 1993.  Germany’s rigidly designed apprenticeship system is very successful in creating accredited, highly skilled workers but they are also unable to advance into jobs that require college or university training.

In Canada we have a variety of provincial apprenticeship programs and the federal government has recently announced an Apprenticeship Grants program to encourage more young Canadians to purse the trades as a career choice.  One of the biggest challenges we face is the fact that almost 17% of all registered apprentices fail to complete their training.  I think one thing that we can learn from the German system is the way in which the government, business and trade unions work together co-operatively to make sure that German workers receive some of the best training in the world.

The Canadian Apprenticeship Forum in a 2011 report recommended that employers coordinate details of technical training, that promising practices in mentoring be promoted and that labour market information be used to encourage training in trades where the employment prospects are strong.  Hopefully as the federal and provincial governments work to build a strong apprenticeship system these recommendations are followed up on.

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