by Merlin Hernandez

The technological revolution has spawned a preoccupation with IT skills that is leaving vocational training out in the cold. This is already creating a skills gap that is likely to see massive “insourcing” of overseas talent for basic skills like carpentry, masonry, and plumbing. In a small construction company, almost 90% of employees would be craft skills based, and there is a strong preference for workers who are already proficient in their fields. Training is essentially on-site, with immediate application. Employee motivation to learn is high as retention is dependent on how fast and well skills are mastered. But since work tends to be seasonal, and high-activity periods are short, construction firms are unwilling to expend time and resources on structured training programs. The same can be said for electricians, garment workers, or short-order cooks.

The structure and delivery of valuable skills training will be a feature of business and individual needs, delivery objectives and criteria, pre-testing for readiness, appropriate training media, monitoring, feedback, and evaluation. These would determine the selected delivery method(s) – classroom learning with hands-on labs that have instant application – on-site learning that is situational and has direct application – virtual e-learning that can reach large numbers of students over vast distances within a desired time-frame – self-paced e-learning that is continuous and suited to information updates and non – critical skills enhancement. Schools can best facilitate the multiple learning platforms that can produce a workforce-ready candidate for the many apprenticeship programs in the skill trades. But with the success of high schools measured in college ready students, the value of vocational education has been de-emphasized, and skills trades tend to attract low achievers.

Summer apprenticeship programs for high school students might be something to consider in the short term but that will be a small drop in a very large bucket. Industries like construction, trade unions, and professional associations that depend heavily on skill trades should lobby on both state and federal levels to re-position the trades as part of the education system. Vocational training in high school will allow a higher caliber of students to enter into formal apprenticeship on graduation and become master craftspeople in a much shorter time-frame.