Thanks to Allen Beliveau from my PIDP 3240 course for posting the paper by Bradley D. Hartwig from SFU Faculty of Education “e-Apprenticeship: Establishing Viability of Modern Technology in Traditional Practice”. Published in 2007 the paper looked at the views of apprentices towards learning their trade online rather than at a traditional vocational institution. It also looked at the history of the BC apprenticeship system and apprenticeships in general.
One of the problems of the present system is that many apprentices must travel to attend school. This entails added expenses at the same time you are not working and earning a wage. In some cases EI will pay you but this is still a reduction in income. In an e-apprenticeship the apprentice would learn their theory online while doing their practical work in their workplace. Since there is a 30% non-completion rate for BC apprentices it is simple economics to remove any barriers we can to make sure apprentices successfully become journeypersons.
One disadvantage of this approach is that many employers look upon apprentices as a source of cheap labour. Many can spend their whole apprenticeship doing a limited variety of the trade related tasks. Government and institutions would have to spend a large amount of money to develop a comprehensive curriculum and the learning tools to support it. There would have to be follow up process to make sure that the apprentice was getting the proper coaching and mentoring that similar institutional classes provide. One advantage of this system is I have heard apprentices returning from school complain about how school failed to replicate the real world conditions of the work place.
Another advantage of an e-apprenticeship is that you can quickly incorporate new technologies and procedures into the curriculum. In this day and age change is occurring at an ever increasing rate. A disadvantage of an e-apprenticeship system is that many small and medium sized businesses can not give their apprentices the wild range of training that the curriculum might require. The government and training institutions would have to insure equality of opportunity for all apprentices right across the province.
The amount of labour and coaching required by online learners is another disadvantage of online learning. According to Palloff and Pratt (1999) an online course would take 18 hours of instructor time compared to 6.5 to 7.5 hours for a face-to-face lecture course. There would also be a learning curve in both learner and instructor learning as to how to best utilize the software and learning modules. This would also require an IT support team as students and instructors ran into computer problems.
One advantage of having the employer take responsibility for the practical training of an apprentice is that it involves them to take more of an interest and ownership over the development of their apprentices. Journeypersons would have to take on a more meaningful mentorship role. However one of the main concerns of the apprentices surveyed was that they would miss the camaraderie and connections they get in a classroom. Also they said they would miss the peer to peer learning and teaching that takes place. This could be overcome by having gatherings of local apprentices from various trades coming together to learn material common to all trades. This would also get apprentices out of their trade silos and get new perspectives.
Returning to in-house training of apprentices hearkens back to the days of the medieval guilds. In some ways going forward is going backwards, but it must be done carefully at this time and involve all stakeholders. The paper talked about some pilot projects that were using e-apprenticeship and I believe this is the way to proceed. Since the BC government is investing over $30 million in a new Trades Education facility at Camosun College, e-apprenticeship isn’t on the top of their agenda.
How do you teach this type of welding