Old Methods to Teach New Technology

Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder, chief of naval research, speaks to 30 Mathematics, Engineering and Science Achievement (MESA) students from 12 high schools and four middle schools from the greater Philadelphia area during a visit to George Washington University.

For most of human history, skills were passed from one generation to the next by some form of apprenticeship. Only in the last couple of centuries has this time-tested method fallen out of favor. I am sure a doctorial thesis or two could be written on why this occurred; I think it was an over-reaction to emerging technology and a sudden loss of faith in the ability of the older generation to catch up on things.

While there is certainly truth in that opinion — just watch a curmudgeon like me try to recover from a recent episode of computer obsolescence — society loses when it throws off the well-tested for the experimental. Our “modern” workforce has plenty of well-educated people trying to find their “calling” and a shortage of folks with the technical skills to operate, repair, or maintain things.

I am no Luddite who wants to turn back the clock two hundred years, yet I wonder if we have placed far too much faith in the “lecture” system of transmitting knowledge. Eventually the day comes when students have to apply what they have learned to a new an unique “real world” situation — and that test will not be “multiple choice.”

Many politicians and professional educators tout “apprenticeships” when the hot lights of the media focus on them, only to lose interest when the difficult task of setting up and running a program becomes apparent. The media loves to point out the inequities and occasional scandals that beset even the best-run organizations.

We should not allow them to walk away. Neither should we allow nepotism or an “old boys network” to deny these opportunities to deserving candidates. I “served my time” alongside some of the first female or minority apprentices in Milwaukee County. Those kids did not have an easy “row to hoe,” but those who stuck it out went on to fine careers.

I was very pleased to read in the previous blog that age was not used as an excuse to keep this man from becoming an apprentice. My father wanted to become an electrician when in 1946 he returned from the U.S. Navy following WWII. He was turned down for being over 21 years old. Rules were rules, he was told — even if they do not make sense.

If your company needs skilled help, why not sponsor an apprenticeship or two? Don’t embrace the negativity about paperwork or inflexible course work. If your reason for not starting apprenticeships is that you might not be able to retain them after they graduate, you would be wise to re-examine your organization’s culture, compensation, and benefits. No one builds a championship team from players no one else wants.

About Charles D. Schultz 572 Articles
Charles D. Schultz is President of Beyta Gear Service and one of Gear Technology's technical editors.

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