Friday, December 21, 2012

Technology in Vocational Education

Testing a speedometer

The vocational or trade school educational environment has often been on the short end of spending for computers and information technology. It is far less pronounced than it was just a few years ago, but for many trade or vocational high schools there is still a noticeable difference. Even 20 short years ago this could be easily justified based on the very different curricula that existed between different types of high schools.

My sense is that this is short sighted given the fundamental changes that impact vocational education. With the role of information technology increasing across every industry, turning out vocational school graduates that are comfortable and knowledgeable about the information systems they will be using every day is essential.

Working on cars used to be a fairly simple process, many of us grew up doing major work on our first junk box car. However, in today’s automotive industry, the technician needs to start with computer based testing and diagnostics before even picking up the first wrench. Today’s cars are a series of complex computing systems. Although these systems are very different from using Microsoft Office, the tech’s ability to understand basic computer functionality and technology enhances their ability to do their job better. This knowledge also leads to less frustration and lost time during the actual repair.

Even small independent repair shops rely on management systems that track all the costs and are the basis of how automotive technicians are paid. Techs now interact with dealer management or shop management systems that track parts, time allowances, and often provide links or actual access to repair bulletins and other critical information. Many of these are like any other order entry or CMS system that is used by white collar employees. Being facile and effective with these systems results in a better employment experience and raising the odds of advancement. Further, thorny problems may require traditional computer based research skills to find new fixes or input outside of the shop system.

The automotive industry is just one example of the many areas of vocational school specialties where the need for strong technology education is important the overall success of the graduates. Simply put, there are few trades that haven’t become dependent on technology for the actual work, the business side, or both.

For many vocational schools, the new complexities and demands of many trades have taken up much of the focus for curriculum change. The demands of technology must be part of this change, and can’t be ignored. The ability of trade professionals to comfortably use the trade specific and more traditional computer systems is required to make them work force ready. The ability to use these vocation skills within the framework of the systems that support them is driving modern vocational schools.

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