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TRAINING & EDUCATION - Education must be flexible to address skills shortage

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by Jean Sorensen last update:Aug 16, 2014

If educational institutions are going to achieve their objective of replacing a large portion of the skills shortage looming, they need to adapt and find more flexible models of delivery, said Thompson River University's (TRU) dean of trades and technology.
TRAINING & EDUCATION - Education must be flexible to address skills shortage

"Learning is always evolving and so is how we deliver that education," said dean Lindsay Langill.

"The traditional model works for some people, but it doesn't work for everyone."

Langill and TRU have been working to bring forward new education learning models that cast a larger net and accommodate more students.

The need exists because often those individuals opting for skilled trades or upgrading their apprenticeship training are older individuals with families, working throughout the province.

They are unlike most university students, who are single when they enter post-secondary education.

Trades training often involves a candidate, who finds it financially difficult to spend time in a classroom.

Langill pointed to the new Red Seal parts person program as an innovative new program.

A survey of industry found that individuals who work for equipment suppliers, trucking firms and large industry users of equipment are finding there is a shortage of these individuals.

The problem, said Langill, is that the position is a skilled job, but not with a pay level that is an incentive for individuals to come to campus to spend time in the classroom and train up in the program.

As a response, Langill put 100 per cent of the classroom portion on line.

"Now, the students can sign up whenever they want, they don't have to quit their jobs and they do not have to leave their home," he said.

Leaving home also can mean an additional expense as short-term furnished accommodation in larger urban areas can run $1,000 or more a month.

"The highest cost for many students undertaking trades training is really the cost of the accommodation," he said.

"They can do one course at a time," he said, adding each course is 30 hours long.

A pilot project with 20 students just finished.

It took students about six weeks to complete each level of instruction for the course.

There are three levels.

"Everyone commented how great it was to be able to stay at home without the added expense of staying someplace away from home," he said.

The program starts again in September.

Another advantage of on-line learning is there is no limit on classroom size, said Langill.

"Because the program is online with embedded video, there is not as much interaction with instructors," he said.

One instructor can handle more than the usual maximum 16 students.

"Not all trades are created equal," acknowledged Langill, so this delivery system doesn't work for all skills.

However, there is room to look at how traditional delivery models can be adapted to both student and industry needs.

He pointed to the electrical training program.

"If it is 10 weeks in the classroom, maybe we can reduce that to seven weeks," he said, adding that maybe  the other three weeks are on-line learning.

"Whatever we can carve out is a saving," he said.

The employer, student, and academic institution all benefit.

As well as using a mobile classroom to teach the welding program to students around the province,  Langill's school has also brought forward another innovative delivery system for students.

The school's commercial transport program (repairing large highway and transport trucks) is a four year program.

"We have front loaded the entire program," he said.

"It is a new concept."

Students complete the classroom portion of the program from first to fourth year at one sitting.

"It is all done in one whack," he said.

He listed numerous benefits to this approach such as no interruption to the employer, who in the past had to send a student back to the classroom in each of the last three years.

"It could be at a time when the employer is busy or he has trucks that break down," said Langill.

"Since students are in the classroom for a longer period of time, they are able to qualify for student loans and bursaries to help defray their costs of coming to a campus for training."

He said his school has also looked at Aboriginal learning challenges and tried to find models of delivery that best suit these students.

In one application, he has taken the theory portion of a program and broken it down into two-hour, IT screen capsules that can be accessed via an iPad.

"We are trying to be innovative without sacrificing quality," he said.

last update:Aug 16, 2014

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