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Technical Apprenticeships

Teach practical skills effectively.
  [vote for,

I've heard more and more complaints from college graduates that schools spend too much time loading a student down with theory, but rarely teach anything practical. Some schools, particularly trade schools, have sought to deal with this problem by providing certification courses and suchlike which focus entirely on the practical aspects of technology. Companies that produce software form partnerships with such schools allowing them to teach the ins and outs of a particular product.

The problem with this is that students receive very detailed instructions on how to deal with one particular version of one particular product. What happens is that the version the student was trained on then becomes obsolete, usually within a year, and the student then has to go back to school and learn the new version of the same program, thus resulting in an endless cycle of training.

As anyone who's been in the computer industry for a few years can tell you, this is no way to handle technology. Any well-written program should be intuitive to someone who's spent a lot of time around computers and has access to the proper documentation. A few hours spent sitting in a classroom going over the details of a program is no indication that a person knows what he or she is doing.

As any employer will tell you, education is good, but experience is better. Experience is the one thing that employers always look for, regardless of education or certification training. In the area of practical technology, experience is the only teacher.

For this reason, I propose the adoption of a system of apprenticeship to handle the teaching of skills in the technical field. This would be similar to the internship programs already available only on a more extensive and lengthy basis. A master technician would employ an apprentice to handle simple tasks which are too tedious for the master to deal with, giving the master time to work on more complex subjects. Over time, the apprentice would be given more and more complex tasks until the master feels the apprentice is ready to move on to a full-time position. Payment would be minimal to the apprentice in question, after all, he or she would be learning valuable skills to be used in the workforce later. Emphasis would be placed on giving the apprentice experience with as wide a range of technologies as possible.

Anyone could become an apprentice, even someone right off the street, thus giving anyone the opportunity to learn valuable skills and become a productive member of society.

DrAwkward, May 04 2002


       An element from the meritocracy, eh?   

       Yeah, i like it; especially for those people who are not suited for the academic side of university. It might be baked though: have you heard of some of the government initiatives in the UK? New Deal, Modern Apprenticeships and all that. I don't know much about them, but they sound similar to what you are describing.   

       A possible con is over-specialisation. One of the good things about the dynamic of today's career-person is that they normally have the flexability to change career once or even twice in their life.   

       On balance, a croisant for you, if only because we need all the alternatives we can get.
yamahito, May 04 2002

       Internships do a bit of this.  Also, I think that de facto technical apprenticeships exist, at least in practice, if not in name.   

       A nice idea, though . . . .
bristolz, May 05 2002

       I participated in the Cooperative Education program in getting my Bachelor's degree in engineering. In this program, semesters at school alternate with semesters in employment in a related industry, and summers are included. The employment semesters are very much like the apprenticeship you suggest.
beauxeault, May 05 2002

       Many degrees in technical subjects (including computing) now include a year's work experience as part of the course.   

       However I don't agree with DrAwkward that all education should be practical and workplace-based. Workplaces are more likely than universities to teach a very narrow range of skills. A university will be able to expose a student to a range of areas of work, different software packages, etc, while workplace training will produce someone trained to do one specific task.   

       What's important for technical training is to provide both specific experience, and the wider theoretical framework that allows the worker to pick up new skills. Many areas of work, e.g. most areas of engineering, require a solid background of theory and mathematics which people in the workplace will not have the time or competency to teach.
pottedstu, May 06 2002


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