What are the essential skills of a worker, and what do these skills look like in a digital world? What skills are static, and which ones evolve? Which ones are obsolete, and which ones are new? As I teach my trade, I wonder what emphasis I should be putting on which skills to better prepare the students for the trade. Not the trade that I lived, but the one that they will live, and this one doesn’t exist yet.
We are tradespeople, so our skills are based on using our hands to make food, repair a computer, change a bandage, or install wiring. Trades will always be about developing the motor skills to complete a task, but to do this in today’s world is also about developing digital skills to grow in the trade. Technical skills, optimization skills, communication and collaboration skills. Sure you can cook with a regular gas oven, but more and more sophisticated ovens with computer chips and an app interface are being used by cooks everywhere. The cooking part doesn’t change, but the technical skills do.
As tradespeople, we can be aware of the current digital skills needed in our trade, but we need to be aware that It isn’t about mastering the digital tool, but rather about what that tool permits you to do. For example, a machinist (DEP 5723 machining techniques) working in the aerospace sector would be expected to have basic programming skills where they would recognize the importance of the skill but are limited as to what they can do with it, but high agility and efficiency skills, where they would be regarded as an expert. Programming skills are pretty obviously digital, but how are agility and efficiency skills digital? Well, that machinist is an expert at understanding tech specs and cutting the aluminum and riveting it together to make the fuselage. They can do this with metal cutters and a riveter, but in order to do it efficiently, they must be an expert at reading and extrapolating information from digital technical drawings, cutting and riveting aluminum with machinery that is operated with software and ensuring the expected result. No one wants a wing part that is a wee bit too small, or that took 10 times longer to produce than expected. They are taking the knowledge that they have about working with metal and manipulating the digital world to ensure the outcome. They are not using the digital tool for the tools’ sake, but rather because it creates the possibility to improve on speed, accuracy, reliability, or result.
Ok, you say, but what does that mean for you as the teacher? You have to ensure basic, entry-level skills. The student never going to become efficient while at school - efficiency comes with repetition, and there is just too much to learn and not enough time at school - so who cares about digital literacy at this point?
Yes, this is true, but you need to expose them to the world that they will see. They need to see the relationship between what they are learning in school and its place in the workforce. So yes, digital literacy concerning efficacity is not the goal of the DEP, but the student should experience using these digital interfaces during their studies because the industry expects them to leverage digital literacy to become efficient in their trade. If they need technical drawings and you give them printed copies, make some activities where they will also use industry software to analyze the drawings. It’s ok if they aren’t proficient, but they have to be introduced to the idea that these skills are what they will have to develop in the workforce.
Digital literacy is expected in the workforce, but depending on the industry, the emphasis will be different. As a vocational teacher, I have to keep abreast of how digital tools are changing the way a tradesperson executes their tasks. The teacher doesn’t have to be proficient in these tools, but they have to see their place in the trade and expose the students to them. This will place them on the right path to seeing that acquiring digital skills is a necessary part of their trade and part of the learning that will continue past finishing their program.