Flexibility and Innovation in Apprenticeship Technical Training
The federal government’s Flexibility and Innovation in Apprenticeship Technical Training program is funding ten pilots to experiment with online learning, upfront training, mobile labs and/or simulator training.
The FIATT pilot projects share goals linked to common apprenticeship barriers, emphasizing the applicability and importance of the initiative:
• Help apprentices progress and complete their training
• Reduce waitlists, time away from the workplace and the number of weeks on Employment Insurance (EI)
• Create access to hands-on training, especially for rural and Northern apprentices, through simulators and mobile training units
• Engage apprentice learners, instructors, employers and/or underrepresented groups in online training
• Support apprentice learning and skills development
British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT)
BCIT is offering training that combines online and time in the classroom for gasfitters, steamfitter/pipefitters, plumbers and refrigeration and air conditioning technicians. The online component includes instructor-led sessions and real-time instructor support to overcome apprentice isolation. Virtual forums for apprentice interaction have both structured and unstructured tasks for online classes to complete. Ten web-based simulations and 36 videos and animations ensure the learning is interactive and engaging.
Collège Boréal and Lambton College
Collège Boréal’s project is offering classes with online and classroom components to 40 to 50 carpentry and heavy-duty equipment technician apprentices in both French and English.
New Brunswick Community College (NBCC)
NBCC’s pilot project is increasing the use of innovative educational technology in two Red Seal training areas. Specifically, NBCC is increasing the online element and enhancing software simulator use in the Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Technician program, as well as incorporating both online elements and simulator technology into the welding program. Additionally, a mobile welding lab allows NBCC to conduct outreach and promotional activities, targeting rural and underrepresented students, including those in First Nation communities.
Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC)
NSCC is increasing access and success for construction and industrial electrician apprentices through the development and implementation of four alternative integrative learning tools. The project includes utilizing the Mobile Learning Centre (MLC) in remote areas throughout the province, designing and building approximately 196 mobile training simulators, re-designing all 33-theory courses using an interactive on-line learning platform and creating a mobile web-based broadcast unit accessible to faculty, industry and apprentices. Each of the learning tools functions independently and/or can be combined in multiple ways to enhance learning. For example, the mobile training simulators can be used by apprentices in the MLC, a campus classroom or employer boardroom. The recorded web-based broadcasts are an additional learning resource for the Desire2 Learn (D2L) platform. Apprentices have access to the tools as they are developed. Apprentices are currently enrolled in level two and level three theory courses in D2L, are using the new mobile training simulators and the MLC has travelled to serve apprentices in two remote communities. These four alternative approaches to technical training are expected to reach up to 80 apprentices in Nova Scotia and an additional 5 in Prince Edward Island.
Operating Engineers Training Institute of Ontario (OETIO)
OETIO purchased new crane simulators for mobile and tower crane operators as a part of its pilot project. As many as 120 apprentices are spending an additional 60 hours of seat time operating either the actual crane or a simulator, drawing on a performance database that tracks each apprentice’s progress against their peers. By enabling practical learning of more complex employer-designed training scenarios, apprentices have the opportunity to rehearse difficult and/or dangerous scenarios in a controlled environment. Operating Engineers work with employers to design these scenarios to ensure skills are transferrable to real-life conditions.
The Diesel Engine Technology (DET) program trains learners in engine fundamentals, service and repair, engine systems, diesel fuel injection systems, electronic fuel management and heavy duty charging and cranking systems. The unique delivery provides learners flexibility to retain employment while accessing quality training. The blended method of delivery is comprised of 12 weeks of online theory followed by four weeks of face to face practical training. Upon successful completion learners have the option to challenge the provincial apprenticeship exam. Prior to DET, Portage College successfully initiated the first training level, Pre-Employment Heavy Equipment Technician program. For a snapshot experience in the HET program, click here.
Red Deer College
Red Deer College is offering upfront technical training in the welding trade, beginning with simulator training in the home community of their First Nations partners, as a part of its pilot project. The remainder of the cohort preparation includes on campus training, online learning, innovative testing models, personal development and a co-op work placement. This community-college- and industry-integrated approach is intended to increase access to apprenticeship training for 50 Indigenous participants and, ultimately, support them as they achieve trade qualification.
Saskatchewan Polytechnic is implementing a pilot project with a hybrid learning model for 152 apprentices. Trades include construction electrician, plumber, heavy-duty equipment technician and truck and transport mechanics. The aim is to make learning highly interactive with faculty so learners benefit from instructor advice and guidance and do not feel isolated. To create greater connections between the online learning and on-the-job training, apprentices are assigned homework requiring them to ask their supervising journeypersons questions. The responses are integral to online class discussions.
Thompson Rivers University
As a part of its pilot project, Thompson Rivers University is offering 60 pipefitter apprentices who are unemployed or changing careers, opportunities to complete the upper levels of their training in an accelerated manner that combines online learning and in-class labs.
Yukon College offers online and onsite technical training in the carpenter, oil heat system technician, gasfitter, heavy duty mechanic, plumber and automotive service technician trades as a part of their pilot in the Yukon. This project is creating greater access to training for Indigenous and northern/rural apprentices.
Collecting Best Practices
The Canadian Apprenticeship Forum (CAF-FCA) is involved to facilitate connections among the pilots, pull together participant insights and broadly share findings.
A national survey with 548 block-release apprentices has gathered baseline data to better understand the costs apprentices incur and their attitudes towards technical training. Interviews with pilot participants and administrators reveal how the pilots support or do not support progression or completion, enhance access to hands-on training and generate cost savings.
In order to ensure the lessons of these projects are not lost to the wider community, CAF-FCA will share findings at an October 2017 workshop and the 2018 national apprenticeship conference.
More to Consider?
While the alternate delivery pilots are unlikely to lead to a wholesale change in apprenticeship technical training, they offer an exciting glimpse into apprenticeship’s evolution. Here, technology is being used to overcome barriers to access and other good ideas are being evaluated for tangible results. Innovation like this is fundamental to the continued relevance of any world-class apprenticeship system.
And, while FIATT focuses on alternate approaches to technical training, it perhaps also offers a blueprint for addressing other persistent barriers to apprenticeship training on a national scale. Testing new approaches can be expensive and time-consuming. Innovation rarely comes with any certainty of success. The decentralized regulation of apprenticeship offers few opportunities to adopt promising practices nationally and, frankly, no infrastructure to do so. As the FIATT experiment continues, the apprenticeship community might ask itself where there are other opportunities for a similar approach.
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