Monday, July 29, 2013
The solitary trade worker
Interim data analysis has revealed one area for further investigation. However, this theme will not be reported as the sample size we are working with is too small. So some notes and thoughts collected here for follow up further on, perhaps into to see if there will be sufficient content that can be used in a journal article.
One of the trades involved in the ‘learning a trade’ project, is glazing. Commercial glaziers and automotive glaziers work in teams but many domestic glaziers, work as individuals. Therefore, domestic glaziers providing the service to replace broken windows in homes, travel around in self-sufficient vans from one house / job to the next. Apprentice domestic glaziers receive short but intense training. Some will follow a trade worker glazier for a short time. They are then provided with a van and carry out straight-forward jobs.
Many trades are organised around training an apprentice to become independent. I remember a chat I had a few years ago about how one of our plumbing tutors trained his apprentice. The apprentice would follow him about for about a year. Then, he would leave the apprentice at a job site and travel away to take on more work with another junior apprentice. He would check on his ‘senior’ apprentice a few times a day, then once a day and sometimes every few days. The objective was to have an apprentice who would be able to independently complete a job by the later part of the second year into apprenticeship.
The ubiquity of the mobile phone has changed support for learner trades people. Help is but a phone call away. So although not face to face, the social aspect of learning a trade is still present. Assistance is synchronous but the apprentice needs to have narrowed down on the challenge that needs to be solved and explain what is required over the phone. The trade person / trainer or coach has to figure out, remotely, what the problem is and provide relevant advice over the phone. Sharing of pictures through texting is one way to cut down on the verbal descriptions required.
When questioned, only half of the glaziers had formal arrangements for sharing practice through staff meetings, most of the foundational skill learning took place when they were following a trades person. When the apprentice went out on their own, they had to apply all their learning to work through the various challenges. They only asked for assistance when they were well and truly stuck. So in a way, the need to be able to work independently, consolidates and integrates skills and knowledge that contribute towards successful problem solving. This form of training works in trades that have well-bounded parameters. The final stages of many other trade apprenticeships also have a large degree of autonomous and self-directed work practice. So, perhaps there is a fulcrum point when apprentices are 'let out on their own' that signifies trade competency sufficient for independent practice and this could be the point at which they meet 'graduate profiles' for trade qualifications. Something to think through.