Future Technician Preparation ( Environmental Technologies)

Our series on Future of Work issues as related to technician education continues.  Our "Work to do for Future Technician Preparation theme" shifts to environmental technology.  The continuing question is how do new technologies influence the technical workforce and what do future technician have to do to  secure knowledge of and comfort level with specific subsets of existing STEM connected skills.  This FLATE Focus series has touched on the Future of Work related to the NSF-ATE program's focus on advanced manufacturing technologies, agricultural and bio-technologies, and energy in previous issues.  We will address information technologies, micro- and nanotechnologies, security technologies, and geospatial technologies as the year progresses.

 All of the technician career paths that the NSF-ATE program supports are interesting, challenging, and rewarding.  The life of an environmental technician is not an exception to this fact but for students that like working with STEM skills indoors and outside even today's environmental tech's career is on steroids.    An environmental tech's current two year course of study includes the complete command of skills in chemistry, biology, and mathematics that allow independent laboratory and field work with focused missions as developed in concert with a team of environmental scientists, engineers, and environmental agency professionals.  Since many of these techs are employed by consulting companies people skills plus a sense of adventure, business, and entrepreneurship are expected traits as well.  What will Future of Work realities do to this already multiple and diverse skill set situation?

Interesting enough new instruments and processes for environmental sample analysis will not be an issue.  Environmental technicians have always been in situations where new equipment alters the way but not the science behind environmental sample analysis.  Dissolved oxygen (amount of Oxygen gas in a lake or river) analysis has shifted from a cumbersome "wet" chemistry lab bench technique to a simple probe procedure in the field.  The method of analysis has changed but not the skill needed to evaluate the impact of the dissolved oxygen analysis results.  What will influence the tech's life is the insertion of "Big Data" into an environmental technicians professional activities.  A dissolved oxygen sampling activity may still involve the use of a Bobcat to get to a remote location but this time to also launch a fleet of drones to sample multiple bodies of water at specific coordinates and times.  Will the collection and correlation of all of that data through interactions with drones and satellites (cloud computing) with the prerequisite fight training, computing, and software skills be a new component of the tech's education?

There may be other computer science skill subsets in an environmental technician's future but the idea here is to get you thinking about the topic.  Of course, the intent at this point is to, again, bring us back to our mantra:  "The work to do starts with you." What do you think should happen in environmental technology related A.S. programs?  Will this specific technician career preparation path with its new technologies automation and "Big Data" components also dictate the removal of some current skill preparation elements in these programs?

These types of questions will frame the focus for the preparation of new technicians but are there other issues as well?  Guidance toward the answers of these and other related questions is what the National Science Foundation wants.  NSF-ATE is listening and can put what it hears into action so now is the time to speak up.  Think about the skills needed. Send us your thoughts. Contact Marilyn Barger for more information at mbarger@fl-ate.org.

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