2019 HI-TEC Conference: Focused on the Future

The 11th Annual Hi-TEC Conference was focused on advanced technological education in 2-year credit-bearing programs.  Organized and supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF)’s Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program grantees, this conference is a hub of innovation in technical education. Two-year college educators from around the country come together to share their best practices for recruiting, engaging and retaining students in programs; to showcase the implementation of new educational technologies and strategies; and, of course, to learn about new technologies coming into the industry sectors that they support. In that regard, one important focus areas of HI-TEC 2019, was the impact of the Future of Work on preparing technicians for work in advanced technology workplaces.  This effort is led by a project funded by NSF ATE to CORD (The Center for Occupational Research and Development). Some of the questions being asked include:
What new technologies do educators need to “add” to their programs? Are there some new skills coming into (or already there!) the technician working environment?
If so, what are these skills? Are they connected to/extensions of any existing skill sets? Are they add-on skills or perhaps “replacement” skills?  What will go away?  How soon will this happen?
Will there be more common fundamental sills across disciplines?  Will research and design engineering and scientist skills move down to technicians due to IT?  And, very importantly, what do our technicians need to know and be able to do relative to systems security?

An all-day pre-conference workshop with industry professionals and educators representing all of the advanced technologies targeted by the ATE program, an industry panel and keynote speaker all tackled these questions in these different venues. After collecting data for 8 months, the pre-conference workshop team focused the participants on 3 major areas that had bubbled up from that earlier data collection: data knowledge and analysis, advanced digital literacy, and business knowledge and processes. These cross cutting “buckets” will be filled with specific knowledge and competencies that future technicians will need to be proficient in no matter what primary discipline they are studying.

No answers or solutions were discovered or uncovered. New terms were defined, new friends were made across disciplines and many ideas were pushed forward. Some topics were quickly and easily deleted from further consideration. It was good, thought provoking work and all in the interest of student technicians that we are educating today.

Two days later, a panel of industry executives talked to an audience of interested and eager conference attendees about how their companies were moving forward with advanced technologies and the future of work.  Big takeaways I heard were:
1. All are deeply engaged with new technologies.
2. It is a new and real work dynamic for any and all “production” companies. The learning curve is steep.
3. All are all pushing forward with new technologies, but still have to maintain current production for current demand and see a short-term future with significant changes. How do we install and implement new technology (robots, artificial intelligence, etc) without compromising quality and output for “today’s” customers and how to keep our workforce up to date with changes we are not even sure of ourselves?

So, yes, their workforce needs are changing, but the changes are not happening all at once.  Lifelong learning skills are key. Problem solving and critical thinking are essential. In very different ways (depending on the company), they are each trying to keep up with new technologies relevant to their work while maintaining production and quality – with any and all strategies possible.  I could only think “wow”, and that educators are on a parallel track with what and how we teach their students. 

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