Future Technician Preparation: Safety First

The universal mantra for industry's technical workforce is Safety First!  Traditionally, this mantra's directives are easily and effectively summarized in OSHA guidelines and sometimes requirements.  The dramatic reduction (actually statistical elimination) of fire disasters that routinely plagued turn of the last century factories is just one impressive safety example of what can be done at nationally organized but locally executed levels.  Last month's Future of Work Series contribution accented the observation that the corona virus impact on our health is becoming vividly apparent.  It also reflected on the fact that two-year community college programs focused on technician preparation have three forcing functions that dictate their course of action: the education system structure; faculty professional development; and the teaching approach.  COVID-19's alteration in teaching pedagogy is in full swing but its alteration on what is to be taught is still in the early morning haze.  The recent release of the OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Act) "Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19" by the U.S Department of Labor provides one content area that is beyond that early morning visual perspective.

With OSHA guidance, https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3990.pdf , now available, the
contrast with last month's Industry 4.0 topic is amusingly apparent. In the current (and most likely post) COVID-19 environment what I-4.0 appropriate hands-on knowledge and skills topics to be taught to technicians is "not set in stone". However, those to be determined topics are not going to be overshadowed by the lack of available mechanisms (teaching approaches).  Respondents to last month's discussion indicate two-year technician education programs can teach Industry 4.0 topics with methods that are being actively explored. Simulations, on-line (remote access) equipment operations, and open laboratory schedules to reduce the density of students doing college located equipment training sessions are just three examples of how it will be done.

The potential for a smile of amusement hovers over the fact that we know how and what COVID-19 safety practices to teach but not who is going to do the teaching. The time students are "in school" was the background motivation of our March discussion of "what school" they are in. The actual smile of amusement is generated because our complicated technical education structure continues to create workforce development challenges. There are a few colleges that offer "safety degrees" completely online. These programs cover the range of subjects that includes hazardous materials management, construction safety, OSHA safety training, and accident investigation. However, there are many more examples of standalone non-college credit related independent vendor online training courses that culminate with the target OHSA 10 and/or 30 hours DOL Cards. Is this or should this be the situation for COVID-19?

Perhaps the jumping off point for discussion of this question of who teaches what is to ask if post COVID-19 behavior represents a culture change or just a workforce practice change. Culture alterations come with education while expected safe practices related to SARS-CoV-2 within a work environment can be instilled into a workforce by training and enforcement. That workforce training is proportional to the precautions needed as outlined in one of the four OSHA defined risk exposure levels.

Specific workforce safety employee skill expectations are often driven by various industry environments they may or most likely are not integrated into A.S. degree programs. The degree program strategy often just follows the common industry declaration that industry just needs people that are problem solvers and they will take care of the specific training they want those people to have. By contrast if post COVID-19 behavior is beyond that workforce practice arena, then the two-year degree programs in harmony with their college general education course deliveries have to address the situation. Based on current national response, it is most likely we need a culture change strategy. Thus, this is an education system not a industry training issue.

 This FOW series is usually focused on what new technicians need to know because new technology is going to be in their face whether they like it or not. COVID-19 is not a new technology but it is in their face now and will continue to trigger altered technician behavior related to new technology. So, as we often do in this series, we depart with a collection of questions. What are the specifics of those alterations? Who teaches what? How much viral, bacterial, and infectious biology does the typical (non bio-related) technician need to know. If this entire topic really resides within the public health domain, should public health components and principles also to be assimilated into technician education? And, of course, we can't simply just say yes and add content to a time locked technical curriculum. If something is added what something has to go? Share your questions, concerns, and what you know with us so we can share that knowledge with others. Send us your thoughts (gilbert@usf.edu).

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