Learning & Development

Is eLearning the Key to Filling the Skilled Trade’s Gap?

While we’re already seeing how artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, and other forms of generative technology have the potential to eliminate jobs and reshape the workforce, for the foreseeable future, there are many activities that will still need a trained, human touch. Whether it’s an oil change or maintenance on a vehicle, plumbing, and electrical work, trade vocations, sometimes referred to as “blue-collar” jobs, still require the hands-on attention of skilled laborers. But that doesn’t mean technology isn’t already changing the landscape of these professions and having a significant impact on new workforce entrants.

The market for tradespeople is evolving under the pressure of many, sometimes conflicting forces. For example, while there’s a reported shortage of blue-collar workers in the post-pandemic job market, universities are simultaneously reporting that many young people are opting out of traditional 4-year degrees in pursuit of skilled trades.

Despite a shift toward more tactical work, the next generation of workers is digitally native and has never experienced a time without instant access to information via smart devices and the Internet. So what are the implications for this emerging workforce, and how will technology complement Gen Z’s preferences and attitudes as they begin blue-collar work?

Don’t Pack a Lunch for Vocational School

For many, gone are the days when a formal trade certification requires weeks or months in a classroom environment. Of course, vocational training for these skill sets will (and should) continue to have elements of coursework that allow students to tinker and learn through trial and error with actual engines, pipes, and wires. Digital classrooms and eLearning are emerging to supplement—and, in some cases, replace—some of the less tactile lessons required for these types of jobs.

Although a shift away from fully immersive learning may seem counterintuitive for those entering skilled trades, digital tools are emerging to replace elements of the classroom that don’t require hands-on experience. This can include an array of nontechnical lessons required for certifications, as well as exam preparation and even the administration of tests.

eLearning (as both a supplement and an alternative to physical classrooms) surged in the last few years to meet social distancing requirements during the pandemic; however, its longevity can largely be attributed to the medium’s ability to better meet the preferences of Gen Z students, who prefer to absorb information on their own in the comfort of their homes (or sometimes while on the go).

Mentorship Has a New Look and Feel

Historically for blue-collar workers, much of the best institutional knowledge may have been passed down from a relative or grandfatherly type who had already been there and seen it all. But in today’s connected environment, aspiring workers are more likely to find (and seek out) this type of coveted intel from places like Reddit and online forums.

We’re in a world where wisdom has become democratized, and younger generations know exactly where to find it. It’s now easier than ever to seek out answers to even the most obscure questions, and there are online communities of contributors eager to share their experiences and help others with detailed advice and firsthand accounts, unique experiences, mistakes, and life hacks—all in the spirit of paying it forward to like-minded citizens of the Internet.

Onboarding Online

Even with jobs in hand, new Gen Z workers (and everyone else, for that matter) are likely to receive a digital-first impression of their new employer before fully getting to work. Outside of the skilled training required for their specific vocations, new entrants to any workplace typically onboard with a series of modules specific to their organization. These can include protocols around safety and security or even policies related to payroll and HR.

Likewise, with businesses required to verify employment eligibility, many employers are likely to collect documentation like a driver’s license and government ID electronically before the first clock-in.

Skilled Trades Still Require Skilled Workers

If you’re a nervous Luddite and fear that technology is going to drastically alter the way you get an oil change, fear not. Technology isn’t replacing blue-collar jobs but is actually lowering boundaries and meeting new entrants in their preferred medium. Easier access to training means more young people are learning the skills necessary to fill in-demand jobs, which also means the services we all need will continue to be accessible and priced competitively.

Finally, it’s worth noting that young workers are often attracted to skilled trades because of the relative ease with which they can apply their crafts in just about any geographic market. Not unlike remote workers and digital nomads, young blue-collar workers are often seeking out their occupations because of their ability to find employment just about anywhere.

For many, this may seem like a logistical conundrum for the businesses that employ these skilled workers; however, unlike the relatively new phenomenon of digital nomads, this has been a reality for decades and has consistently yielded a high level of turnover and movement within these types of jobs.

The good news is that for businesses that are already cognizant of employee mobility, the process of offboarding and then bringing in fresh talent is becoming more efficient. With more digital touch points, the wheels are becoming better greased to support steady movement while simultaneously providing systems of support to new talent to help these workers grow and prosper in their careers.

Rob Porter is head of market and business development for CoSo’s eLearning solutions. He is responsible for developing and executing corporate communications, market programs, market visibility, and positioning strategy to expand CoSo’s market share in eLearning. He has a successful 25-year track record in instructional design and eLearning programs, as well as in authoring and presenting on a variety of corporate topics and learning techniques. During his career, he has built hours of eLearning content, workshop curricula, webinars, presentations, and multiple custom learning platforms for his customers. He has also developed state-of-the-art learning programs for organizations like BMW, Nike, Nikon, Johns Hopkins, Microsoft, NVIDIA, Dassault, and Domino’s. Before joining CoSo Cloud, he founded and was a principal at Training Objectives Corp.

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