Did you know? Cars today have more computing power on board than the system that guided Apollo astronauts to the moon.

I recently had the opportunity to use this fact while presenting to a lecture hall full of post-graduate science and engineering students at the University of British Columbia. Not surprisingly, as I began my talk on the relationship between technology and the trades, I watched the facial expressions of the students turn from respectful skepticism to intrigue. Using a presentation I regularly give to kids in the K-12 system, I proceeded to explain that technological advances, from those used to enhance communications to those used to build complex electrical systems, have greatly impacted what it means to have a career in the skilled trades.

With the assistance of videos, catchy show tunes, and a host of animated frogs, I was able to demonstrate to the post-grad students that technology has not only changed how skilled tradespeople work, but also what they work on.

“Apprentices, regardless of their chosen profession, require high levels of computer literacy and digital skills to complete their education.”

Advanced skills and terminology

In the case of the automotive industry the job title of ‘mechanic’ has been replaced by the title ‘technician’ to represent how computer diagnostics have become an integral part of fixing cars these days. Mechatronics, which was a term relatively unheard of until the advent of computer technology in the 1980s, now employs tradespeople who work on advanced manufacturing technology.  Aircraft maintenance technicians now assist with the building of aerodynamic spacecraft, while construction tradespeople need to have an understanding of 3D applications that support building information modelling.

Even during their training, apprentices require technological skills in order to work with simulators and online training modules. A study by the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum from 2013 indicates that apprentices, regardless of their chosen profession, require high levels of computer literacy and digital skills to complete their education.

SEE MORE: Why A Career in the Skilled Trades Could Be Right For You
 

Overcoming the skills gap

Undeniably trades and technology have become intertwined, and in some cases, synonymous with one another. The significance of this in relation to addressing skills shortages and the skills gap is twofold.

First, industry requires tradespeople to have new skill sets that include competencies in technology. Secondly, educators, parents, and students need to know this, not only to prepare students academically, but also so that those with the right skills and passions are guided towards pursuing these careers.

As I wrapped up my presentation, I concluded with an overview of the many, and often lucrative career opportunities in the trades, leaving the post-grads with one final fact to ponder: apprentices earn while they learn.  Hands shot up across the room during question period.

“Why were we not told about these opportunities?”

It was a good question. One that I, and other stakeholders, are working hard to address — with or without the help of animated frogs.