The Pandemic Has Educators Seeing Problems, but Also Solutions

America’s heavy equipment and diesel technology educators are a resilient group, and it’s because they don’t take a challenge lying down – even one as complex as teaching the next generation of operators and tradespeople during the COVID-19 pandemic. The situation may be unprecedented, yet they rely on themselves, their school district officials and industry stakeholders to do what each does best in collaborating on solutions to a wide array of new problems. That’s the broad conclusion of a survey conducted by The AED Foundation among a geographically dispersed sample of 77 such educators, primarily teachers in postsecondary schools but also participants were drawn from administration and/or secondary schools. The survey was fielded in the summer of 2020, with questions addressing the upcoming school year.

Concerns & Challenges Ahead

Which sort of model the school planned to adopt in response to the pandemic was a critical distinction. Six in ten survey participants teach at schools planning a hybrid model, with a mix of online and in-person instruction, while all but one of the remainder would be teaching in-person full time. (There was a single participant in a 100% online teaching situation.)  

Not surprisingly, multiple sorts of problems were anticipated, although different educators had different reactions to these. The overarching concern had to do with the health implications of returning to teaching. Yet while two-thirds reported being either “very” or “somewhat” concerned about this, another third said they were largely unconcerned.

Not surprisingly, there were multiple types of challenges anticipated about making the new situation work. The most widely cited, by half the sample, was keeping students engaged. The second most frequently cited challenge was a lack of hands-on learning opportunities (mentioned by a third), followed by a general lack of resources, maintaining safety, communication with students, and students’ potential lack of internet access, each mentioned by approximately one in five.

The Educators’ Approach

Of course, resilience means being a problem solver, and that doesn’t always mean relying one hundred percent on oneself. Sometimes it means knowing where to turn for support.

For example, those who had the greatest health concerns were far more likely to have had “a lot of interaction” with school district officials compared to those with a lesser degree of concern (seven in ten versus half). And that interaction paid off, as this group was more likely to be teaching in a (presumably safer) hybrid model in the fall.

Depending on the specific challenge they faced, a given educator would turn to either district officials or industry stakeholders for support, with one set of exceptions: the big problem of keeping students engaged and the related concern about communication with students. Those who cited these as concerns were less likely than others to turn to outside support, apparently recognizing that it was their problem to solve. However, those who had concerns about student internet access or a general lack of resources were more likely to interact with district officials.

A greater degree of interaction with industry stakeholders was on the agenda for those facing challenges in terms of hands-on opportunities or maintaining safety. When explicitly asked how industry stakeholders could support them during this time, three in ten mentioned supplying or loaning equipment, and two in ten discussed donations or financial aid.

Yet the most frequently mentioned means of support desired from industry stakeholders was in obtaining digital training materials, cited by four in ten. Nine out of ten planned to use more digital training materials no matter what the source.

The Students Will Be All Right

Of course, the entire situation led to widespread concern about the ultimate impact on students. Hiring or recruiting students was the second-most-desired type of support from stakeholders, with three in ten educators mentioning this. While half teach in programs experiencing an enrollment increase, the remainder were seeing flat or declining numbers.

But there was also good news on this front. Nine in ten said that drop-out rates at their institution were less than 10%. And a third expected placement rates to increase, with another half expecting no change.

The Broader Perspective

Construction is a critically important driver of America’s economy, but the industry’s impact would be hampered without a sustained pipeline of new, highly skilled tradespeople entering the workforce. The AED Foundation, the educational and workforce development arm of Associated Equipment Distributors, undertook this survey to clarify how educators were dealing with the pandemic and better understand how its 800 members can remain an effective resource despite the many challenges faced at this time. The road ahead will remain rocky, but the survey clarifies that educators and AED members are together taking a proactive approach to navigating it.

Mike Kallenberger is a frequent contributor to business publications as well as a strategic marketing consultant, doing business as Tropos Brand Consulting. Though he takes a wide range of approaches, his writing specializes in research-driven articles that breathe life into numbers. In 2018 Mike’s article “Craft Brewing and the Evolution of American Culture” won the North American Guild of Beer Writers' award for Best Historical Writing. He lives in Wisconsin between Milwaukee and Madison, where he teaches a course on consumer behavior at the University of Wisconsin.

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