AED’s Sean Fitzgerrel and Scott McPherson participated in the Midwest Teachers of Transportation and Industrial Areas (MTTIA) annual conference in early August at Central Lakes College in Brainerd, Minnesota. MTTIA is 501c6 organization led by educators throughout Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, North Dakota and South Dakota. This year marked the 35th year of the conference (but the 34th time that it was held, as it was canceled last year due to COVID). The conference is well known across Minnesota but has been growing for the past three years, with more attendance from the neighboring states.
For the first 30 years of the conference’s, only automotive technology teachers attended. Five years ago, the conference added diesel, truck, collision, and powersports topics and started attracting teachers from those disciplines as well. Today, conference attendance has grown to over 100 instructors. Deans and instructors from the following AED Foundation-accredited colleges were in attendance: Dakota County Technical College, Alexandria Technical & Community College, Hibbing Community College, Central Lakes College, Minnesota State Community and Technical College, and North Dakota State College of Science.
This year’s conference kicked off with an “Administrators Day” that included an industry panel and a keynote speaker. Sean Fitzgerrel sat on the panel along with leaders from Ziegler CAT, Luther Automotive Group, Subaru of America, and several Minnesota-based trade associations. The keynote was provided by George Arrants, vice president of the ASE Education Foundation. One of Arrants’ key messages was “There are only two customers in education (the student and industry), and if you aren’t helping those customers you need to get out of the way.”
When asked about the importance of adding administrators to the mix, Minnesota State Transportation Center of Excellence (TCOE) Executive Director Chris Hadfield stated, “Getting groups of different people together via the internet has been made easier in the last few years. But getting them together in person is always going to be a challenge. Administrators at high schools and colleges want to help their programs be successful. But often, they don't have the tools, knowledge, experiences, connections, etc., to help them do their jobs. Transportation instructors and industry/community partners have those tools but often struggle with communicating with administrators. It's not their fault, it's simply that these are two different worlds, speak different languages, have different cultures, etc. So things get lost in the translation.”
When asked about what equipment dealers can do to assist schools, Hadfield replied, “The key is dialogue. Everything starts with a conversation, whether it’s at a college’s advisory committee meeting that meets regularly, at a career fair at the local school, or simply just walking up to the front office of the local school or college. Each employer is different and each situation is different. Everyone pays taxes in some form or another – local, state, property, sales, road, fuel, and more. A portion of those taxes funds local high schools and colleges. Those schools are designed to build the future of our communities. This includes the workforce. Whether a student decides to become a lawyer, a doctor, a janitor, a nurse, a truck driver, a police officer, or a diesel technician, industry has to be involved in the conversation. At the end of the day, employers need to be involved and have a partnership with high schools, colleges, programs and instructors. That partnership is going to look different and could be anything – equipment sharing, field trips, internships, career exploration help, fundraising for scholarships, donations, substitute teaching, technology access, and more. But it all starts with a conversation.”
Another great new feature of the conference was the diesel instructors’ roundtable, which turned out to be a frank and robust two-and-a-half-hour discussion. Minnesota State TCOE Director of Program Excellence Carl Borleis stated, “The roundtable was added to this year’s conference at the request of the diesel instructors. They all have advisory committee meetings that are designed to help guide instruction, but the teachers felt it was important to have input from industry from a more statewide/regional perspective. The TCOE is always looking for ways to improve education for the students and help instructors become more knowledgeable in their craft. Through industry and educational input, the TCOE submitted and was awarded an NSF grant to bring autonomous technology training into the classrooms of both colleges (education) and high schools (outreach). As we shared the idea and vision with instructors, their biggest concerns were how to add in something new without taking away something else that is equally important. How do you teach all the new technology without losing the basics, and how does industry want us to proceed?”
When asked about how the industry can help to alleviate some of the hardships of the instructors, Borleis responded, “One simple but deep takeaway: education is complex. The needs of each individual student are different from another’s. They each come different backgrounds: inner city or farm life to a military background; large traditional families to no family; rich to poor; some with a wide range of preexisting experiences, skills and abilities related to the field, and some that don’t read or write well, don’t know how to read a tape measure, can’t calculate fractions, and hardly even know what an engine does, let alone how to use basic tools. How does an instructor meet the needs of those that need a large amount of basic instruction without overwhelming them to the point of giving up while keeping those that have a wide variety of preexisting skills from being bored and quitting, all while being expected to treat everyone with a perceived level of fairness and equity?”
Hadfield and Borleis offered suggestions on how industry can help:
- Be a voice at your school, and let the instructor and administration know what is needed by your industry and the obstacles you face, then help them figure out how to meet those needs, while listening to and understanding their needs and obstacles as well.
- Support your local instructors by volunteering/donating your time or the time of your technicians as a mentor to those students that need additional help.
- Be a substitute teacher for a day when needed.
- Ask the teacher what they need or how you can help.
- Help build connection and community with the students, beyond just internships and apprenticeships.
- Partner with your instructor in visiting high schools together to share about your industry and the opportunities that exist beyond school.
- Sponsor a field trip or job shadow opportunities at your shop.
- Provide teacher externships during the summer, or help them to design the curriculum.