By Colleen Knechtel

“We are still teaching students how to ride dinosaurs,” a career and technology studies teacher recently proclaimed in the career centre of a large urban high school. As there has been a shift from an industrial economy to a knowledge-technology society, wherein our ways of living, learning and working continue to adapt, employment opportunities for young people are less than favourable. Part of the issue is keeping pace in a rapidly changing, globally connected world. The focus in our schools is primarily on academic subjects of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), while at the same time there is a worrisome shortage of people with the skillsets to innovate and get things done. Education has not kept up with the far-reaching implications of a global world, and since it will be our young people who will be leading our way forward, we must urgently attend to educational reform, and in particular, the political binary that currently exists between academic and vocational education. It is our ethical obligation to do so.

As a scholar and career development educator, when I consider the survival of both our planet and our human species, I have come to understand that it is not simply the core subjects along with the advancement of scientific knowledge in universities that will create continuity of life; it is also those important skillsets of knowing how to build things and how to innovate in tangible ways that will keep humanity flourishing for years to come. In addition to saving our planet from ecological disaster, in a video (see reference list below), Aravena (2014), an architect, articulated very well our human needs in the next several decades; that is, finding innovative ways to house and feed our growing world population. To accomplish this, along with experiential learning opportunities, the development of specialized skillsets and creative minds are necessary to find our way forward.

In a knowledge-technology society, teachers need to be teaching hands-on skillsets as young people begin to solve real-life problems such as the ones in Aravena’s video. Most importantly, since many of us are deeply interconnected by technology, we must take thoughtful and meaningful steps to ensure that technology will not overcome our humanity and become the nemesis of our humanness. Given the complexities of our world, educational systems can no longer support the dichotomy of either/or education. We need, instead, to blend STEM with the vocational. Our education system is in need of interdisciplinary education with the purpose of engaging our creative young people to develop skillsets necessary to solve real-life problems. In the realm of education and career development, the main idea we now need to work through is how to bring closer together academic knowledge with vocational education to address the skills gap employers continue to see (for inspiration, see other videos in reference list below).

Illustrated in these videos are hands-on skillsets that invite us all to think more deeply about the value and importance of young people learning innovative, inquiry-based skills and knowledge – skillsets for artistry and craftsmanship that combine STEM knowledge, whereby core subjects merge together with vocational learning and innovation. Should we strive toward “purposefulness without purpose” (Kant) (Roberts, 1991), or do we want to lead and endeavour into purposeful exploration – that is, toward a goal? Being vocational involves goal-oriented exploration and discovery with purpose. Agency is our ‘response-ability’ to act in our world to make a difference. These ideals build on important concepts of economic resilience and social capital: the effective functioning of networks of relationships among people who live and work in a particular society with a shared sense of identity, norms and values built through trust, co-operation and reciprocity. In our world, interdisciplinarity and response-ability are what it means to be human and act in human ways, providing hope and possibilities for the future of our world and our youth.

Author Bio

A former employment counsellor with disability management expertise, Colleen Knechtel, MEd, Educational Policy Studies (2015), is currently a PhD student at the University of Alberta, and a CERIC GSEP committee member with research interests in career development in schools, wishing to understand how to make sense of the needs of secondary students as they explore their aspirations beyond high school.

References and Videos

Aravena, A. (2014). My architectural philosophy? Bring the community into the process [Video].

Buechley, L. (2011). How to “sketch” with electronics. [Video].

Hammond, R. (2011). Building a park in the sky [Video]. 

Hood, W. (2018). How urban spaces can preserve history and build community [Video].

Rao, A. (2013). Art that craves your attention. [Video].

Roberts, D. (1991). Art and enlightenment: Aesthetic theory after Adorno. University of Nebraska Press.