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The Coronavirus has closed most post-secondary schools in Canada. The Colleges and Universities are now scrambling to move all classes to online platforms. However, not all programs can move easily to these internet-based delivery systems.

Applied programs that have labs, hands-on learning, and work-term internships will be challenging to migrate to online platforms, if not impossible. This is especially true for some of the trade programs taught in Colleges.

My friend’s son completed an interesting program at an Ottawa area college. The program was focus on teaching students the skills of Masonry and to set them on a path towards an apprenticeship. What is Masonry? It is the craft of becoming a brick layer, amongst other capabilities. To the unaware, this is a demanding craft with several pathways to learning focused on laying blocks, brick, stones, and restoration masonry. It is truly a high art form combined with precise science and demands an abundance of practical experience to become stonemasons. It is a physical job often working outdoors. So, it is not for the meek. However, it is art form, so the creative rewards once the skills are acquired are excellent, as are the potential for income and a lifelong career.

There are many skills necessary when practicing masonry, which will be covered by Ontario college masonry programs. Classes you can expect might include (but aren’t limited to):

  • Safety standards
  • Measuring, testing and bonding methods
  • Mathematics (with emphasis on calculation and estimation)
  • Blueprint reading and drafting
  • Understanding of the Ontario Building Code

These courses can be moved online as classic replacement for typical classroom time. But, how can the practical aspects be done online? Students must actually hold the bricks and stones, make the cuts, lay the blocks in row after row, all to a level of precision that cannot be taught from a 12″ LED screen.

Students will also spend time in the shop, practicing skills like traditional stone-masonry, arch, fireplace and chimney construction, traditional dry stone walling and more. Field study in areas such as masonry job sites or quarries will help students obtain further understanding of the industry.

Another goal of masonry programs is to teach students not only to work in construction, but in restoration as well. Classes in architecture history and traditional techniques will prepare students to work on historical buildings. Again, some of these history and background courses can be moved online, but how will a computer screen replace the tactile feel of actually placing a stone in the Canadian Parliament Hill restoration project or visiting the site to watch the masters at work first-hand. The smells, sounds, sights, of a construction project bring it to life. Working outdoors in the weather of the Canadian climate also add sensory perceptions that cannot be reproduce in a computer display.

In Ontario the Ontario Masonry Training Centre operates out of Mississauga and has joint venture facilities in Ottawa (partnered with La Cite and Algonquin College) and in Waterloo (partnered with Conestoga College)

Brick & Stone Apprenticeship Program is a 3-5 year program in which a registered apprentice must complete 5600 hours of training both on-the-job and in-school. So, in any apprenticeship based program, it is not realistic to learn and apply these craft skills without actually getting out and working under the supervision of masters of the skills to guide the students towards the requisite standards levels required to earn accreditation.

Starter programs, such as Brick & Stone Fundamentals and Brick & Stone Pre-Apprenticeship help individuals gain basic knowledge of the trade before entering the Apprenticeship Program.

So, how will trade programs like this one migrate to the online world with the advent of COVID-19? What happens to these applied programs and these students in this scenario? Sure, in time, simulations can be developed to make for a richer learning experience of some practical skills, but it is doubtful that in the absence of hands-on experience and leadership from skill masters that this industry can succeed.

How many trade programs and other educational pursuits that depend upon hands-on practical experience will be negatively impacted by this virus?

————————–MJM ————————–

About the Author:

Michael Martin has more than 35 years of experience in systems design for applications that use broadband networks, optical fibre, wireless, and digital communications technologies.

He is a business and technology consultant. A recent contract was with Wirepas from Tampere, Finland as the Director of Business Development. Over the past 15 years with IBM, he has worked in the GBS Global Center of Competency for Energy and Utilities and the GTS Global Center of Excellence for Energy and Utilities. He is a founding partner and President of MICAN Communications and before that was President of Comlink Systems Limited and Ensat Broadcast Services, Inc., both divisions of Cygnal Technologies Corporation (CYN: TSX).

Martin currently serves on the Board of Directors for TeraGo Inc (TGO: TSX) and previously served on the Board of Directors for Avante Logixx Inc. (XX: TSX.V). 

He has served as a Member, SCC ISO-IEC JTC 1/SC-41 – Internet of Things and related technologies, ISO – International Organization for Standardization, and as a member of the NIST SP 500-325 Fog Computing Conceptual Model, National Institute of Standards and Technology.

He served on the Board of Governors of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) [now OntarioTech University] and on the Board of Advisers of five different Colleges in Ontario.  For 16 years he served on the Board of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), Toronto Section. 

He holds three master’s degrees, in business (MBA), communication (MA), and education (MEd). As well, he has three undergraduate diplomas and five certifications in business, computer programming, internetworking, project management, media, photography, and communication technology. He has earned 15 badges in next generation MOOC continuous education in IoT, Cloud, AI and Cognitive systems, Blockchain, Agile, Big Data, Design Thinking, Security, and more.