Perspective From Business

The most important change to hit the business world in the last few decades has been the need to be more broad thinking in one’s approach to problem solving. Business has become global, much more complex and interconnected…. and solutions to problems should reflect this.

This requires employees who can think multi-dimensionally, seeing the relationships between various aspects of a problem; and knowing how to blend and integrate these constraints together into an acceptable solution. Schools, and their prescribed daily 50 minute blasts of knowledge we call subjects, are not now able to educate students in the kind of multi-dimensional thinking the business world finds most desirable. This mismatch is becoming more apparent with every graduating class. The cost of remedial education for incoming new hires is increasing for many companies, and in some becoming terribly expensive. There is great room for change and rejuvenation in the modern school curriculum.

Technology education is the best available discipline toward achieving a multi-dimensional approach to problem solving. Technology education personifies how students really learn, actually appealing more to students than the traditional forms of education; and in complete agreement with recent brain-based research findings that recommend daily doses of open-ended, contextual problem solving exercises. It is just what is needed to foster a school-to-work mindset, and assure global competitiveness down the road.

Why specifically does technology education appeal to the business world? Here are a few key reasons:

Team Learning Environments

To solve problems in a multi-dimensional and integrated fashion in the business world requires cooperation and coordination among a number of experts, working on project teams. Very seldom will the world find a “lone wolf” expert involved in the implementation of a global enterprise. Single inventors may conceive of new products and processes, but interdisciplinary teams and teamwork are needed to bring them to the marketplace. Technology education students know how to work in teams, making the necessary compromises and tradeoffs, much like engineers and project managers do. It is fine to have outstanding intellect, but it will be more important have both intellect and be a team player. Performing solo for a while is fine, but the orchestra is what will get the job done.

Discipline, Discipline, Discipline

Technology education is a highly structured approach to using data, information, knowledge, and technology to solve problems for society. It is scientifically based, and hence reproducible. It is not a fad or trend. There is a large body of national experience to support the importance and efficacy of technology education. In fact, technology education is a valid model for problem solving in all areas, whether technical or not. It is a disciplined inquiry best suited to solving unstructured problems-just like the kind most likely to be found on the job.

Content and Process

Science is often seen as the preferred subject of study for students regarding matters technological. Critics have argued that science has both process and content and technology education has only process. This is incorrect. The story of humanity’s progress is the story of technology application. Humans were technologists and engineers long before they were scientists. The pyramids, the medieval cathedrals, and the Roman aqueducts were built centuries before the laws of science were codified in the 15th/16th centuries.

Science is about discovery and technology education is about application. Science has content in its various subject matter like chemistry, physics, material science…etc; and of course it has the scientific process of hypothesis and synthesis through experimentation. Technology education has for its content all the subjects (and more) that students study. It has science, history, social studies, mathematics, politics, government, the environment….etc; and it has a scientific approach in its process of synthesizing a resolution or compromise between these competing constraints. It mirrors engineering. Science is an introvert to the world of application. Technology education, the extrovert, teaches students how to apply what they have learned, and solve problems for society right now. It is contextual problem solving extraordinaire. The world of business is about application, and problem solving in support of customer needs…..even if the science underlying exactly why applications work is not yet completely understood.

The Capitalist System

Technology education is a passion play for the study of American capitalism. Today’s economy is driven by application of technology. Economists estimate that over 60% of the annual growth in the Nation’s gross national product is due to technological advances. Science is the raw material for technological advances. It is one of the subject components a technology education student would use to study the history of technological advances and determine how technology could be used to solve a critical need in society. It shows students how new products and services start out as ideas and concepts and culminate with an improved standard of living. It also mirrors the invention process. Patents are the driving force for protecting the unique and novel techniques made possible by the judicious application of technology….. or industrial know-how.

Making Connections

Because of the multi-dimensional and interdisciplinary nature of technology education and the need to use higher order thinking skills, technology education students naturally look for linkages and connections between subject fields and technology areas. This makes them ideal strategists and planners for companies, able to appreciate the synergies and trends on the horizon. Many high tech companies have introduced new executive positions within their corporations like the title of Vice President of Technology, to draw emphasis to the importance of application in their never ending quest to produce products and services for their customers. The truly great companies know that the key to sustained long- term success lies in their ability to work at the interfaces between new technologies and trends, and from these confluences develop products and services before their competitors. They want employees who can see the potential connections between emerging fields and technologies. They want employees who can think both deep and broad. Technology education prepares students for this.

Life-long Learning

Technology education promotes self-learning because it teaches students to ask the necessary questions at the outset of a problem solving challenge. Technology education students learn how to ask the quality questions that lead to high quality solutions. In their world (and in the business world) the best answer to a problem is the one that is the most complete answer-the one that takes as much relevant information in and mediates a blended solution of the concerns and constraints.

This question-asking paradigm is a key step in an employee’s process of life-long learning. Companies highly value employees ingrained with a discipline and zest for life-long learning. The companies and employees who will survive the daily rigors of global competition are the ones who know how to learn, un-learn, and re-learn in the most rapid and efficient manner.

The workplace is no longer simply about access to material resources and high employee I.Q. It’s about being able to do something really unique in the marketplace with the same raw resources and intellectual horsepower as the next company. Technology education is a testing ground for students to learn how to think and act creatively…..accessing, evaluating, and applying all the information they have compiled across their studies. And I might add most emphatically…..those who can learn most effectively are also those who can teach what they have learned (both process and content) to other co-workers. School and work are becoming indistinguishable. A successful business leader spends as much time doing his/her own work as teaching others how to do theirs.


Technology education is valuable preparation for the business world. It is the discipline of unstructured problem solving, much like the conditions found every day around the world in globally competitive companies.

Too often, I have seen technology education belittled by parents, teachers, and administrators as a “blue collar”, “industrial arts” type of activity. This stigma is most unfortunate, and terribly wrong. Technology has radically changed every aspect of our civilization from the factory floor to the arts. Our standard of living is directly dependent upon our judicious application of technology. Try watching a modern stage play, movie, or concert without the benefit of current technology.

In the intense technological world we are born into, how can we not afford to elevate this important discipline to a place of prominence in the curricula, making it a core skill for all students, showing them in no uncertain terms the direct relevance of school-to-work?

Technology is the indisputable agent of change in our society, and technology education students learn the responsibility of minimizing the impacts of its introduction. What better example and goal could we set for our future leaders?

It’s not about whether we teach technology education and not teach something else. It’s about changing the way we teach; and educate tomorrow’s teachers. Technology education draws its very strength from being a discipline that builds bridges between things…i.e. subjects. It gains strength from having as many topical areas (subjects) as possible, both technical and non technical in nature, to draw from.

About 140 years ago as the industrial revolution began to take hold in our Nation, it radically changed the way schools were organized. We left the one-room schoolhouse of an agrarian age behind to transform into a mechanistic, piecemeal approach to school-a mirror image of the then factory workplace. Now with the information age and global competition upon us, our factories and manufacturing facilities have turned to integrating their operations. We hear such terms as concurrent engineering, flexible manufacturing, and computer integrated manufacturing. The new emphasis is on the whole product, not just its individual parts. And with this fundamental change, so must the emphasis in our schools be on the whole educational experience, not just its subjects. Metaphorically, we are returning to a new one-room schoolhouse experience, both in school and on-the-job. Technology education is a jump-start in this direction. It is a weathervane for the future, and the critical skill set for continuous employment in a globally competitive world.

A version of this article appeared in the October 2001 edition of The Technology Teacher published by the ITEEA.


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