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Apprentice in a Changing Trade

reviewed by Jenny Edwards - September 21, 2012

coverTitle: Apprentice in a Changing Trade
Author(s): Jean-François Perret & Anne-Nelly Perret-Clermont
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1617354112, Pages: 228, Year: 2011
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“How should young people today be prepared for a world of work that is going through a process of change? In a rapidly evolving industrial context, how can one encourage development of the knowledge and skills that will not just allow them to cope with the transformations that are in process but to be proactive in them as players” (p. xxiii)? In addition, what can students learn in school, and what must they learn in a real-world environment in a rapidly evolving technological environment?

Perret and Perret-Clermont responded to an invitation from Roland Bachmann, Director, to conduct research on Ecole Technique de Sainte-Croix, a school for watchmaking located in the Jura mountains in Switzerland. Switzerland and other European countries have a long history of apprenticeship, with trade schools being established in the early 20th century in the French part of Switzerland.

Beginning in 1993, the authors focused on the technological changes occurring in the field of watchmaking. The authors used “interviews, questionnaires, direct and filmed observations and archival records” (p. xv) to examine three areas: (1) the participants’ perceptions of the training they received and the objectives they wanted to attain, (2) the strategies and “pedagogical practices” that the teachers used in the classrooms, and (3) the meaning that the participants made of what they were learning (p. xv). They explored four questions: “learning in different settings (school or work setting); tools for training or tools for work; processes of learning; and the meanings of training activities” (p. xv, italics in the original).

In this case study, the authors discovered two themes: “(1) all development is an inherently ambivalent process, and (2) competence is socially expressed only under specific circumstances” (p. ix, italics in original). They suggested that their findings are inherent in other types of training. They found that staff members were concerned because the students were away from the world of work as they completed their training. They wanted their students to be socialized into the workplace. In addition, students are not able to learn all types of technology in a school that is away from the world of work. The authors also explored the interaction between “doing and understanding” (p. xviii), as well as the strategies that students used to make meaning of what they were learning. The students wanted to develop identities as professionals as they were going through the socialization process.

The authors began in Chapter One by discussing the competencies that students today must have in order to take advantage of technological developments. Technology has revolutionized the workplace, as well as every area of life. They cited literature on the changing field, as well as documents developed by the Swiss Union of Arts and Craft (USAM), the Association Suisse des Machines (ASM), and the Centre CIM de la Suisse Occidentale (CCSO) to identify essential human skills that workers must demonstrate in order to work effectively. They also cited literature on technological skills that workers must have.

In Chapter Two, the authors discussed the history of occupational training, as well as the challenges that face it today. They also explored the history of full-time schools in Switzerland and the history of the Ecole Technique de Sainte-Croix. Students in the school learn “professional knowledge, general culture, and scientific disciplines” (p. 19, italics in the original). In addition, students participate in 20 to 22 sessions of “Practical training” and 23 to 25 sessions of “Theoretical training” (p. 20, italics in the original).

In Chapter Three, the authors discussed how the leaders and teachers at this college have stayed abreast of technological advancements in order to show their students the most recent technology. Beginning in the 1970s, faculty began introducing digitally controlled machines for the students to use. This revolutionized their procedures.

Students are required to become proficient in the use of these machines. In order to do that, students participate in 200 sessions during their second year of study. In the 1990s, the school installed a flexible manufacturing system (FMS), which helped to move the school toward automation. Next, the instructors had to design strategies to teach the students to use the machines, and they had to decide on the level of competency that the students would be required to attain. In 1993, the school purchased an assembly line and a robot. The school also purchased a computer-assisted production system.

The next three chapters contain the results of the authors’ observations. In Chapter Four, they discussed the ways in which teachers and students work together. According to the authors, the sessions that the instructors conducted were “very rich, much more so than the traditional educational discourse had intimated” (p. 57). The faculty members were continually balancing between guiding students in learning and allowing them to have “autonomy and responsibility” (p. 59).

In Chapter Five, the authors provided a detailed analysis of the interactions of two students who were working together. They also shared overall findings from their analysis of how students collaborated. They discussed how students worked together to solve problems, made decisions, dealt with error messages, and worked with the computer. They also mentioned implications for the instructors.

In Chapter Six, the authors explored the meaning that the participants made of the exercises they were doing. The authors analyzed student talk as they were learning. One of the many findings included the fact that students wanted to feel superior when they were having difficulty learning.

Chapter Seven includes the results of the questionnaire that the authors administered to the students. It also includes information about students’ perceptions of themselves as professionals who are about to enter the workplace. The students’ responses to the questions on the survey varied based on their area. They responded to questions on topics such as the reasons they decided to take the training, their attitudes toward it, the degree of control they believed they had in various areas of their lives, their attributions for their successes or failures, strategies they used to respond to learning challenges, their attitudes toward the learning activities, the way they viewed their future as professionals, and their view of themselves as professionals.  

In Chapter Eight, the authors provided a synthesis of their observations, focusing on the challenges of new technologies. They discussed the challenges that instructors faced in using technology in their instruction. They concluded by saying “that a technical college has to come to grips with the disruptions and tensions encountered and treat them as opportunities to keep improving the quality of its training” (p. 166).

Chapter Nine includes information about the contributions of the study to the literature on training. They offered four suggestions to the instructors:


Axis 1: Encouraging Student Reflection on Ways of Learning Insofar as These Might Vary According to the Knowledge (of Skills) Targeted (p. 174);


Axis 2: Paying Attention to the Construction of Professional Identities as Well as the Competences to be Acquired (p. 175);


Axis 3: Taking into Account Students’ Academic Backgrounds and Their Relationship to Knowledge (p. 176);


Axis 4: Reconsidering the Classic Master-Apprentice Relationships in a Context of Technological Development. (p. 177)

They concluded by saying, “When the door to imagination is open within the protective cocoon of a safe place, technology enchants and becomes art” (p. 183).    

This book offers the reader insights on many levels. First, it is a book in which two researchers studied a school located in Switzerland. It is also an outstanding example of a case study for researchers who are looking for a model to emulate. In addition, the various chapters include insights into the growth of trade schools, the effective implementation of technology, excellent teaching strategies, interactions between students as they are collaborating, discussions by the students of how they interpret what they are learning, an in-depth examination of student motivation and attitudes toward learning, and a description of challenges that technical colleges face.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: September 21, 2012
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16875, Date Accessed: 5/27/2022 6:26:34 PM

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About the Author
  • Jenny Edwards
    Fielding Graduate University
    E-mail Author
    JENNY EDWARDS, PhD, is the author of Inviting Students to Learn: 100 Tips for Talking Effectively with Your Students, published in 2010 by ASCD. She has conducted extensive research in Cognitive CoachingSM and has published Cognitive CoachingSM: A Synthesis of the Research (8th ed., 2012). She has presented seminars in 14 countries in French, Italian, Spanish, and English on topics such as Cognitive CoachingSM, Adaptive Schools, Thought Field Therapy®, Using Language To Help Students Learn, and other topics. She serves on the Board of Trustees for the International Alliance for Invitational Education and on the Board of Directors for the Thought Field Therapy Foundation. She teaches in the doctoral program in the School of Educational Leadership and Change for Fielding Graduate University, located in Santa Barbara, CA.
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