A couple of weeks ago I made a presentation to a group of agricultural cooperative CEOs about the implications of technology in rural communities along with implications for future employees. I talked about a number of things that I usually discuss, including the use of social media and the Internet as tools for doing business in small towns and rural areas.
One idea I put out there was one I admitted that I had no research to back it up, but was simply an observation from my teaching over the past thirteen years. I mentioned that I felt my current students in general have lower manual dexterity skills than students did when I first began teaching. This comes from observing them working on things like constructing CAT5 network cables, or in one design class I teach, carving Jack-o-lanterns. (I am always amazed at how many students have never made a Halloween Jack-o-lantern.)
I watch them fumble with operating scissors, cutters, crimpers or any other hand tool. Even with things like hooking up a computer’s peripherals, setting up a camera & tripod, or studio lights, some students seem timid about using their hands to accomplish a given task. I have to wonder if so much screen time during childhood has affected their ability to do things in the physical world.
Like I said, I have no data to back up this observation, so I recently did a search of literature to see if anyone else sees it this way. I didn’t spend a huge amount of time looking into this, but I was only able to find one article that mentioned this phenomenon at all. It comes from the Oct 21, 2013 issue of Air Conditioning, Heating & Refrigeration News.
Joseph Kokinda, president and CEO, Professional HVAC/R Services Inc., Avon Lake, Ohio noted that millennials often lack the skills necessary to be successful in the HVAC industry, including cognitive thinking skills, manual dexterity, an understanding of science and math, an ability to be a leader and present a professional demeanor in the field, and the aptitude to communicate effectively with on-site customers.
From the same article… Carter Stanfield, program director, Air Conditioning Technology Department, Athens Technical College, Athens, Ga observed,
Fewer of these individuals spent their childhoods taking apart their bikes or playing with their dad’s tools. Most millennials don’t have a lot of kinesthetic mechanical experience that many people now in their 50s had.
To the agricultural CEOs I spoke with, this skill of manual dexterity is critical, and they told me as much. To me, this question of fading dexterity skills is fascinating, and could be a fun research project to explore at some point. I have to wonder if this is as true for kids in rural areas like where I live as it is for kids in the city.
I wonder if developing a “maker-space” or “hacker-space” might be a good antidote for this reluctance to get our hands dirty? I also wonder what others think about my suspicion that manual dexterity is becoming a lost art? Am I on to something here, or am I making more of this than I should?