MRO Magazine

Putting the Fun in Skills

With all the hype going back and forth of late regarding the federal government’s push for investing in skills training for industry (which was introduced in the recent federal budget  and which was covered extensively with more than...


With all the hype going back and forth of late regarding the federal government’s push for investing in skills training for industry (which was introduced in the recent federal budget  and which was covered extensively with more than a half-dozen stories in our online daily news on our website), it got me thinking that this is just a band-aid approach to the problem. It seems today’s coddled youth generally just aren’t interested in hard, dirty work, where they need years of training for jobs they perceive are not fun and in which they might get hurt.

I think we’ve missed our opportunities with this group, despite the government’s latest interest in dealing with the skills-shortage problem.

I also think the responsibility for getting the next generation of youth interested in the great jobs in industry in this country lies with those of us who are parents and grandparents. But what can we do? 

Why not start with baby steps? There are hundreds of toys on the market to help toddlers and kids with hand-eye coordination, learning colours, counting and such. But for the three-and-up crowd, there are also less-common toys that can help these kids learn about mechanics – without them noticing you have an ulterior motive in quietly training them to enjoy such things.

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The thinking goes that if kids learn to play with mechanical-type toys, they’ll be more comfortable with the concept of using grown-up mechanical devices and tools when they’re older, and thus be more inclined to consider working in mechanical trades.

In this vein, Meccano sets are one of the first things to come to mind. They were introduced in 1901 under the name ‘Mechanics Made Easy’. Suitable for kids aged five and up, today’s Meccano sets bear little resemblance to those some of us grew up with. Modern sets are based on new assembly systems, new integrating materials and new technologies.

Also on the market now is the Gears! Gears! Gears! Building Set, suitable for kids aged three and up. The 95-piece set – a cause-and-effect building toy – includes gears, pillars, connectors and cranks to set kids’ creativity in motion. I just ordered one to be sent to my grandson out west.

Also of interest may be the Levers kit from Engino for ages six and up. It teaches kids about the principle of torque equilibrium and how it is used for gaining mechanical advantage. This company also offers a Screws kit, Pulleys kit, Simple Machines kit, and Linkages kit; the latter comes with a 36-page activity book with innovative experiments and detailed explanations of the different technological principles applied.

There are plenty of other skill-building sets from various suppliers on the market, including the ubiquitous crystal radios, robot-building kits, electronics kits, and fluid power kits (some of these are very cool). A search for ‘mechanical toys for kids’ on the Internet will bring up plenty of links for these.

As the saying goes, it’s never too early to start. My grandson is going to have a lot of opportunities ahead of him, so I’m making sure these can include the possibility of learning a skilled trade. What are you going to do for the kids in your family?

Bill Roebuck, Editor & Associate Publisher



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