One of the major challenges facing technical education is a perception, deserved or otherwise, that programs are not providing "world class" employees. Another challenge is the recommendation that education--especially vocational-technical education--benchmark against international competition.
Benchmarking is the identification of metrics (common measures and measurement techniques) and the application of those metrics to processes and products. It is a systematic way of identifying the practices of successful enterprises and implementing them in less effective organizations. Ultimately this is an inquiry process designed to identify what works and why. Once a successful practice is identified, it becomes a benchmark and serves as a reference point for establishing internal goals and objectives for increased performance.
This technique has been tremendously successful in business and industry. The same system shows promise for improving technical education. It makes no difference whether the processes that increase performance are designed to produce a world-class automobile or technician.
In benchmarking, partners use specific metrics to compare themselves against each other. A metric is the element to be measured and how the measurement is to be conducted. Selecting the wrong metric set will provide data that will not improve quality. Another potential problem is using data from metrics that have been calculated differently--the "apples and oranges" measurement flaw.
To identify product metrics, the partners need a common understanding of what is important in determining product quality. Another way of thinking about this is to ask, "What are valued characteristics of the product?" For education, one is a program completer's ability to quickly become a productive employee.
Technical educators also must identify factors that affect the quality of the product. The process metrics might include data such as cost per student, number of hours of lab/theory instruction and other program variables familiar to experienced technical educators.
The most critical point is that the benchmarking partners use the same metrics; no more, no less. No comparative analysis can be made on unlike data.
Quality is a subjective term that is difficult to conceptualize and is nearly always in the eye of the beholder. Recently, however, international standards have defined quality or business and industry as "... the totality of features and characteristics of a product or service that bear on its ability to satisfy stated or implied needs."
Partners will need discipline to agree on metrics that can be applied to technical education programs that share an occupational objective. …