Four ingredients for excellence in skilled trades training

Canada’s workforce is facing two distinct pressure points – an aging workforce and the emergence of disruptive technology.  As new technologies become pervasive, the current workforce and recent graduates alike must develop new and in-demand skills to stay relevant in the labour market.  As the pace at which Canadians are retiring also increases, the talent pipeline must become more efficient, with qualified workers ready to fill looming vacancies.  While these issues are affecting the workforce broadly, the skilled trades are facing these dual challenges faster than most.

Skilled tradespeople make up more than 20 per cent of the Canadian workforce and, in 2016, more than a quarter of those holding a Certificate of Apprenticeship or Certificate of Qualification were over the age of 55.  In order to sustain workforce certification levels – ensuring there are enough journeypersons available to train apprentices – an estimated 67,000 new journeypersons will be required in the ten largest Red Seal trades.

Digital technology, automation and the Internet-of-things – innovations many once associated with science fiction and a far-off future – are becoming mainstream realities.  There is a growing expectation that buildings and infrastructure, products and services should be both “smart” and sustainable.  It is within our grasp to construct roads embedded with sensors that communicate traffic routes to a car’s internal navigation systems (or a phone’s GPS).  It is no longer unrealistic to expect that buildings will not only be constructed with energy-efficient materials, but will also employ automated systems to determine when best to pull energy from the grid or from its rooftop solar cells.  As systems like these become standard, skilled tradespeople must be equipped to build, manufacture, repair and maintain in a green, digital and automated future.

Faced with demand to train enough people with the right skills, Canada’s polytechnics are well-positioned to take a lead role. Their work addresses the challenge of looming retirements by offering education and training to more than 40,000 apprentices every year, making them the pre-eminent technical training providers in the country.  Canada’s polytechnics have their finger on the pulse of technological change, delivering training that responds to the needs and equipment in use today while equipping learners for emerging trends and expectations.

How do they do it?  In our experience, it boils down to four ingredients:  future-focused facilities, innovative training approaches, efforts to embrace and welcome diversity, and inspiring role models.

Facilities equipped with the latest technology and equipment, cutting-edge tools and labs enable apprentices to experiment with new ideas as part of the learning process.  Today’s classrooms are as innovative as the environments in which tradespeople operate.  For example, apprentices at Canada’s polytechnics diagnose engine problems using tablet-based applications, benefit from virtual and augmented reality and take online courses to capture theory-based knowledge while on remote job sites.

Polytechnics deliver high-quality education and training in innovative ways, building on the multidisciplinary nature of today’s trades occupations.  Polytechnics are increasingly offering stackable and laddered credentials that allow learners to build data analysis, geomatics and project management skills.  Recognizing that tradespeople often embark on business ownership, polytechnics deliver programming that supports their development as entrepreneurs and managers.

The best possible workforce is one that embraces diversity and reflects the reality of the Canadian population.  Polytechnics offer embedded and standalone programming to recruit and support under-represented groups, including women, Indigenous peoples and new Canadians.  Inclusion also means welcoming learners in rural and remote communities, giving rise to mobile training labs and online programming in a way that reflects the needs of learners and the reality of Canada’s vast geography.

Yet, beyond the buildings, equipment and programming, one of the telltale signs of excellent apprenticeship training is the quality of instruction and the passion of instructors for their trades.  Instructors at Canada’s polytechnics are not only industry leaders in their respective fields – many are recognized across Canada and internationally for their contributions to the skilled trades.

These ingredients, even in isolation, contribute to high-quality apprenticeship technical training.  However, when coordinated and layered together, the result is excellence.  In an environment of intense change, that excellence is worth the effort.

Want to learn more?  Check out our latest publication Canada’s Polytechnics and the Skilled Trades to learn why our members are the preferred destination for the next generation of tradespeople.

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Polytechnics Canada