Technology changing the nature of the skilled trades

Technology is having a profound impact on the nature of the skilled trades, apprenticeship training and journeyperson skills requirements, a report released today by the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum – Forum canadien sur l’apprentissage (CAF-FCA) advises.

Based on a series of interviews with employers and trainers, the report suggests that computer literacy is increasingly a prerequisite of employment.  The ‘digital gap’ will become as important as the ‘literacy gap’ over the next decade.

“It is clear that digital skills will have a big impact on worker and workplace productivity,” said Sarah Watts-Rynard, Executive Director of the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum.  “The introduction of increasingly high-tech equipment and machinery requires skilled tradespeople to have competencies well beyond hands-on, mechanical skills.  We are also seeing the learning environment itself changing, requiring apprentices to interact with technology as part of their training process.”

The report notes the emergence of online learning, 3-D technology and simulation as an integrated part of apprenticeship technical training.  Simulation, for example, is prevalent in training for welding, motive power, machining and heavy equipment operation trades.  It provides opportunities for “hands-on” experience with real-time feedback, while reducing waste, increasing safety and safeguarding expensive equipment.

Journey persons also rely on technology on worksites.  For example, as electronic systems are increasingly integrated into vehicles, technicians must use diagnostic equipment to service them.  In construction and manufacturing trades, skilled tradespeople often use tablets and mobile devices to call up schematics, codes and work orders.

“We have heard for decades that technology can help workers be safer, faster and more accurate,” said Watts-Rynard.  “But it’s important to remember that technology requires another facet to the learning process and it doesn’t always come automatically, even to younger workers.  Technical upgrades require skills upgrades.”

The Impact of Technology on Apprenticeship shares insights into the challenges identified by apprenticeship stakeholders, including a lack of policy framework and the increasing reliance on online learning programs developed in the U.S., which often overlook Canadian standards such as Red Seal.  A series of recommendations also emerged in the study.

You can read the full report at