Essential Skills in Trades Education

PIDP 3210 Reflective Writing Assignment

The second reflective writing assignment explores the question of whether we need to teach essential skills in adult education or focus solely on technical skills.

I will choose the following quote and explain why I think it is important and how I can implement the decision in my teaching practice.

“All publicly funded curricula should be based on the Essential Skills or Employability Skills.”



Trades education prepares learners to become productive, reliable and valued members of our workforce. Technical skills are at the core of the curriculum and are tested to pass the program. Without essential skills, our students will not be able to pass these exams.

A large majority of trades students have little or no work experience. Can we expect these learners to bring all the essential skills required?

Essential skills are (Mann, 2015):

  • Thinking skills
  • Reading accuracy
  • Computer use
  • Numeracy
  • Oral communication
  • Document use
  • Working with others
  • Continuous learning
  • Writing


Whenever I have spoken to employers in different industries, the need for workers that have essential skills is the number one concern. In many cases, it goes so far as applying the adage: “Train for skills, hire for attitude”. In most cases “attitude” refers to life and essential skills.

In general, our school system does not equip students with a sufficient amount of essential skills to succeed in the workplace or even in our programs. Trades curricula rely on a significant amount of essential skills. As learners advance through the (generally four) years of trades education, teaching essential skills becomes less of a focus and technical skills become more important.

I am the best example of the importance of teaching essential skills in trade school. I had a failing grade in math coming out of high school. Trade school began at a lower level and filled a lot of gaps I had. All material was relatable and it was clear where it could be applied. After three years of apprenticeship I “aced” math in the final exams. I would not have mastered this essential skill without this opportunity.


As someone that has gone through trades education and has worked with apprentices in the field, I know how important “soft” skills like communication, thinking skills, document skills and continuous learning are.

As someone speaking with employers I often hear how much difficulty the lack of essential skills can cause.

Because of my experience, combined with what I see even as a toolroom attendant and part-time instructor, it is clear to me that without teaching essential skills many of our students would fail either in their program or working in a company. Reading the material in this program and reviewing the skills mentioned above makes this belief even stronger.


I am glad that Okanagan College provides support for students struggling with essential skills (Mann, 2015). I will continue to encourage my students to take advantage of these resources. There are many ways we can build essential skills into our teaching practice in trades education:

Thinking skills

I will develop assignments and assessments that encourage students to apply problem-solving skills, decision making and critical thinking.

Reading accuracy

I will provide instructions in a written form whenever practical and I will design these instructions to reflect the material my students will encounter at work. In assessments, I can test the level of reading accuracy.

Computer skills

Computer skills and mobile technology are becoming more and more important in almost all trades applications. I see a big need for our training programs in this area and I will make this an important part of teaching. We already require students to use their computers for assignments. But I have found a number of helpful applications for the classroom or the shop use.


As mentioned above, I have direct experience with this. Challenging students to apply math skills in the shop is an essential part of our education. For example, calculating the angle of mitre cuts in a woodworking program is a great opportunity to apply trigonometry skills.

Oral communication

Communicating ideas and knowledge is an important job and life skill. Student group projects and encouraging students to answer questions is a great opportunity to practice this. This skill requires good observation skills from me as an instructor because detecting students that need more help may be challenging at times.

Document use

Using documents is very important in trades education. I will design documents in the same way students will likely encounter them at work.

Working with others

As much as most people hate group work, giving group assignments is a great way to practice working as a team. So far most of our practice projects are individual projects. I will see if some of them can be replaced by group projects. In our Women in Trades and Technology programs, we have one week where we build something useful for an organization in the community. I see room for expansion here.

Continuous learning

Depending on the trade, continuous learning is a given today. Welders need to recertify regularly, Auto mechanics need to upgrade their skills to work on newer cars, etc.

I will point this out repeatedly to my students and will encourage them to explore ways to seek out ongoing education in their chosen field.

Writing skills

In most cases, writing skills will be needed for regular tradespeople. Well-written information is an important communication skill. I will introduce writing exercises throughout my programs and will direct students that have difficulties to the help available at the College.

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