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Bridging Generational Divides: Advancing Digital Skills in Canada’s Apprenticeships and Skilled Trades Ecosystem

A digital revolution is coming to the skilled trades and tradespeople today will need a range of new digital skills to keep pace with the future of work.

Young people entering the trades are encountering classrooms and workplaces undergoing social and technological disruption. These changes are being exacerbated by outdated training and assessment models and by persistent structural barriers to digital upskilling. In this report, we look at how Canadian apprenticeship training can adapt to the future of work.

Key Takeaways

1

Improving digital skills will be the most important factor in adapting Canada’s skilled trades to the future of work.

2

Generational differences between younger and older workers are slowing the shift.

3

Tradespeople will need seven core digital skills: technical, information management, digital communication, virtual collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving in digital environments.

Executive Summary

In Canada, skilled tradespeople typically receive their training in the form of apprenticeships. These involve approximately 80 per cent on-the-job learning and 20 per cent in-class training at a technical institute (e.g., college, union, private institute). But the next generation of tradespeople will use digital technologies and skills that don’t yet exist and aren’t yet being taught.

For this reason, we examine how Canadian apprenticeship training can adapt to the future of work by asking the following questions:

  • What digital skills will tradespeople need to adapt to changes in their industry?
  • To what extent do stakeholders (e.g., apprentices, tradespeople, employers, educators) perceive digital skills as a priority in adapting their trades to the future of work?
  • What barriers do tradespeople—from apprentices to fully certified journeypersons—face in learning digital skills?

To answer these questions, we spoke to 175 apprenticeship stakeholders from across Canada. We engaged tradespeople, educators, employers, and other stakeholders in the automotive, construction, manufacturing, and food service sectors.

What we found is a generational divide. The Canadian trades workforce is aging at a faster pace relative to the workforce with a university degree. According to the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum, the retirement of older tradespeople and the declining labour force participation rate is expected to contribute to labour shortages in multiple sectors. Meanwhile, the number of new apprenticeship registrations has declined in recent years. Responding to these trends, several efforts are under way to recruit young people to the trades.

Young people entering the trades, however, are encountering classrooms and workplaces undergoing social and technological disruption. These changes are being exacerbated by outdated training and assessment models and by persistent structural barriers to digital upskilling.

Young newcomers to the trades are encountering challenges neither they nor their mentors have experienced before. As both apprentices and journeypersons adapt to these changes, they will need a range of digital and lifelong learning skills. Beyond technical skills, tradespeople will need a more extensive set of digital competencies, including creativity, collaboration, and information management, in order to adapt to the future of the trades and apprenticeships in Canada.

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