It'’s 6:30 a.m. The sun, just breaking the horizon, announces the start of a beautiful new day.

You put on your hard hat and boots, grab your tool belt and coffee, and away you go to your first day on the job as an apprentice. A feeling of nervousness washes over you as you near the job site. You tell yourself it'’s nothing. You'’ve spent two or more years in college honing in on the technical skills your job requires. However, a job in the trades depends upon much more than a perfection of technical skills.

With the direction the skilled trades is moving in, employers are saying the demand is high for apprentices with finessed soft skills.

'“I think one of the most important things is recognizing that skilled trades requires problem solving skills more than ever,'” says Sarah Watts-Rynard, adding that problem solving is only one of many important soft skills that employers feel apprentices should be well practiced in.

Watts-Rynard is the executive director of the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum (CAF-FCA), a national not-for-profit organization. The CAF-FCA works to ensure everyone from employers to educational institutions'—everyone with an interest in trade apprentices'—talks to one another about industry challenges and how to resolve them. In today'’s changing work environment, soft skills are often brought to the table for discussion amongst trade apprenticeship stakeholders.

'“A really great example of that is if you think about a car. Today'’s cars are as much electronics as they are mechanics, so that'’s the kind of thing that'’s changing every new model year when new technology comes in,'” Watts-Rynard says. '“A piece of that really connects with the need to be able to solve problems, to work as part of a team, and to be able to have great communication skills.'”

According to a study published by the CAF-FCA, employers everywhere are spending a chunk of their budgets training workers in areas of computing, reading and numeracy, and also ensuring they'’re learning new skills in a changing job environment.

Ann Drennan, dean of The School of Applied Sciences, Skills and Technology at Loyalist College in Belleville, Ontario, says she agrees that soft skills are a hot commodity. The college works with industry pros to recognize what they need in new graduates. To address this, students at the school take prescribed classes that teach the soft skills employers are looking for.

'“We do a fair bit of teamwork in our courses. So students get to interact, they get to learn how to behave together, and project manage with each other,'” says Drennan. '“And they would be assessed on those skills.'”

She and other faculty of the skills and technology programs really strive to sell the importance of learning soft skills, often having employers come into the classroom to reinforce the message. At the end of the day, Drennan advises students to take soft skills seriously.

'“If you'’re not good at those soft skills, really you'’re only perpetuating some of the myth around tradespeople being uneducated or not needing to be of the same level of cognitive ability as some of the other students.'”

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