Trades and lifelong learning

Trades and Lifelong Learning

Fostering critical thinking and problem-solving skills

The idea of a career in the trades often takes a backseat in the minds of students considering their next steps. 

However, this type of thinking does them a disservice. The trades supply opportunities for learners in everything from well-paying, stable employment and innovative entrepreneurship to developing both tangible and intangible, transferable skill sets – specifically critical thinking and problem-solving abilities. 

Just look at Joshua Hill, an instructor for Electrician Apprenticeship at Lethbridge College whose experience alternating between the trades and higher education has created several unforeseen benefits–both personally and professionally. 

Joshua’s story: From two weeks to six years

When Joshua started as an electrician in 2007, his plan was to work only a couple of weeks to make a bit of cash before moving on. However, those two weeks turned into six formative years! 

Working as an electrician offered Joshua a flexible way to pay for his psychology education, but it also helped him to develop critical thinking skills, especially in understanding certain psychology-related concepts. 

“One thing I’ve gleaned from trades, in particular, is that the hands-on and practical experience I’ve gained has actually fostered better comprehension and retention of those things that I’ve learned in psychology.”

This certainly shone through when Joshua was learning about the nervous system, which, as we know, runs on electricity. Joshua was able to not only pick up on basic knowledge faster because of his experience as an electrician, but it also allowed him to grasp more advanced concepts of the nervous system’s gate function–which he likened to a float switch on a toilet!

“The two have gone hand in hand,” Joshua said, laughing. “As much as we wouldn’t think that they might, they do bounce off of each other and I enjoy that aspect of it.” 

Along with instructing at the college, Joshua has recently completed his master’s degree in Psychology at the University of Lethbridge. 


Shifting perspectives: Connecting the community with trades

There are many stories like Joshua’s, where the trades have opened pathways to greater opportunities for success and lifelong learning. 

However, when it comes to connecting the community with this idea–to break the mold of how trades have been typically received in the past–it is still a challenge.  

No one understands this better than Sheldon Anderson, the Dean of the Centre for Trades at Lethbridge College, who has been striving to move trades to the forefront of people’s minds when considering their first–or next–career. 

“The trades are for everyone,” Sheldon said. “You can start at any time, but you can also evolve within it. They open so many more avenues for you.” 

Fortunately, the government agrees with Sheldon and is pushing to increase awareness with their initiative: Alberta 2030: Building Skills for Jobs (2021), which, among their flagship initiatives, aims to “encourage more young Albertans to pursue careers in the trades and work to create a parity of esteem between trades and academic learning.” (p. 23) 

As part of Sheldon’s push to connect with the community, he has been working on several collaborations with LC (Lethbridge College) Extension. 

Open for opportunities: Shedding light on what the trades really mean

“LC Extension offers a great way for the community to get involved in educational training,” Sheldon said of their collaborations. “They’ve helped to broaden people’s mindsets on what trades really are…they have helped people determine the career path that can help them provide for themselves, for their families, and be productive members of society way beyond what they imagined it could be.” 

Some of these collaborations include: 

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Women Building Futures – creating more opportunities for women in the trades 

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Blood Tribe Employment and Skills Training (BTEST) – equipping youth from the Blood Tribe with real-world skills  

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Local wind-energy companies – opening the door to more opportunities in clean, sustainable energy 

With so much versatility available in the trades, it encourages individuals to explore their curiosities. Plus, all the incentives like affordable training, grants, loans, scholarships and more, make the trades even more accessible.  

“When we say that your pathways are wide open, they are wide open,” Sheldon said. “A trade will provide you with those opportunities to go where you’d like to go.” 

Creating a capable workforce of critical thinkers

Both Joshua and Sheldon agree that striving to open the door to these types of opportunities earlier and more often is critical in helping the community get involved and understand the impact a career in the trades could have on their–and others’–lives. 

Beyond fostering critical thinking and lifelong skills and learning, trades help to build connections and relationships within the community. They allow us to lift each other up and support each other in so many versatile ways. 

Though the challenge remains to shift mindsets on the trades, the efforts of passionate individuals like Joshua and Sheldon are truly making waves. 

To learn more about Sheldon and Joshua’s passion for emphasizing the trades, listen to the LITL Podcast: E19: How the Trades Fosters Critical Thinking and Lifelong Learning in the Community 

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