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How to Start a Career in the Skilled Trades


If you’re looking for a rewarding career where you can apply practical skills and theoretical knowledge in an environment outside of the office, consider a career in the skilled trades.  Tradespeople build and maintain our roads, bridges and our infrastructure. They also keep our lights on, water flowing, roofs over our heads; develop our Energy sector by building refineries and upgraders. They can also compose culinary masterpieces for us to enjoy. There are many hands-on career options to choose from, in fact there are at least 300+ opportunities out there.


Trades in Canada can be divided in compulsory and optional, depending on the province you reside in.

Please always check with your apprenticeship and industry provincial office to make sure.

To work in a compulsory certification trade, a person must hold a recognized trade certificate or be a registered apprentice in the trade. For voluntary trades instead, actual certification is not mandatory to practice the trade, as long as the employer deems the individual to have the skills and knowledge expected of a certified journeyperson in that specific trade. Please note that in some cases certification for voluntary trades is possible and offered as well.

Typical Compulsory Trades examples include the following:

  • Auto-body Technicians
  • Boilermaker
  • Crane Operator
  • Electrician
  • Gas-fitter
  • Heavy Equipment technician or operator
  • Ironworker
  • Rig Technician
  • Steamfitter-pipefitter
  • Plumber
  • Welder

Typical Optional Trades examples include the following:

  • Carpenter
  • Chef
  • Concrete Finisher
  • Glazier
  • Instrument Technician
  • Insulator
  • Machinist
  • Parts Technicians
  • Roofer

In order to jumpstart your career in the skilled trades, you need to apply for an apprenticeship.

What’s an Apprenticeship?


Apprenticeship programs are post-secondary training options that offer on-the-job training in combination with classroom training, which in the end equals to paid time working while learning your relevant skill. Each trade has a certain requirement of the total number of hours needed before someone is eligible to write their certification examination. Depending on where you work (location and trade wise), different processes are in place, so be sure to look into the certification requirements for your province and trade to find out more.

Quick facts:

  • Approximately 80% of an apprentice’s learning occurs during work or “on the job”
  • 20% of time or the remaining is completed through post-secondary establishments such as a college or technical training institution
  • Apprentices are required to successfully pass an industry examination at the end of each training period.
  • An apprenticeship program typically lasts 1-4 years depending on the trade.

So, for example, time can be broken down into working for 40 to 44 weeks a year and then heading off to school for a six-to-eight week period of classroom training. This allows tradespeople to have the best of both worlds: textbook and practical applications of a trade.

Next Steps

Do your research. Programs are offered at a number of institutions, so find one that fits for you and start applying. Plus, the Government of Canada is heavily supporting the trades – offering apprentices up to $4,000 in grants to pay for tuition, travel, tools, or other expenses so keep your eyes peeled for these perks that come with training for the trades.

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