Why you should integrate Essential Skills into technical training

Technical trainers can increase the success rates of apprentices by integrating Essential Skills like reading and numeracy into the technical training itself. It’s a monumental hurdle when an apprentice can’t answer a question because he can’t understand what he is reading, or when an apprentice can’t find the information she needs because she can’t understand a document. During technical training, apprentices must deal with a lot of complex information in a short amount of time, and those who struggle with reading and math skills will face additional challenges.

A 2010 study of apprentices showed that those who received Essential Skills support were significantly more likely to pass apprenticeship exams and receive higher final grades. They also self-reported an increase in confidence in their ability to complete technical training and perform on the job.

How Do Apprentices Use Essential Skills in Technical Training?


Apprentices read information from textbooks, manuals and reports in the form of sentences and paragraphs. The reading material can be lengthy and complex, so apprentices need to skim and scan for information to identify what is and isn’t relevant, make inferences, or critique the text to determine the most efficient way of solving a problem. They may need to integrate information from several parts of a text or several sources, or use specialized knowledge.

Document Use

Apprentices locate and integrate information in complex tables such as load charts and lifting capacities. They skim and scan drawings, schematics and diagrams that may require specialized knowledge to interpret the document. They may also need to find information from multiple sources to solve a problem.


Apprentices set up and solve problems with multiple steps using a combination of formulas. They need to be able to locate numbers needed to make calculations in complex drawings, diagrams and tables. Some applications they work with are specific to their trade.

These three types of Essential Skills are necessary for technical training. Rarely do apprentices use these skills in isolation. Typically they use two or more of these skills to solve a problem.

The following example shows how all three skills are used to solve a problem.

Task: Calculate the discharge capacity for the following refrigeration system.

Steps to solving the task:

1. Read information in the Mechanical Refrigeration Code for a clause that has information on formulas to use. (Reading)

2. Read refrigerant numbers and factors for SI calculations in a table about discharge capacity calculation factors. (Document Use)

3. Combine information from the task, the Refrigeration Code clause and the table to calculate the discharge capacity. (Numeracy)

Apprentices who have low reading and numeracy skills will have difficulty in technical training. An apprentice who is a poor reader is unable to determine the main idea and has difficulty locating information in dense and complex texts such as textbooks, codebooks and specifications. An apprentice with poor math operations skills will find the complexity of numeracy applications challenging. A strong foundation in Essential Skills will increase an apprentice’s chances of success at technical training.

Next, a look at what technical trainers can do to provide Essential Skills support: How to integrate Essential Skills into Technical Training.

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