Stories of BC Women in Trades

Julia Ballantyne, Refrigeration Mechanic

I got into the trades in 2012 starting with the discovery trades program at BCIT. At the end of that program I chose to go into refrigeration because it is a combination of a bunch of trades. Electrical, plumbing and refrigeration.

IJulia_Ballantyne am now a 3rd year apprentice in refrigeration and I work for display fixtures refrigeration doing commercial refrigeration and HVAC on grocery and retail stores.

I love my job because everyday is different, it’s challenging, and it’s satisfying. I have developed so much new knowledge and skills that are so useful for even everyday life.

I didn’t grow up thinking I would get into a trade, but I saw an opportunity to learn a skill and support myself.

I am also part of the women’s caucus of Build Together BC, Women of the BC Building trades. We are doing a campaign for BC Women in Trades that promotes, supports and mentors women in the skilled construction trades. We also push for respectful work places because everyone deserves the right to work in a respectful environment free from harassment and discrimination no matter what gender or race.

I want to see the passionate, skilled women who are looking to get into a trade to be able to have the supports they need to succeed in a career they love.



Learn more about BC Women in Trades Project.

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Why you should use animated visuals when teaching apprentices

Technology can be a powerful tool for taking a complex idea and explaining it clearly with the use of visuals. Using a computer program such as PowerPoint can help you to illustrate teaching points and increase or decrease the amount of information you present at one time.

Features on PowerPoint allow the instructor to control when information appears. By having labels appear in sequence, the instructor can draw the apprentice’s attention to certain features of the photo or diagram. These labels are achieved using the animation features of the program.

Instructors can also highlight specific features of a diagram. This approach to teaching can be used for a few different purposes:

  1. Instructors can teach vocabulary words one item at a time and associate that item with the corresponding part of the diagram.
  2. Instructors can review vocabulary words to highlight specific items on a diagram and have the words appear after apprentices have identified them.

Animation features on PowerPoint can be used to teach a concept such as how to calculate and record differences in elevation. In the slide below, the animation explains terminology used in the calculations, as well as how the terms relate to each other.

In this next slide, the same terminology is explained again, but using a different situation. This visual explanation of the terminology uses arrows to show where the same term occurs in the diagram.

In this third slide, the same terminology is shown again, as arrows direct the apprentice’s attention from the terminology in the diagram, which they have seen in previous slides, to the same terminology on a table.

In these examples, animation features in PowerPoint were used to direct apprentices’ attention to a specific concept that the instructor was teaching. For consistency, instructors should use the same diagrams and vocabulary on the PowerPoint slides as they do on their worksheets.

Using animation is an effective way to teach new concepts or review concepts with a class.


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Tips for asking clear “what” questions to help apprentices who have difficulty with reading

“What” is the most frequently used question word, yet “what” is considered to be the most challenging.  It is clear what other question words are asking for: “who” asks for a person, “where” asks for a place. “What” should ask for a thing, but that is true only 5 to 10% of the time. The other 90% of the time, “what” questions ask for something other than a thing.

When you develop worksheets or tests for your apprentices, keep in mind these few tips for asking “what” questions to help learners who have difficulty with reading.

Tip 1:  Use direct question words

Changing a question such as “What is the start date of the job?” to begin with a different question word such as “When is the start date for the job?” makes the question more direct. “When” asks for a time. Using a direct question word clarifies what type of information you are looking for.

Tip 2:  Be aware that “what” typically travels with a partner word

For example:










Hinting at the type of information you are looking for by using the most precise type of question word will be the first step in helping your apprentices to answer your questions.


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Why You Should Use Photographs and Drawings in Technical Training

Photographs and drawings show, explain, or teach an item or concept in a more concrete way than words. Instructors can use them to illustrate concepts, transfer a concept from one application to another, or reduce the number of words needed in an explanation. They are one way to bring real world objects into a classroom, and make abstract concepts more tangible.

In the following example, notice how an abstract formula becomes more concrete from one illustration to the next. A photograph is used to show estimating the volume of fill using height. Then, the drawing of the same pile of fill shows the same concept, but in a more abstract form.

The idea of transferring a concept from one form to another is possible not only with photographs and drawings, but words and drawings as well. An explanation of slope ratio can be shown with a labelled drawing of the vertical distance and horizontal distance, as well as with a labelled example of the slope ratio using numbers and words.

The use of labels is an effective way to teach new vocabulary and to illustrate what a new term means. Here, the definition of slant height (SH) is provided in words, and shown on a drawing of an object.

Labelling a drawing is also an efficient way to reduce the amount of explanation needed. For example, an instructor who wants apprentices to calculate the weight of a flange beam could state the task in one sentence, “Calculate the weight of the W360 wide flange beam,” and provide all of the measurements of the beam in a drawing. Notice how few words are used to convey the amount of information in the following task.

Similarly, notice how very few words are needed in the following note to explain that the formula for calculating the volume of a rectangular prism can be used to calculate the volume of two opposite slope sides of a trench.

Much information can be conveyed in a concrete way using photographs and drawings. In the next example, the differences between 30°, 45° and 60° elbows are visually illustrated using this set of photographs of offsets.

Photographs and drawings make learning tangible. They can also reduce the amount of words required to explain a concept. Including photographs and drawings in technical training materials you develop will help apprentices to visualize what you are teaching.


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The Advantages of Using Examples to Teach Applications

Using an example to teach an application has many advantages:

  • Apprentices are more likely to be interested in learning when they can see how the application is relevant to their trade.
  • An example provides a model that apprentices can follow for making similar calculations.
  • If the example shows the formulas needed to complete calculations for an application, the instructor can teach the application in a series of smaller lessons.

For instance, introducing a lesson by teaching apprentices how to calculate volume, or how to calculate horizontal distance will not get the attention of a heavy equipment operator apprentice as much as an example on how to calculate the volume of excavated material.


The example above provides a model for apprentices to use when making similar calculations. There are two calculations shown for the application, shown as Step 1 and Step 2. Instructors can separate the example into two smaller lessons for apprentices to practice calculating the two formulas. Even when practicing only one of the formulas, apprentices will see the bigger picture and understand why they need to learn the two formulas.

Using an example to teach an application can motivate your apprentices when they see how what they are learning is relevant to their career. They will also see the relevance when you teach formulas that are part of an application.

For more essential skills strategies, order the Sustainable Essential Skills Instructor’s Guide

Instructor's Guide and Trades Worksheets Books

Instructor’s Guide and Trades Worksheets Books


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Why Instructors Should Teach Calculator Use to Apprentices in Technical Training

Apprentices need to use calculators during technical training and in final exams, but calculator user manuals are usually overwhelmingly long and complex. It is unlikely that apprentices with weak Essential Skills can learn to use the calculator from the manual.

During technical training, instructors should integrate teaching using Red Seal-approved scientific calculators. It is easier for apprentices to learn to locate and apply their trade’s useful functions by watching demonstrations and to have lots of practice with them. It is also better for apprentices to familiarize themselves with the calculator they will use in apprenticeship and Red Seal exams while in school rather than in the high-pressure atmosphere of an examination.

Apprentices who have ample opportunity to practice using the scientific calculator increase accuracy by not making calculation errors. For example, math operations with fractions are time-consuming and take many steps when done manually, but are very quick and accurate when the fraction key is used. Learners can progress to using Store and Recall functions to eliminate data entry and number transposition errors.

Learning the correct sequence of data entry involves observing and practicing the use of certain functions such as square root and trigonometry functions. Scientific calculators are programmed to follow the rules of BEDMAS (order of operations) but there are limitations. Users must enter the numbers correctly to avoid an Error message or calculation error.

Using a document camera such as ELMO and a projector, instructors can demonstrate the use of a function step by step while apprentices repeat the actions and check results on their own calculators. It is advisable to use the eraser end of a pencil to press keys for precision and to not impair the view.

Apprentices benefit from instruction on how to use the calculator and from practice during technical training in order to build confidence and decrease the likelihood of errors during exams.

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5 Strategies for Building Trade-Specific Vocabulary

Apprentices need to learn and memorize a lot of vocabulary, terminology and jargon that is specific to the trade. Often this vocabulary cannot be located in a regular dictionary. That is why it is important for technical trainers to consistently use and reinforce terminology that apprentices need to know. When technical trainers incorporate vocabulary building strategies into their handouts and worksheets, it helps to strengthen vocabulary.

Below are some suggested strategies to enhance vocabulary learning:

1. Be consistent and use trades-appropriate vocabulary.

Use the same terminology, phrasing and abbreviations when discussing a concept and be consistent in your worksheets and handouts. Using trades-specific vocabulary helps apprentices to remember and use the same jargon.

2. Ask questions to direct attention to trades and specialized knowledge apprentices should know.

Locating specific words or terms reinforces that these words or terms are important. The questions also direct attention to other information that includes trades-specific vocabulary, such as in diagrams, tables and drawings. The task below draws attention to trade-specific information that was not in the text, but found in the diagrams.

Teach apprentices the meaning of abbreviations and show where they are in the documents and text. In this task, learners need to become familiar with the abbreviations that are used in the drawing.

3. Provide the meaning of a word within the explanation or task.

That way, apprentices learn to use context clues and make inferences to understand meaning.

For example:

How many tonnes of HMA (asphalt) are required to cover an area that measures 1500 m long by 7.5 m wide at a depth of 50 mm?

Calculate the tonnes per hour (TPH) to be placed.

4. Use notes in worksheets to clarify information or to give necessary background information.

Notes are also useful to remind apprentices of relevant trade information they will need.

In the task below, the terms used in the trade are explained then used in the question. A note explains that the term “Height” or “True Height” might be referred to as “altitude” in some math books.

5. Use words that are specific when giving directions on what to do.

Use “Calculate” instead of “Find” to be clear that the answer needed is a calculation. “Find” implies simply locating a number, while “calculate” indicates that math operations are needed to answer the question.

These strategies for learning vocabulary will improve the reading comprehension of apprentices and help with their ability to complete technical training tasks.


For more essential skills strategies, order the Sustainable Essential Skills Instructor’s Guide

Instructor's Guide and Trades Worksheets Books

Instructor’s Guide and Trades Worksheets Books

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Visual Aids help to translate Word Problems for Apprentices

Drawing diagrams organizes numerical and spatial information such as dimensions, and makes relationships between numbers and dimensions more apparent. The process of drawing and labelling the diagram helps apprentices visualize the problem and understand which numerical information is relevant. When apprentices can synthesize the information into a visual aid, they focus more on translating the word problem into a plan for finding the requested information.

Instructors should model drawing and labelling diagrams. Consistency in the method of labelling also benefits struggling apprentices because they learn a process they can repeat.

Here are a few examples instructors can use to demonstrate how simple diagrams can help translate a word problem:

Diagrams and other visual aids help apprentices by making concepts more concrete and allow them to organize information such as dimensions or other numbers. When demonstrating examples of solving word problems, instructors should show how to create visual aids such as diagrams that help translate the problems into math equations.

For more essential skills strategies, order the Sustainable Essential Skills Instructor’s Guide

Instructor's Guide and Trades Worksheets Books

Instructor’s Guide and Trades Worksheets Books


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How Instructors Can Control the Difficulty of Questions

Instructors ask about 100 questions per hour in a typical classroom setting. As instructors, we use questions when we teach and assess apprentices. If you think about it, apprentices can pass or fail courses depending on their ability to answer a set of questions. It’s surprising how much depends on an aspect of teaching that is often taken for granted.

Questions hold a lot more power than we realize. For a long time, questions have been considered less important than answers. Questions are overlooked because it’s the answer that we’re after. Research in the last 20 to 30 years has brought new understanding to question structure. As it turns out, it’s actually the question and not the answer that determines the level of difficulty.

Researchers were able to determine what it is about questions themselves that make them easy or difficult. The research was based on bringing together findings from literacy instruction, psychometrics and the neurosciences.

What they found was that a question’s level of difficulty can be attributed to these four factors:

1.   The type of requested information

  • What is being requested?
  • Is the question asking for the name of a person or is it asking for the main idea?

2.   The type of match

  • How does the apprentice match the given information in the question to the requested information?
  • Does the apprentice need to locate one or more than one piece of information from the information source (textbook, manual, video, etc.)?
  • Do they have to integrate more than one piece of information to come up with the answer?
  • Is specialized knowledge required because not all the information needed is in the information source?

3.   The type of processing

  • What does the apprentice do with the found information in order to complete the task?
  • Is the question asking apprentices to identify, sort, describe, compare and contrast, or explain information?

4.   Competing information

  • Is there information in the information source that could be mistaken for the answer?

These are the underlying factors at work in every question that make a question more or less complex. If we understand how these factors affect the complexity level of questions, then as instructors, we have the power to control how easy or difficult our questions are. We can adjust our questions to work with apprentices at the level they are at and guide them towards higher levels of learning. We can develop tests that can more accurately assess the level of our apprentices. We can use our understanding of question complexity levels to bridge learning gaps. That is the power of questions.

If you are interested in learning more about how to control the difficulty of questions, Controlling Complexity is a publication available for purchase at

SkillPlan - Controlling Complexity


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Using Trade Specific Documents to Teach Table Structure to Apprentices

Apprentices deal with different types of tables such as load charts for determining load weights. In technical training, tables often contain information unique to the trade and apprentices may have difficulty both understanding the information in the table and the way it is organized.  It is important to teach how the table is organized as well as the information contained in the table.

Instructors can ask apprentices questions that require them to locate information using the table features.

Questions to teach table structure

  • What is the purpose of this table? Locate the table heading and decide what the table is about.
  • List the 5 kinds of wire rope slings in this table. Use subheadings and/or diagrams to locate the information required.
  • Highlight the column that gives information about 2-leg bridle hitch with a 45° horizontal sling angle. Understand how the information is organized horizontally and vertically.
  • A worker is using a single vertical hitch with a 1 ¼ inch rope. What is the working load limit? Use headings, rows and columns to locate the answer.
  • How do you calculate working load limit for a double choker hitch? Use details such as additional information or notes.
  • What happens to the working load limit for a single basket hitch with legs inclined as the angle decreases? Understand the relationship between columns and rows.

Asking questions based on table structure helps you to identify the concept an apprentice is struggling with, for example, understanding table features. Ultimately, apprentices will be able to apply their understanding of table structure to tables when they are introduced.


For more essential skills strategies, order the Sustainable Essential Skills Instructor’s Guide

Instructor's Guide and Trades Worksheets Books

Instructor’s Guide and Trades Worksheets Books

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