By Barb Gustafson

As a part of doctoral-level research at the University of Saskatchewan, I surveyed trades instructors at three Western Canadian post-secondary institutions about their career transition from trades practice to teaching. The survey was followed up with focus groups for a qualitative-dominant mixed methods study that was completed in November 2014.

While questions of motivation and vocational identity were only part of the overall study, there were results emerging that relate to these aspects of work life and career counselling. I found that tradespeople are motivated primarily by intrinsic rewards such as a sense of continuity – wanting to carry on their trade – both through helping new practitioners learn as students, and through practicing their trade in a new way as teachers. They bring a strong sense of having already been a teacher, as a journeyperson who mentored apprentices while in trades practice, to this new role. With this motivation set and prior identification with the role of teacher, they reported viewing this career change as more of a second phase of a continuing career than as a second career. Moving into this new role of being a full-time teacher, they are frustrated when their previous skills and knowledge, and identification with teaching practice, are not considered relevant in the credential-conscious college setting.

Based on the results of this study, career counsellors may want to consider the influence of previous work and pre-existing vocational identity in advising clients as they look for new types of work. Human resource practitioners in colleges, in particular, may want to consider these factors in their recruitment efforts, as well as in the training provided to new teachers, so as to build on strengths. Acknowledging prior learning, as well as considering the embedded identity of teacher within trades, could help retain instructors in this high-demand field.


Barb Gustafson is a PhD candidate in Educational Administration at the University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, SK. She is also a faculty member at Saskatchewan Polytechnic, the province’s primary vocational and technical training provider.