According to a 2019 report from staffing company Adecco, a stunning 62% of firms are struggling to fill skilled trade positions. The company points to the retirement of baby boomers who are currently serving these in these types of jobs. They also highlight a lack of interest from young people in joining the trades.

While finding qualified tradespeople is a challenge, it’s still critical to get talented, qualified people to do this kind of work. This is where trade tests can be invaluable.

Trade tests distinguish between skilled and unskilled workers in many of these trades. If your company employs tradespeople, here is what you need to know about these tests.

History of the Trade Test

Trade tests were initially devised during the first world war as a way to place skilled army personnel correctly. They’ve since become the standard by which we assess skilled tradespeople for specific skills and proficiencies. The certifications that accompany these tests provide you with an accurate way of knowing just what the tradespeople you hire are capable of doing.

Generally, a tradesperson will also have to have a specific number of hours of on-the-job experience before they are even allowed to take the test.

The typical trade test may involve a written act examination or a hands-on demonstration of knowledge and expertise. Frequently, it requires both. Governments, governing bodies or trade unions grant a certificate or designation to those who pass the tests.

Who Needs a Trade Test?

Trade tests are available and often required in dozens of trades from the construction, industrial, motive power and service industries. In many states and provinces, these tests are a requirement of practice. There are penalties for people practicing specific trades, such as an electrician, if they haven’t passed the required trade test.

However, even in regions where trade tests and certifications are not required, these tests can provide a valuable method of assessing your employees. They can assure you that your new hire actually has the skills and knowledge they claim to possess. They can help you determine if an existing worker is capable of handling a new project. More importantly, they can help keep your workers and your company safe.

Types of Tests – Journeyman, Master, Contractor

Many trades begin with an apprenticeship position, although it is also possible to take a college program and enter directly into a trade. Following this, there are several additional levels of expertise which, depending on the specific trade, include journeyman, master and contractor. In other trades, there may be artisan or craftsman designations. These all involve specified hours of work experience as well as certifications involving trade tests that gauge acquired knowledge and skills in the trade.

In Canada, there is a further designation known as a Red Seal for specific trades that requires an additional level of experience and testing.

What’s in a Trade Test

What is in a trade test depends on the level of the test. Journeyman tests may focus on specific skills, tools, theories, best practices and regulations. Masters level trade tests will also include a greater focus on regulations as well as local, state and national code requirements.

Why Proficiency Matters

The trade test is essential when it comes to hiring decisions. You may require skilled tradespeople at a given level for a particular project. For example, while journeyman may be able to read or interpret blueprints or mechanical plans, they cannot create them. And although regulations vary, many states require a master electrician or other master tradespeople to be involved in the project when you apply for permits. Encouraging existing workers to take the necessary trade tests to meet master levels can provide a competitive advantage to your company in the future.

Some trades are regulated compulsory. This means that you must be certified or registered as an apprentice to do this type of work. The majority of states require that plumbers and electricians, for example, to pass a trade test that will test their knowledge of both their trade and local code requirements before they can practice.

Other trades may be voluntarily regulated. This means that while trade tests and certifications are available for this trade, it is up to the employer to decide whether or not to hire certified workers. While uncertified tradespeople may be cheaper, there are other considerations employers should consider.

Additional Considerations for Employers

Rates of pay may be determined by whether or not an individual has a certain given certification. The higher the certification, the higher the wage a skilled tradesperson can demand. But there are other things to keep in mind. There may be liability, insurance and safety risks associated with assigning workers to jobs they lack the skills to do. Journeymen also cannot supervise other employees, including apprentices. Only masters can do this. The trade tests masters take also indicate skills with project management, building codes and supply management.

Who Administers Trade Tests?

For specific trades, government bodies administer trade tests. In other trades, unions police their own people and are responsible for devising and administering tests. The test may be designed and administered by a trade union with certification granted by the union itself. In some areas, these tests and certifications may be administered and controlled by government agencies. There are also professional associations that offer trade testing and certifications.

Third-Party Testing

A variety of companies and organizations will also provide trade-style tests for your workers. These allow you to assess the skill sets of both new hires and existing workers before assigning them specific jobs. For example, the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) has created trade tests and courses at the journey, entry and management levels. The National Craft Assessment and Certification Program (NCACP) created by the NCCER is available from professional testing companies, industry associations and training centers. It covers a wide variety of trade occupations from carpenters to ironworkers to heavy machinery operators.

Regardless of who delivers the testing, trade tests provide a way for employees to gauge the skills of the tradespeople they are hiring accurately. This provides peace of mind for the employer and the company, but also for your workforce.