Vocational Skills: Definition, Examples, and Improvement Tips

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 7 June 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

If you enjoy working with your hands, a vocational job might be the ideal career for you. To excel in a vocational career, it's important to have the right skill sets to make yourself employable and attractive to employers. Knowing the different vocational skills you can acquire can help you choose a good career path and prepare yourself for the work environment. In this article, we define what vocational skills are, provide a list of examples of these competencies, explain how to improve and use them in the workplace and highlight the skills during the recruitment process.

What are vocational skills?

Vocational skills are practical skills that help an individual become proficient in a trade or profession. These skills prepare you to work in a skills-based career, such as working as an artisan, carpenter, mason, electrician and other trades and crafts. Vocational competencies are available to a wide range of individuals, especially people who don't have a degree. There are several high schools that provide vocational training for students and people can also get the skills from post-secondary vocational schools, apprenticeship programmes and standalone courses from trade bodies and associations.

Examples of popular vocational skills

Here's a list of vocational skills you can learn to work in a wide range of trades and professions:

Auto technician skills

Auto technicians require a wide range of skills to perform duties in the workshop. Their skills include the ability to inspect, diagnose, troubleshoot and repair different components of a vehicle, including the power, transmission, suspension, electrical and cooling systems. The vocation also requires knowing how to perform thorough maintenance of specific vehicle makes and models and the use of diagnostic and testing equipment. Some skills auto mechanics require include:

  • mechanical aptitude

  • manual dexterity

  • problem-solving skills

  • good work ethic

  • attention to detail

Related: How to Become a Mechanic (Plus Duties, Skills and FAQs)

Bookkeeping skills

Bookkeepers perform financial functions in the office. They require proficiency in performing data entry duties, tracking receipts, paying invoices and maintaining and monitoring financial records. The role also requires administrative skills, including knowledge in filing tax returns, completing payroll and other office duties. Here are some skills required for bookkeeping:

  • math skills

  • computer skills

  • attention to detail

  • organisation

  • problem-solving

  • discipline

  • communication

Related: What Does a Bookkeeper Do? (Plus Salary and Skills)

Carpentry skills

Carpenters require skills to construct and instal wooden building structures and frameworks. They also require technical knowledge to repair and instal other building items, such as roofing materials. These tradespeople work on various types of construction projects. For example, carpenters build and instal wooden cabinets, window frames and the wooden frame of house roofs. They also work extensively on outdoor projects, including making formwork for building bridges, drainage and roads. Here are examples of important skills for carpenters.

  • measuring

  • manual dexterity

  • mechanical aptitude

  • attention to details

  • physical strength

  • communication

  • mathematical skills

Dressmaking skills

If you want to become a fashion designer or tailor, it's important to have dressmaking skills. One of the most important skills in this vocation is knowing how to clip corners and curves using the right techniques. It's also essential to know how to iron fabrics. Stay stitching, especially after cutting curves, is also vital for neat seams. Dressmakers are also expected to know how to use a rotary cutter and make fussy cutting. The ability to make dog ear pockets, bar tacks and calculate yardage for custom bias are also essential competencies in this profession.

Other important skills include:

  • knowledge of sewing terminologies

  • knot tieing

  • proficiency in sewing tools

  • measuring

Computer programming skills

The most important computer programming skill is the ability to code, preferably in multiple languages. Coding is the foundation for software products and it's the primary function of a programmer. Computer programmers also require proficiency in testing and debugging their code to remove errors that can lead to glitches. They also require knowledge of software maintenance and upgrades and the ability to add new features and functions to products. Other skills of computer programmers include:

  • mathematical knowledge

  • computer skills

  • writing skills

  • verbal communication

  • self-motivation

  • problem-solving

  • critical thinking

Related: A Guide to Becoming A Computer Programmer

HVAC skills

HVAC technicians instal, repair and maintain heating, venting and air conditioning equipment. Technicians in this vocation are required to be proficient in diagnosing, testing, repairing and maintaining HVAC equipment, such as air conditioners, compressors, furnaces, heaters and thermostats. The role also requires knowledge of testing equipment and the safe handling of refrigerants. HVAC technicians also learn how to make quotations for varieties of client jobs and invoicing. Other skills required for this vocation include:

  • problem-solving

  • computer literacy

  • ability to work with heavy objects and equipment

  • communication

  • critical thinking

  • technical skills

Electrician skills

Electricians instal, maintain and repair wiring and electrical equipment. Because of the inherent dangers associated with electrical systems, people who work in this field require extensive training on how to read blueprints, diagnose and troubleshoot electrical issues and perform installations and repairs while adhering to strict health and safety guidelines. Examples of other skills electricians require include:

  • problem-solving

  • basic maths skill

  • diagnostic skills

  • time management

  • technical aptitude

  • confidence

  • patience

  • coordination

  • team management

How to improve vocational skills

Here are ways you can improve your skills in a chosen vocation:

1. Choose the right training institution

One of the most important steps you can take to enhance your skills in a vocation is to choose a good institution. There are several organisations that provide vocational training. Choose one that has a reputation for training successful professionals in your chosen profession. You can find some of the best training programmes through apprenticeships, on-the-job training and dedicated post-secondary vocational schools.

2. Set skills development goals

To become proficient in a trade or vocation, you can set specific skills development goals for yourself. For example, if you're learning to become an auto technician, you can give yourself three months to master the workings of a specific car model's brake system, including the installation, dismantling, assembling and testing. Setting goals gives you a sense of purpose and allows you to measure your progress against specific targets and time frames.

3. Shadow professionals

Because of the hands-on nature of many vocational jobs, studying alone might not be enough to achieve proficiency. One of the best ways to achieve mastery or become proficient in certain aspects of a vocation is to shadow a professional. This is why apprenticeships and on-the-job training programmes are highly beneficial because you learn by doing and gain valuable insights from watching people with vast experiences in the field solve real-life problems.

4. Earn certifications

Another important way to improve your skills is to earn certifications. Various trades have several certifications that allow their members to offer specialised services and charge premium rates. For example, welders can take courses in marine welding, and electricians can earn certifications in advanced power systems, solar power installation and industrial electrical installations. Getting advanced certifications can increase your earning potential and enhance your professional clout.

Related: Apprenticeship vs. Internship: What Are the Differences?

Vocational skills in the workplace

Here are some tips to help you optimise your skills in the workplace:

  • Master the fundamentals. To use your skills to the fullest, master the fundamental aspects of your vocation. That way, you can reduce the chances of errors while completing tasks.

  • Become proficient in using tools and equipment. The best tradespeople and artisans have an excellent knowledge of how to use their tools and equipment. Learn how to use manual and mechanical tools and master the application of electronic equipment for testing, diagnosing and troubleshooting issues to make your work easier.

  • Develop your physical stamina. Most vocations require some form of lifting or manual labour. To excel in this field, it's important to be physically fit.

  • Learn from your mistakes. If you're working in a profession, you learn by doing, and chances are that you're going to make mistakes. It's important to learn quickly from such issues to avoid problems with customers and your employer or clients.

How to highlight vocational skills

Here are ways to show your skills in a vocation during the hiring process:

Vocational competencies on a resume

How you highlight your skills on a resume depends on the format. For most vocations, a skills-based or functional resume is ideal. When creating the resume, make each skill a subheading and use the following paragraph to explain how you used it in previous roles and also outline your major accomplishments. If you're creating a chronological resume, mention your most important role-relevant skills in the professional summary and list the technical and soft skills separately under a skills section.

Vocational competencies in a cover letter

A cover letter allows you to provide more context to the information in your resume and reiterate your commitment to work for an employer. Use the document to highlight your job-relevant skills and mention any certifications and specialisations. Talk about accomplishments and results from previous roles and demonstrate how you intend to transfer your experience and achievements to the employer's position.

Vocational competencies in an interview

When interviewing for a vocational role, ensure to highlight your role-relevant skills during the discussion. It's important to read the job description carefully and research the position and the company to learn about the likely questions to expect. Back up your answers with relevant examples from your previous roles to make them more believable. Ensure to maintain positive body language and ask questions to make the meeting feel like a conversation rather than an interrogation.

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