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A study of carpenter apprentices’ spatial skills

Sebastien Cuendet1*, Jessica Dehler-Zufferey1, Christoph Arn2, Engin Bumbacher3 and Pierre Dillenbourg1

Author Affiliations

1 CHILI Lab, EPFL, Lausanne, Swizterland

2 EHB, Zollikofen, Swizterland

3 Stanford University, Stanford 94305, CA, USA

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Empirical Research in Vocational Education and Training 2014, 6:3  doi:10.1186/s40461-014-0003-3

Published: 15 May 2014



Spatial skills are crucial for carpentry and are a major learning objective in the initial vocational training of carpenter apprentices. Carpenters specifically need to develop the capability to switch between two-dimensional (2D) and three-dimensional (3D) representations. Previous studies have explored spatial skills, but never in the context of vocational education and training (VET). This study sheds light on the level and evolution of spatial skills in the initial vocational training of carpenter apprentices in Switzerland.


In this study, 726 subjects (98 females) who were either carpenter apprentices, apprentices of another profession, or high school students, took a test on spatial skills with three parts: mental rotation, paper folding, and orthographic projections. The first two parts are widely used tests for spatial skills, while the last one was specifically designed to address the 2D-3D transition that is a core skill of carpenters.


Carpenter apprentices do have higher spatial skills than would be expected given their general school level. In particular, their spatial skills were found to be similar to those of high school students and superior to those of apprentices of another profession. Carpenters’ spatial skills improve over the course of their apprenticeship. These findings confirm that spatial skills are trainable and suggest that the high spatial skills level of carpenter apprentices is due to a selection bias as well as to the training that they receive during their apprenticeship.


Carpenter apprentices improve their spatial skills over the time of their initial vocational training. As spatial skills are crucial in this profession, there is a need to develop further solutions that encourage further improvement of teaching and learning activities for spatial skills.

Spatial skills; Carpentry; Apprenticeship