Oh, Canada: Countdown to WorldSkills Calgary 2009

Monday January 05, 2009
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The world is about to get a taste of Canada. And Canada is about to get a taste of what the skilled trades are all about. The 40th WorldSkills competition is coming to Stampede Park in Calgary, Alta. this year, from September 1 to 7. Canada's top students and apprentices in skilled trades and technologies will compete in an Olympic-style event against more than 900 young people from 50 countries for gold, silver and bronze medals in their respective fields. Canada has been participating in the international competition, which takes place every two years and showcases the world's top trade and technology talent, for 10 years, but this is its second time hosting. The competition was held in Montreal back in 1999. Raising the profileHosting an event like this in Canada is a unique opportunity to show students, their parents and their teachers what the skilled trades are all about. It is a chance to raise the profile of skilled trades in Canada, with the ultimate goal of inspiring young Canadians to pursue a career in the trades and combat the looming skilled trades shortage."I think it's extremely important because it provides an opportunity to really raise the profile of those occupations...and provides an opportunity for better understanding from any visitors," says Shaun Thorson, executive director of Skills Canada, a national, not-for-profit organization that works with employers, educators, labour groups and governments to promote skilled trades and technology careers among Canadian youth. "So I think that's extremely important, to really present the most career options possible to our young people so that they can make educated decisions."Thousands of Grade 9 and 10 students from Alberta will have the chance to explore trades and technology occupations at WorldSkills Calgary, thanks to $4 million in funding from the Alberta government, which will pay for them to attend the event. Students who watch the competition will have the opportunity to learn about the many available career options, see the various skills needed for different occupations, and test their own skills in some of the demonstrations."Similar to the Olympics, which excites people to pursue excellence, skills competitions motivate students to develop their personal interests into career opportunities," says Chris Browton, executive director of Skills Canada Alberta. "Hosting the 40th WorldSkills competition in Alberta is a tremendous opportunity to inspire students to pursue post-secondary studies and careers in the trades and technologies.""I think that this is a great tool for promoting the trades, because we always talk about a skilled workers shortage," says Benoit Maisonneuve, didactic senior instructor with Festo, one of the Global Sponsor Partners of WorldSkills. "It's a big issue for the host to have this kind of event because it shows to the young the possibilities in the trades...and they learn a lot about what is possible for them to do as a trade. So it's a great exhibition."Raising the barThe WorldSkills event is growing, with an increased number of skill categories, participants and countries involved. Calgary is looking to make this the best event ever in the competition's nearly 60-year history, by including a number of "firsts" at the 2009 event. This year, there will be an increased emphasis on a competitor's village, explains Skills Canada's Thorson. "We're trying to look at following sort of an Olympic format [where] all of the competitors will be staying at one location, and along with that there will be some more cultural aspects, more networking opportunities for the competitors." The village will be located at SAIT Polytechnic. The event is also going to have a tightened timeframe in an attempt to keep media and public interest from waning. It is going to be a compact, seven-day event that starts with the opening ceremony on September 1, followed by four days of intense competition. The closing ceremony will be held on September 6, followed by "the WorldSkills Champions on the World Stage" event on September 7, when the competitors will walk out on centre field at McMahon Stadium during the half-time show at the Annual Labour Day Classic, a nationally televised Canadian Football League game. In addition, visitors can expect to see results posted quicker. Some of the event's sponsors are collaborating to build the IT infrastructure to carry out "Olympic-style" reporting via large LCD screens, so that visitors can be kept up to date on how the teams are doing. Each competition hall will be wired back to a central system so that results can be tracked and communicated back to the audience. Another major addition to this year's event is ambassador kiosks. Each skill category will have an ambassador kiosk complete with someone from that industry or a representative from education, who has significant experience in that industry, to answer questions about the trade and provide visitors with information regarding what's involved in the trade. "You can see the competitors working, but you'll also be able to get a presentation, accompanied by a video presentation as well on what's really involved in that occupation; talk to someone who's worked in that field and they can give a perspective on what's really involved if people decide to pursue that as an occupation," explains Thorson. "We want to make sure that we're presenting these options to young people so that they can make informed decisions in the future in what they would like to pursue as a career." Another addition to the event that will help achieve this goal is the "Try-a-Trade" demonstrations, which will allow students to test drive dozens of trades and technology career options. A call to actionThere are a number of ways the manufacturing industry can get involved in skills competitions - as a sponsor, volunteer, trainer or simply as a champion of the skilled trades. On the sponsorship front, WorldSkills International, a global, not-for-profit membership association, which promotes vocational education and training throughout 50 member countries, has Global Sponsor Partners who share its vision and commitment to generating interest among youth and advancing the skilled trades around the world. These partners are: Festo, Fluke Corporation, Fluke Networks, Cisco Systems, Draka, Autodesk and Samsung Electronics. In addition to the direct revenue generated by the sponsors, their products, technologies and expertise are an important part of the WorldSkills competitions. Sponsors help keep track of trends, contribute to current thinking and benchmark performance, provide input on the WorldSkills event and play a role in helping to spread the message of WorldSkills. The organization is hoping to grow its list of sponsors. Festo has been a sponsor of WorldSkills since 1993. The company launches new products at the event, which the mechatronics teams will use during the competition. Fluke's sponsorship commitment dates back to 1999, when the competition was held in Montreal. "Our specific involvement is in supporting the specific competitions that are in the markets that we serve - the electrical, industrial automation, heating and ventilating, air conditioning, refrigeration, the manufacturing team challenges," says David Green, director of marketing for Fluke Corporation's AmPac region, and Chair, WorldSkills, Global Sponsor Partners. "There are a number of events that are more technical and technology related that we sponsor by providing equipment for the competition. And we also provide input on the actual projects and the competitions themselves" at both the national and international levels. And the networking opportunities are second to none. "Part of our mandate, part of what we're getting from this, is the opportunity to be able to say we are supporters and we are communicating, both to our own industry, as well as to the public and the world in general, what WorldSkills is all about and what it is they're trying to do with our support. But then the other side of it is we get an opportunity to of course interact with other likeminded people in terms of industry players," explains Green. "It's an opportunity from our standpoint to get engaged with those people in the development of the economy and industry and potentially opportunity for them to be using our equipment...The other piece is the opportunity to contribute to the development of the actual projects and the competitions themselves."Another bonus, says Green, is that by providing input, they're helping to shape future generations. "These are obviously long-term investments...The objective is to go out and be visible and be seen in the marketplace with schools and colleges and students, and the influencers in terms of the governments who are putting the programs together...so that they are current and consistent with what's needed in the industry," he explains. "It is a grass roots way of having input and influencing what future generations will work like and what sort of tools, hopefully, they might want." Manufacturers can get involved at the local, provincial, national or international level by lending their expertise to competitors, as well as through financial support. "We're always looking for financial support for our programs, for the training aspect of Team Canada and also for our Canadian skills competitions that are hosted on an annual basis," says Skills Canada's Thorson.At the very least, Thorson, Maisonneuve and Green encourage the manufacturing industry to attend the event in Calgary. It's a unique chance to see what other countries are doing in the skilled trades arena, as well as to see leading-edge technologies, not to mention the world's best and brightest young students and apprentices."It's a great opportunity to see what is being done in other countries, because here we have our ways of doing the pneumatic, the electric, the PLC programming; we have our understanding of this in our markets. But when you go to the international level, it's very nice to see people coming up with other ideas, other products, other techniques," explains Festo's Maisonneuve. "One thing [visitors] will see is the top young people in the world in those specific occupations that are performing. These are very highly skilled, young individuals who...have trained very hard, have prepared very well for this activity," says Thorson, adding that new technologies will be something else to keep an eye out for at the event. "The goal of the competition is to try and make sure that we're preparing students based on industry standards and making sure it's at an appropriate level for their level of education and things of that nature. So you'll see with a lot of new technology some of the best equipment, materials [and] a lot of innovation."Green says it's something that you have to see in person to truly appreciate. "When you actually go and see the young people in action and see the dedication and the commitment of these people who are the best of the best, it's pretty awe inspiring." For more information on the event in Calgary, or how you can get involved, visit www.worldskills2009.com or www.worldskills.org. Competing for CanadaThirty-eight young Canadians will be travelling to Calgary to represent Canada at WorldSkills. Team Canada competitors will compete in 35 of the 48 competition areas. The competitors must be 17 to 22 years of age (up to 25 for some categories) to qualify, and must be enrolled in high school, post-secondary school or registered as an apprentice. Skills Canada hand picked the competitors who will be competing at the international level based on their performance at the provincial and national competitions. RoboticsPavlo Tovaryanskyy has had an interest in mechanics since he could walk. The son of a mechanic, Tovaryanskyy says he was one of those kids who took apart his toys to see how they worked. Today, the 19-year-old is in his final year at Technical Vocational High School in Winnipeg, Man., where regular academic programs are combined with technical, "hands-on" learning experiences. It's this hands-on experience that helped Tovaryanskyy take home the gold medal in robotics in both the provincial and national skills competitions in 2008. That gold medal won him a ticket to WorldSkills Calgary 2009, where he and his teammate, 18-year-old Myles Robinson, will compete for Canada against 14 other teams from around the world in the robotics category. It requires a lot of commitment, determination and dedication to compete at this level. With the help of trainers and the elected expert for that field who designs the training program, the two have been training since June, working about two hours a day, five days a week, with plans to train full-time for three weeks in the summer, on top of their school and work schedules. One of their trainers, Rory Winters, a teacher at Technical Vocational High School, says that the team is working on a Festo Robotino and going over the eight tasks the robotics competitors were expected to solve during the 2007 WorldSkills competition in Japan. They also had the team that competed in the 2007 competition fly in from Ontario to work with them for three days. Although the team doesn't have details about the specific tasks they'll be required to complete at the competition, they do know that they will be required to assemble, set up, manage and maintain mechanical systems within a mobile robot, as well as install, operate and troubleshoot mobile robot control systems. They must also be able to solve logic problems, carry out mobile robot system design, assemble a mobile robot according to manufacturer's documentation, design a mobile robot control program, connect a mobile robot to its control system, commission a mobile robot to carry out its correct function to solve a series of practical operational problems, and interpret manufacturer's technical documents."Once we get the official scope for the competition, then we can focus in on the specific aspects of the competition. But right now we're sitting with very little information as to what we're going to be doing, so we have to assume that it's going to be similar to the previous [competition] and go with that. And as we get more information, we can specify what we want to do more or focus more on what they're actually going to do instead of what we think they're going to do," Winters explains. As for Tovaryanskyy, he has high hopes for the WorldSkills competition. He was determined to take home gold at the provincial and national competitions, and he will bring that same determination to WorldSkills, where he hopes to take home the top prize. What's next for Tovaryanskyy? Once the competition is behind him, he plans to attend Red River College in Winnipeg, Man., for mechanical engineering, and he wants to parlay that education into a career as a mechanical designer. MechatronicsJamie Feenstra was first introduced to mechatronics when he was exploring his options for post-secondary education. His high school teacher suggested that, with his interest in computers, electronics and all things mechanical, that it might be a good fit for him; it fit with all of his strengths. The 22-year-old recently graduated from St. Clair College's Mechanical Engineering Technology - Mechatronics program in Chatham, Ont. He first got involved in the provincial skills competition in his second year of college when his teacher, Ryan Pepper, asked if Feenstra and classmate Andrew Marcolin were interested in competing. Obviously Pepper has an eye for talent, because Feenstra and Marcolin were awarded gold medals at the regional, provincial and national competitions in 2007, and took home the top prizes again at the 2008 competitions. The next stop is WorldSkills Calgary 2009, where they will be competing against 32 other teams from around the world.The duo currently trains for 10 hours a week, but will ramp that up to 16 to 20 hours a week as the competition nears. "We do simulated tasks where they have to do some programming, do some building of automation stations, do wiring, do pneumatic tubing [and] troubleshooting exercises that simulate what they will see in the competition," explains Pepper, who is also one of the mechatronic trainers. "So probably by the end of the summer, we'll have over 600 hours of training with these two." The team trains on Festo Didactic equipment - the MPS stations - which is the same equipment in the provincial, national and WorldSkills competitions. Festo shipped them five stations to practise on; the exact stations that were used during the 2005 WorldSkills event in Helsinki, Finland. "We have different tasks that we have written, and we develop many small variations of the same task so they can see many angles of difficulties, and we try to prepare them with a lot of different difficulties where we want them to have quick answers for all eventualities," says Benoit Maisonneuve, didactic senior instructor with Festo, and the Canadian mechatronics expert charged with developing the team's training plan. Maisonneuve has to make sure that the teammates have skills in mechanics, pneumatics, electronically controlled systems, programming, robotics and system development, and are able to design, build, maintain and repair automated equipment, and program equipment control systems. They also need to be able to carry out mechanical maintenance and equipment building.How does it feel to be involved in such an important, international event taking place in Canada? "It makes you real proud to be Canadian that it's going to be held in Canada. It's real exciting. I've never been involved in anything of this magnitude. It's the Olympics of skilled trades," says Feenstra. "So to be able to say that I've done this at this level...[is] just fantastic." Once the WorldSkills is behind him, Feenstra says he would still like to be involved in the skills competitions as a volunteer. "I think it's a great program for young kids to get involved in because it really does help out."

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