CANOE Network

The Toronto Sun CareerConnection


Students at the top of their game

By Sharon Aschaiek
Special to the Toronto Sun

Thousands of students from across the province, 44 competitions in six different areas of the skilled trades and unbridled energy and curiosity: it's a combination that will make the 2004 Ontario Technological Skills Competition the biggest and best ever.
Skills Canada - Ontario is working to change the way people think about the trades by promoting it as an equally valid career path.

Taking place from May 3 to 5 at RIM Park in Waterloo, Ont., the three-day event is easily the largest provincial showcasing of career opportunities in the areas of skilled trades and technology.

"It's quite intense, and students take it very seriously. There are people coming from all over the province, but students don't look up and get distracted," says Gail Smythe, executive director of Skills Canada - Ontario, which organizes the annual event.

This year, more than 1,000 high school, post-secondary and apprenticeship students will compete in competitions in the following areas: construction, manufacturing, service, communication, transportation and employability skills. Each area features several subcategories that make up the contests, i.e. in construction, students compete in plumbing, industrial wiring, brick masonry and more. In the service area, students compete in baking, culinary arts, floristry, hairstyling and women's apparel design.

In the employability skills competition, students' job search skills are put to the test, with contests covering areas such as job interviewing, demonstrating job skills and worksite safety.

Winners go on to compete at the 10th Canadian Skills Competition in Winnipeg, Man., from May 27 to 30, and if they are triumphant there, the next stop will be the 2005 WorldSkills Competition in Helsinki, Finland.

The ultimate goal of the event, Smythe says, is to highlight to students the extensive and wide-ranging career opportunities in the trades.

"In the past, there has been a poor perception about careers in skilled trades and technology," Smythe says. "It's important that people realize there are good jobs and good futures in these areas."

Historically, the trades have been viewed by the public as more of a secondary career choice. Indeed, in a recent Ontario Chamber of Commerce member survey, companies cited the still-persistent perception that "skilled trades are not viewed as desirable professions" as an explanation for their labour shortages.

Another contributing factor is a lack of instruction and emphasis on the trades in the provincial education system -- cited in the OCC study as the second leading cause of labour shortages.

Skills Canada - Ontario ( is working to change the way people think about the trades by promoting it as an equally valid career path.

"A university or college education is good for some, but there is another option. Apprenticing is a good option with good career choices," Smythe says.

In addition to the main competition, the event will also feature Elementary Challenges, wherein more than 200 students in grades 4 to 8 will showcase their talents in areas such as Lego mechanics, character animation and robotics. As well, 2,500 students in grades 7 and 8 will also take part in a series of interactive Elementary Workshops that involve activities such as building a heating system, erecting a wall, graphic design and electronics.

Smythe has been with Skills Canada - Ontario since 1997 and has watched the event grow larger each year. One development that she says makes her proud is the increasing involvement of women in competition areas that have been typically frequented by men.

"When I used to walk the competition floor, it was so male dominant. Last year, we had a young woman who competed in industry maintenance mechanics and won a gold medal. She then won gold at the Canadian competition. Now she's working as a journeyperson, and also speaks at our events," Smythe says. "More young women are standing on the podium to get a gold medal."

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