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Young workers medal with metal

Yukon competitors had their best showing ever at the national Skills Canada competition in Calgary last week.

Yukon competitors had their best showing ever at the national Skills Canada competition in Calgary last week.

Throughout the 14-year history of Skills Canada, Yukon competitors have never brought home more than one or two bronze medals.

This year’s team won three silvers and two bronzes.

“It’s just amazing,” said Dan Curtis, executive director of Skills Canada Yukon. “I don’t know what happened, I don’t who woke who up, but this is the biggest year — the biggest success — the Yukon has ever enjoyed, ever.”

The Yukon team beat Nova Scotia, NWT, PEI and tied with New Brunswick and Nunavut.

One medal-winner, 19-year-old Karl Loos, will advance to the Worldskills International Competition in 2009 to compete for Canada in the category of Computer Numerical Control machining.

The Worldskills International Competition is “a big deal,” said Curtis. “The Olympics of trade and technology.”

The 2009 competition, also to be held in Calgary, will feature 900 competitors from 49 countries.

The four-day event is expected to cost $65 million.

In its 62-year history, this is only the third time the Worldskills competition is being held in North America.

The Calgary planning committee has already selected the competition’s mascots: a pair of Clydesdale horses named Tug and Tess.

“To think that one of the 900 competitors is from the Yukon is statistically almost impossible,” said Curtis.

At the 2007 Worldskills Competition in Shizuoka, Japan, Team Canada won six gold medals.

Planning is already in place to anoint Karl Loos for the “World’s.”

“Karl is going to have psychological training, he’s going to be taken to Ottawa to … show him off on Parliament Hill as a member of Team Canada,” said Curtis.

A professional trainer will even be sent to check on Loos’ progress in the months leading up to competition.

The goal is to prepare Loos for fierce international competition and, possibly, for glory.

“Canadians that won at the 2007 Worldskills have their own stamps; it’s a really, really big deal,” said Curtis.

Loos has worked in machining ever since the age of 14.

He currently works full-time at Quantum Machining, a shop owned by his father Martin Loos.

“He’s made the shop proud,” said Martin.

The majority of Loos’ work at Quantum involves diamond drills.

As is typical of skills competitions, Nationals entrants were presented with a project and then judged on the completion rate and quality of their work.

For the Nationals, Loos created a model covered wagon.

Being picked for Team Canada doesn’t add to the stress, he said.

“I made it this far, I’ll do my best — that’s all I can do,” he said.

If anything, Loos was simply bemused this is the first year Canadian Worldskills competitors won’t be flown to an exotic international location.

The past four have been held in Japan, Finland, Switzerland and Korea, respectively.

Jeff Brewster of A-1 Autobody, who won silver in Automotive Painting, was only six points short of the 650 needed for a gold.

Dave Gonda won bronze for the second time in a row in the Sheet Metal category. He is the only Yukoner will two Skills Canada medals.

The Yukon also entered the only female welding competitor at the event, said Curtis.

In the Duncan Sheet Metal shop, Gonda posed next to a .75-metre-tall copper model of the Calgary Tower that he had been given 12 hours to complete.

“I only took 11,” he said.

The model tower represented the third-year apprentice’s first attempt to work with copper.

Skills Canada is not limited solely to industrial trades.

At the Worldskills, competitions will be held in categories ranging from bricklaying to cooking to animation.

Through competitions and a variety of other efforts nationwide, Skills Canada will focus attention on Canada’s massive trade labour shortage, said Curtis.

“Almost 50 per cent of businesses surveyed in 2003 said a shortage of qualified labour was one of the most important issues facing them,” according to the Skills Canada website.