When Scott Novak started competing with Skills/Compétences Canada, it forever altered the course of his career.
“To put it lightly, it changed my life for the better,” said the three-time Skills Canada National Competition (SCNC) veteran and now welding mentor.
“I got last place the first year I went (to nationals), but you can’t get any place if you don’t compete in the first place,” he said.
Growing up, Novak said, he had little career direction and no one to mentor him. It wasn’t until he started in a sheet metal pre-employment program that an instructor pulled him aside to compliment his welds.
“I didn’t know what my abilities were but they said I should push for it, so I did,” he said.
Novak’s new-found talent took him on a journey across Canada to the SCNCs several times while still an apprentice before he eventually became a mentor with Skills Canada for up-and-coming welders.
This year 19 Yukoners are scheduled to make the trek from the territory to Halifax for the life changing multi-trade and technology national competition.
They will be competing in careers varying from cooking and hair-styling, to welding and 2D animation.
In each discipline, participants are given an example project weeks ahead of time to give them a sense of what they will be expected to complete on competition day, said Samantha Hand, executive director of Skills Canada Yukon. The test project can be altered up to 30 per cent for the competition.
“So they kind of have an idea of what they’re going in to,” she said, “but maybe the measurements change, or the theme changes, or some aspect of (the example project) needs to change.”
Each competition also has a designated time limited for individuals to finish the project in.
Skills Canada has been an invaluable way to encourage youth to not only join the trades, but to value them, Hand said.
“It’s a career that you can make a great living off of, you can be your own boss, you get your hands on something everyday,” she said. “It’s worthwhile, it’s valuable, and it’s what builds Yukon.”
For Hand, the Skills Canada competitions aren’t about winning but more about learning the value of the trades.
“The territorial skills competition is a way for students — high school students and apprentices — to showcase their skills and actually compete,” she said.
“We don’t like to think of it as they have to win to be the best. It’s really about getting to stand beside other carpenters, hair stylists, cooks and learn from them as well.”
Most competitors began training with their mentors for the territorial competition, which took place in April, at the beginning of the year, Hand said. Those who won territorially, would have stepped up their training since then to compete nationally at the end of this month — on May 28 and 29.
Those heading to nationals are in for some challenging surprises, according to both Hand and Novak.
“They have worked so hard and for some people, they’ve never left the territory, they’ve never been in a big city, or haven’t been on a plane in a long time or maybe they’ve never been on a plane,” Hand said.
But the biggest challenge isn’t really something that the competitors can prepare or train for. The biggest challenge is going to be the commotion of the competition itself.
“At the nationals, what a lot of people aren’t ready for is being in a glass house,” Novak said. “You’re sitting there, there’s cameras flashing, TV video cameras literally rolling by, kids pointing at you, other folk taking pictures with their phones, … you’re under a lot of pressure.”
Novak’s apprentice, Pelly Vincent-Braun, has an advantage over his competition this time around, having competed at the SCNC for his first time last year.
Vincent-Braun, a 20-year-old Yukon College welding student, is feeling pretty calm about the situation.
“It’s pretty weird because I have an extensive sporting career so I’m used to having lots of pressure and lots of people watching,” he said with a chuckle. “But then you get to the competition and you sit down for six hours.”
Last year Vincent-Braun placed sixth out of 12 competitors and is training hard to do better this year.
“I have put a lot of pressure on myself trying to do pretty good,” he said. “Just practising as much as I can, to be as prepared as possible.”
Although Hand insists that the competition isn’t about winning, there is quite a bit at stake for people competing at nationals, including possible employers watching.
About a possible first place finish this year, Vincent-Braun said, “That’d be really nice to put on a resumé.”
Contact Crystal Schick at email@example.com