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Out machining the Japanese

Worldskills is like the Olympics, but for useful things. Every two years, the industrialized nations of the world assemble their top tradesmen and tradeswomen to see who's the best.

Worldskills is like the Olympics, but for useful things.

Every two years, the industrialized nations of the world assemble their top tradesmen and tradeswomen to see who’s the best.

Founded in Franco-ruled Spain, Worldskills was originally founded on the premise of training youngsters to rebuild a war-torn Europe.

Soon, it garnered international membership.

“There’s a lot of people who don’t know what it is, or they don’t know it exists, but it is a huge deal,” said Yukon competitor Karl Loos.

At least the Canadian government seems to think so.

His last name may be Loos, but Skills Canada is intent on having him win.

From the moment he qualified, Loos has been groomed like an elite athlete.

“It’s a tremendous amount of cash that’s being dispensed,” said Dan Curtis, executive director of Skills Canada Yukon.

“Tens of thousands of dollars” are being spent to train Loos.

Altogether, it could be “in excess of $100,000,” Curtis said.

Loos’ skill is Computer Numerical Controlled Machining.

You’d be forgiven if you weren’t intimately familiar with the term.

Loos often runs into people that assume a machinist is just a fancy name for mechanic.

“Mechanics just take things apart and put them back together - but I build the parts,” said Loos.

Cars, cellphones, computers, and sandals all started out on a machinist’s computer.

At Quantum Machine Works - Loos’ shop - most of his work involves mineral exploration.

Mining companies send him a part diagram, and then Loos builds it.

“The customer doesn’t tell you what it is,” said Loos.

The son of a machinist, Loos took easily to the world of turning blocks of metal into things.

The other three Loos children took up biology, dietary medicine and creative writing - but Karl found his place in the family shop.

By Grade 8, Loos was at Quantum, grinding out the parts for a homemade go-kart.

He took easily to the trade.

A childhood saturated by video games probably helped.

CNC has “all kinds of buttons ... and you have to be fast,” said Loos.

Canada may take Worldskills seriously, but competitors like Japan and Korea take it really seriously.

“There’s a lot of other countries that train a lot harder than Canada does,” said Loos.

For instance, as soon as the Japanese have anointed their Worldskills candidate, he or she will immediately start training full-time.

There is no category for clock-making, but Switzerland nevertheless remains a prime CNC competitor.

Loos was flown out to Vancouver and Toronto, where he boned up on his computer-design skills.

At Edmonton’s Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, Loos was flown out to put together a top-of-the-line machinist’s tool kit.

Machining tools don’t come cheap.

“The tool box is worth about $100,000,” said Loos.

Stress counsellors flew to Whitehorse to give Loos a relaxation primer.

Loos is laid back and flush with toothy smiles. Relaxation doesn’t seem to be a major concern.

Celebrity handyman Mike Holmes - one of Worldskill 2009’s trio of “celebrity spokespeople”- even flew up to Whitehorse to make sure Loos had his ducks in a row.

Location-wise, Loos got screwed.

Past contenders have gotten free trips to Finland, Korea or Switzerland.

Loos will only get a two-hour flight to Calgary.

For only the second time, Canada will be hosting the Worldskills Competition.

At a price tag of $40 million, the event will host upwards of 900 competitors from 51 countries.

Along with Loos, 37 other competitors form 2009’s Team Canada.

“We call them the Great 38,” said Curtis.

Worldskills 2009 even has a mascot: Tug and Tess, the Clydesdale horses.

“The CUTEST Mascots in the history of WorldSkills,” notes the official website.

Calgary may be unexotic, but Loos will face a definite home-ice advantage.

“If you were going somewhere weird, the food would be weird, the people would be weird,” said Loos.

“I’ll probably be more comfortable than a lot of people there,” he said.

Loos may be on home soil, but he’ll be dealing with unfamiliar equipment.

Loos cut his teeth on American-made Haas machines, but at Worldskills, he’ll be on Japanese-made Mori Seiki machines.

It’s like taking a Linux-trained programmer and putting them on Windows.

“The buttons are in different places; it’s gonna make me slower,” said Loos.

And speed is a big deal at Worldskills.

Competitors only get six hours to complete a project, and often, they don’t finish in time.

Skills Canada flew Loos down to Chicago, where he was ushered into the North American headquarters of Mori Seiki.

There, the company’s best and brightest gave Loos a full run-down of the made-in-Nagoya equipment.

Skills Canada has even tailored him a suit.

Contact Tristin Hopper at