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WorldSkills 2009 in Calgary shows off student competitors' technical talent

From September 1 to 7, competitors from all over the world flocked to Calgary, Alberta, for WorldSkills 2009.


The event had over 1,000 of the world’s top students and apprentices aged 17 to 23 competing for gold, silver and bronze medals in their respective fields, which spanned trades, services and technology from electronics to mobile robotics to bricklaying.

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T
eam Canada walked away from the competition with eight medals and 12 medallions of excellence. This year, Team Canada had 38 competitors competing in 35 contest areas. The lead-up to the competition involved an expert-driven training program that incorporated training from both the competition expert and an individual who works with the competitor on a local level.

“There are a lot of variables that fall into play, with equipment and familiarity with equipment and scheduling, and how our young people handle the stress,” said Shaun Thorson, Executive Director of Skills Canada. “We’re just looking for them to do their best on the competition day. If they end up winning a medal or being recognized with a medallion of excellence for their performance, then that’s kind of a bonus.”


THE FOCUS ON EDUCATION


But the competitions themselves play only a small role in what WorldSkills has to offer.

One of the focuses of the event is education and awareness about the skilled trades. WorldSkills was promoted through every school in Alberta, and many school boards pushed the first day of school up several days in order to send classes there on field trips.

“It’s a great tool for the promotion of skilled trades and technology occupations,” said Thorson. “Not only a great experience for the competitors but more importantly a great experience for the young visitors that will come to the competition site and see young Canadian competing at a very high level on very complex projects.”

Over the course of the four-day event, close to 100,000 young people walked through Stadium Park and had the opportunity to see 45 careers in action. The competitions themselves are, in most cases, viewable from four sides, allowing the public a glimpse into the workstations and into what the competitors are creating.

“We want [young people] to understand that these are good career choices,” said Brian Pardell, vice-president of operations for WorldSkills Calgary 2009.


THE GREEN ASPECT


One of the elements introduced to this year’s competition was a focus on sustainability and the environment. Improved recycling and disposal programs, both for the competition grounds and the competitions themselves, were a priority, and one that WorldSkills organizers hope to carry into the future.

“We maintain a green environment for the event. We have a lot of pieces for the event and we want them to have a life afterwards. For some of our events, the project that competitors are building are going to be given out to different charities in Calgary, so that we don’t have this great chance to build these projects and simply thrown them in a landfill.

“Our organization has taken a stand to ensure that this competition comes off [as environmental and sustainable], and as the host organizing committee we’ve also tied in with WorldSkills International, the parent group, to ensure that they understand that by doing things a little differently … we have this ability to create an environmental or a green competition and build on that from year to year,” said Pardell.

In addition to waste disposal programs, several of the projects for individual competitions will be donated to Calgary charities.
In addition, WorldSkills’ focus on education carried over to the environmental side, as Pardell hopes that individuals-both in and out of the skilled trades-will learn by example.

“Just because it’s a trade-related field doesn’t mean you can’t consider it a green one as well.”


WORLDSKILLS LONDON 2011


The next WorldSkills will be held in 2011 in London, England, and organizers expect it to surpass the already-high standard set by the Calgary competition.

“The best thing to do is look at what’s happened in Calgary. They’ve raised the bar significantly and we want to raise it further still. We want to build on many of the things that have happened in Calgary and make it even better,” said Aidan Jones, Executive Director for WorldSkills London 2011.

Similar to this past event, attracting and educating young students will continue to be a priority. The event will also continue to have Ambassador Booths at each competition, where visitors can meet with practitioners of a trade and learn more about it.

“We expect a lot of schools to come through and learn … about vocational skills and vocational career choices.”

“I think the event itself in terms of the competition is very important because it highlights the excellence in skills and really sets benchmarks for quality. But I think, apart from the competition, it’s also really important to use the event as a way of getting messages across about the value of a trade as an alternative to going to university and just choosing an academic path.”


WorldSkills Quick Facts


1,000 competitors
38 Canadian competitors
51 countries
45 skills competitions
5,000 international experts, delegates and judges
30 languages
80,000 square metres of competition space
150,000 students and public spectators


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