By Andrew Ardizzi
Mississauga, Ontario -- June 9, 2014 -- When the sparks settled, the paint dried and the final tallies were made following Skills Canada's national skilled trade competitions, four students took home gold medals in their respective age brackets in the auto body repair and car painting categories.
The 2014 Skills Canada national skills competition was held inside Mississauga's International Centre, featuring over 500 youth training in the skilled trades. The event, which ran from June 5 to June 6, broughtÂ together the top youth from across the country from 42 different trades with the field composed of the provincial winners from Skills Canada's regional competitions.Â
Alberta's Justin Dambitis won gold in the post-secondary auto body repair category, finishing ahead of silver medalist Steven Le-Magueresse of Ontario and bronze medalist Marc-Andre Benoit of New Brunswick.
In the secondary auto body category, Kevin Disterhoft of Manitoba won gold, beating out silver medal winner Jacob Wall of British Columbia and bronze medalist Jeremy Lessard of Quebec.
Nova Scotia's Ryan Smith painted a quality first place performance, winning gold in the post-secondary Car Painting category. Smith finished ahead of silver medalist Daniel Kidd of Ontario and Kassandra Plante Bilodeau, who took a bronze medal to her home province of Quebec.
At the secondary level, Quebec's Vicky Bouchard won car painting gold, finishing ahead of silver medal winner Catherine Elizabeth Mathewson of Ontario and bronze medalist Ryan Beattie.Â
The competitive aspect aside, Skills Canada's purpose swells far beyond simple competition and works to show students a path towards a future in the skilled trades.
Leanne Jefferies, AIA Director of Collision Programs and the Director of the CCIF skills program, says the importance of the Skills programming is immeasurable and is a great way to reach the youth of today and introduce them to skilled trades like auto body repair and car painting.
"It's great to show interest in these young kids in the industry and it's a great learning experience for them," Jefferies says. "I think they can really feel the support of the industry here."
Complementing the practical learning experiences for the students taking part, Jefferies and other CCIF members were on-hand at the CCIF booth where pamphlets were available forÂ competitors and the general public so they could read about the various career paths collision repair training provides. Additionally there was an interactive painting demonstration where anyone could try their hand at painting a digital representation of a car part.
"This is a really great opportunity for industry and education to come together," she says. "It's nice to get all of the stakeholders together for something that benefits the industry. It lets them meet the kids in person, and some have even been offered jobs right on the floor."
William Speed, an auto collision repair instructor at Danforth Collegiate Technical Institute and Chair of Skills Canada for the last several years, says he likes to see his kids succeed, especially noting one young female competitor in the car painting category who he says is so good she's already been receiving work offers.
"I can take very little credit for what they do though," he says. "Some of them just grab the opportunity and run with it."
From a technical perspective, he adds these competitions serve the additional purpose of putting each competing youth in a real-life high-stress situation where they must be efficient and technically sound in order to finish their trade-specific tasks within the allotted time.
"It puts them out of their normal realm, so they need to step up their skill level because in some cases they may not have ever done the tasks we're asking them to complete."
Echoing Jefferies, Speed feels the industry response has been immense however its stakeholders need to continue supporting Skills Canada to further the grow the profile and stage skilled youths are being given.
"We need even more employers to come out and see what these kids are doing because they're the industry's future," he says. "The average age is getting higher and we need to get some young blood into shops."
It's that reality that defines Jefferies' reasoning for being so supportive of Skills Canada's programming, which allows skilled youth to converge and continue their path into the skilled trades, and to see support growing from the industry is gratifying for her. Even more, the competitions habitually see former competitors returning to take part in the organization and judging of the events.
"They get to have this experience as competitors, and they get to share that experience with each other and the next generation," she says. "I think this competition altogether highlights industries like ours and shows where you can work in the industry if youth follow their passions."