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Apprentices strut their stuff at skills nationals

Don Wall
Apprentices strut their stuff at skills nationals
Ashley Ritchie of St. George, N.B. holds the New Brunswick flag aloft after being named the winner in the brick masonry division at the Skills Canada National Competition held in June in Winnipeg. The silver medal went to Colin Breckman of Manitoba and the bronze was awarded to Lane Lay of Saskatchewan. -

Forty-three new champions were crowned in the annual Skills Canada National Competition in Winnipeg last month — and for at least one of the new titlists, it was proof there’s a benefit in experience.

Ashley Ritchie, a 30-year-old apprentice mason from St. George, N.B., was in her third competition in the brick masonry division after third- and fourth place finishes the last two years. This year, she said, she was able to put such distractions as the pressure of the competition and the presence of thousands of spectators, students, supporters and other competitors aside and focus on her contest build.

"The first year, all that excitement, watching everybody else, it was a little overwhelming, but I’ve learned to block that out, and it’s a lot better," said the mother of three, who is also apprenticing in carpentry.

The competition was held June 1 and 2, with results in diverse trades, about half of them in construction or engineering, announced June 3.

Ritchie, one of close to 600 competitors, all apprentices, was required to build brick panels with decorative arches, one side of which was corbelled out, with some dog-tooth patterning also required, over two six-hour sessions.

"You definitely feel pressure the whole time," said Ritchie. "The biggest thing I found about it was you have to know when to take your time and when to pick up the speed — you can lay brick to a line very fast, but you can’t go at any speed when you do your arches.

"The hardest thing I find is not to watch what other people are doing, focus on your own project."

Each of the 13 provinces and territories gets to send the winner of regional competitions, and in some of the trades there are secondary school and post-secondary divisions.

Electrician Andre Viau, 27, of Kapuskasing, Ont. was also in his third nationals after two previous second-place finishes in the electrical installations competition. Like Ritchie, who figures she is a cut above her competitors because of her focus on precision with a flair for esthetics, Viau aims to get the build right but also make it look good.

The project requirement was to install residential panels, including wiring for a kitchen and bedroom, and also undertake industrial-sector tasks such as installing a programmable relay.

"I think what helps me win, I pay special attention to details and make it look really nice," explained Viau. "I try and get it done quickly, but I make sure it is appealing to the eyes."

For Skills Canada, the national competition is an occasion to recognize top apprentices from across the country and encourage excellence in a high-pressure environment. It’s also a major recruiting opportunity in the host city.

Skills Canada CEO Shaun Thorson said his organization aims to recreate the structure and excitement of national sporting championships, and then bring in thousands of local students to observe the drama and get up close to the competitors. There is also the Try-A-Trade and Technology program that gives would-be apprentices an opportunity to try their hand at a skill and take home a finished product to show off to their parents.

Some 10,000 Manitoba middle- and high school students attended the Winnipeg event.

"Students who have had no experience are invited to try an occupation, and it opens their eyes to what would be involved in pursuing one of the occupations," said Thorson. "It is putting materials and tools in the hands of students and they are guided by industry and educational professionals."

The Winnipeg nationals were the 23rd annual national competition. It was held throughout three floors of the RBC Convention Centre, even spilling outside where landscapers competed.

"People are always amazed at the energy they feel when they come in. Thousands and thousands of students come through," said Thorson. "It’s a competitive atmosphere, a lot of energy and passion as they participate."

Ritchie had her instructor in town and a friend who flew in from Newfoundland to celebrate with her as her name was called and she took the winner’s podium with the flag of New Brunswick. She will soon be a journeyperson in both carpentry and masonry.

Viau, who has completed his apprenticeship hours, many of them accumulated working on hydro projects in the far north of the province, and just needs to write the Red Seal exams to graduate to journeyperson status, was alone but quickly got on the phone to call his wife, parents and boss at Tembec after he won.

"I was really happy," he said.

He was also saluted by his union, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which honoured his accomplishment on its website and on Facebook.

Skills Canada: the envelope please

WINNiPEG — Winners in construction, engineering or construction-related trades in the 2017 Skills Canada National Competition held in Winnipeg are as follows:

• Simon Ernst, N.L., precision machining

• Sebastian Blanchard, Que., precision machining

• Spencer Pelzer, Alta., mechatronics

• Alexander Wilkinson, Alta., mechatronics

• Derick Cheaney, Ont., mechanical CADD

• Meagan Lee, Alta., mechanical CADD

• Dallas Duncombe, Man., CNC machining

• Adam Sebastian, Sask., welding

• Joel Moerman, Alta., welding

• Jason Maher, N.L., plumbing

• Kelvin Michaud, Man., electronics

• Andre Viau, Ont., electrical installations

• Jose Inoc, Man., electrical installations

• Justin Chapman, Sask., automation and control

• Ashley Ritchie, N.B., brick masonry

• David Leduc, Ont., robotics

• Pierre Leduc, Ont., robotics

• Kyle Arsenault, P.E.I., cabinetmaking

• Avery Bell, B.C., cabinetmaking

• Dan Ryan, Ont., carpentry

• Joel Lewis, Alta., carpentry

• Adrian Sinke, Alta, landscape gardening

• Raymond de Kok, Alta., landscape gardening

• Zachary Walsh, N.S., refrigeration and air conditioning

• Alain Lanouette, Man., sheet metal

• Kyle Horne, B.C., steamfitter-pipefitter

• Alex Gauthier, Que., industrial mechanic/millwright

• Sara Kennedy, N.L., architectural technology and design

• Michaela Sapielak, B.C., architectural technology and design

• Jade Ritter, Ont., workplace safety

• Jack Dupuis, Que., heavy equipment service

• Cliff Bennett, N.B., sprinkler systems.

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