Workers to showcase prowess: Calgary plays host to the Olympics of skills, trade and technology this week

It's hailed as the Olympics of skills, trade and technology, a chance for competitors to showcase their talents as they embark on in-demand careers.

The WorldSkills Competition also highlights the opportunities available in everything from auto body repair and aircraft maintenance to landscape gardening and fashion technology.

"The traditional view of skilled trades is that the jobs are very manual and dirty and involve working with your hands," says Shaun Thorson, executive director of Skills/Competences Canada.

"Working with your hands remains a strong element, but technology has definitely made a significant impact on the trades."

Growing interest in the environment, for example, is pushing the creation of a new generation of work, Thorson notes. Turbine manufacturing, home retrofits, solar panel installation, wind farm construction and transit-line building will all create skilled trade jobs.

"Many skills are transferrable to these new industries," Thorson says.
According to the Alberta Federation of Labour, the move toward creating more environmentally sustainable energy sources could provide jobs for electricians, computer and electrical engineers, iron and steel workers, welders, construction workers and sheet metal workers.

It's common knowledge that a number of Canadian industries face a significant shortfall of skilled workers. From manufacturing to food service to the oil and gas/mining and technology support sectors, the rate of people retiring from the workforce is far exceeding the numbers entering it.

Events like the WorldSkills Competition, being held in Alberta for a week starting tomorrow, shine the spotlight on opportunities available in the skilled trades.

For automotive service technician apprentice Dan Van Holst of Waterloo, competing on the world stage is a welcome chance to put his skills to the test.

"The main focus of the competition is to promote skilled trades among youth," says the 21-year-old Conestoga College graduate, whose high school shop courses piqued his interest in pursuing a skilled trade.
"I'm following in my father and grandfather's footsteps," says the third-generation technician.

"I've been around it all my life . . . It really interests me the way cars are progressing every day with electric vehicles and more and more hybrid vehicles."

The average annual salary for skilled trades exceeds the national average by more than $10,000 and employment rates for apprenticeship programs stands at 88%, Skills/Competences Canada reports.

An apprenticeship typically takes two to five years to complete and combines 80% on-the-job training with 20% in-class technical training.
"People need to realize that it takes a number of years to become fully certified. We need to get people into training," Thorson says.
That's particularly important now as the economy begins to rebound.
"We will see shortages as the economy starts to pick up," he says.

London Free Press, Mon Aug 31 2009
Byline: Linda White

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