Students from the Waterloo Region District School Board brought home one silver and two gold medals from the Skills Ontario Competition held on May 6-8, 2019 at the Toronto Congress Centre. A total of 17 students from the WRDSB competed at the provincial level, in 14 separate competitions, ranging from cabinetmaking to floristry.
This year’s medal winners included Miriam Nenadov, a student at Waterloo-Oxford District Secondary School (WODSS), who took home a gold medal for her work in the floristry skills competition. Nenadov was joined by Matthew Ratthe from Elmira District Secondary School (EDSS) and William Haney from Kitchener-Waterloo Collegiate Institute (KCI) who, together, were awarded a gold medal for their work as a team in the horticulture and landscaping competition. Dylan Hehn, also of EDSS, was awarded silver for his work in the electrical installations competition.
Matthew Ratthe and William Haney competing in the Skills Ontario Provincial Horticulture and Landscape competition.
The road to provincials starts here at home in Waterloo Region, with regional skills competitions. Dave Pope, the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program coordinator at the WRDSB, explained that students must first win at the regional level before they proceed onto the provincial competition. Those who win in select categories at the provincial level have the opportunity to go on to national, and international competitions. However, the categories in which WRDSB students won this year are, unfortunately, not available at the national level competition.
This year’s Skills Ontario Competition drew more than 2,400 primary, secondary, and post-secondary students from across the province to the Toronto-area convention centre for the two-day battle of skills. Pope describes the competition area as organized chaos, with metalworking, woodworking, landscaping, and graphic design competitions all happening simultaneously. “It’s kind of a mishmash of everything together,” he said.
The criteria for each category is created by a committee of industry representatives so that the skills being tested are relevant to current industry trends and standards. For example, a student may be presented with a car that is not running and “they have to figure out why it isn’t running and diagnose it,” said Pope.
2019 marked Pope’s first year organizing the WRDSB effort at the provincial competition and although he felt apprehension ahead of the event, he is pleased with the result. “The students had a great time,” he said. “It makes me feel very happy.” The night after the competition stage, Pope explained the students were clearly exhausted after a day of hard work. “They’re normally exhausted by the end of the day,” he said. “But they had a great time.”
Pope is no stranger to Skills Canada competitions himself, as he competed while he was in high school at Forest Heights Collegiate Institute in the industrial wiring category. “I went from competing myself to running it for the board, which is kind of fun,” he said with a laugh. Looking back to his time as a student taking part in skills competitions, Pope credits Randy Dyck for his efforts to support students and organize the regional and provincial events. Dyck is still inspiring students to believe in themselves and their abilities at EDSS. After 28 years of attending skills competitions, this year marked his last. Dyck is retiring from teaching this year and explains he feels grateful and privileged to work every day with such dedicated staff and students. “It’s made me stay young in my head and my heart,” Dyck said, adding that he plans to return and volunteer at every opportunity.
Dave Pope when he was a student at FHCI, standing with a sign recognizing his accomplishment.
In his nearly three decades of experience with skills competitions, Dyck still marvels at the close relationship that has been fostered between the WRDSB and local industry. “I cannot say enough for the amazing industry involvement we have in Waterloo Region,” he said. “It’s just been a wonderful relationship.” Having their professional expertise is crucial for the development of industry-standard skills, and offers the chance for students to build relationships in the field of their chosen career.
The results of this close relationship, the strength of experiential learning and the passion of local educators involved in skills can be seen looking at the achievements of Matthew Ratthe from EDSS and William Haney from KCI. Together, they were awarded a gold medal for their work as a team in the horticulture and landscaping competition. Dyck explains Ratthe and Hanley teamed up to combine their efforts under the guidance of Barb Gaudet, a tech teacher at EDSS.
The day of the competition, Ratthe and Hanley were calm and focused on the work at hand, Dyck explained. “Sort of like a quiet confidence,” he said, adding that their experience in co-op and the classroom combined to help them achieve the result they did.
As he prepares to retire, Dyck is happy to see the WRDSB skills competition program in the hands of his former student, Pope, someone he knows has the first-hand experience necessary to continue inspiring students to reach higher. “I’m enthused by Dave’s skills,” said Dyck. “He was always a good supporter and a hard worker.”
Pope, too, is looking forward to the next school year, as he is aiming to make the experience smoother and even better for all involved. “I’m excited for next year,” said Pope. “It’s going to be even better.”