Ten-year challenge: WorldSkills edition
See how WorldSkills shaped the lives of SAIT's 2009 competitors
The Black Eyed Peas were topping the Billboard charts, a rideshare company called UberCab was just getting its start and Barack Obama had been sworn in as 44th President of the United States.
The year was 2009, and a pre-Nenshi Calgary was set to welcome 900 competitors from 48 countries to the 40th WorldSkills Competition at Stampede Park.
That year, following months of vigorous training, seven SAIT students would represent Canada on the world stage, competing in fields ranging from autobody repair to information network cabling.
A decade later and ahead of the 45th WorldSkills in Kazan, Russia, where SAIT’s own Taylor Desjardins will vie for the top spot in cabinetmaking, we caught up with five of the 2009 competitors to find out where they are now and how WorldSkills — and SAIT — helped get them there.
Information Network Cabling
Graduated SAIT: 2009
Occupation: Fibre Optics Foreman
Fun fact: Has traveled to 25 countries
How did your experience at WorldSkills and SAIT shape where you are today?
WorldSkills boosted my career — it helped me move ahead quicker. It gave me confidence and the ability to teach and, since I’m still with the same company as when I competed, people I work with bring it up all the time.
I loved my time at SAIT. Tom O’Toole was my trainer — he helped me prepare over that entire summer. SAIT has since invited me back to speak to students a few times and I’ve even had the opportunity to do some work on campus. I love coming back.
Do you have any advice for Taylor Desjardins, who will be representing Canada and SAIT at this year’s WorldSkills Competition in Kazan, Russia?
Don’t let the pressure get to you. Embrace the moment.
Graduated SAIT: 2010
Occupation: Autobody Repair Head Journeyman, Lead Technician
Fun fact: Likes fixing up muscle cars from the '50s and plans to open his own classic car shop
Does WorldSkills still play a role in your day-to-day life?
Definitely. WorldSkills donated the tools and equipment we used back to local businesses and to SAIT. I still use one of the tools all the time at our autobody shop — it has a WorldSkills sticker on it.
My dad also has a bit of a “shrine” going from my time at the competition — he keeps a collage of newspaper articles and photos I was in.
What role did mentorship play?
My trainers at SAIT really helped guide me through WorldSkills. In my job now, I get to train new students from SAIT the way they helped me.
Sheet Metal Technology
Graduated SAIT: 2011
Occupation: Sheet Metal Journeyman
Fun fact: Sang "Circle of Life" to win a prize during a taping of the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon
How did it feel to compete in WorldSkills?
It was a lot of pressure that I didn’t feel at the provincial or national levels. The layout of the competition was similar, but it was like the Olympics for trades. In our “Athlete’s Village” at SAIT, you would see other countries’ competitors getting up early in the morning to go for runs or they’d walk around chanting. It was intense.
What opportunities came from your WorldSkills experience?
I got a job offer right after WorldSkills from a custom shop down the street from where I worked, but I chose to stick with my current company because they did so much for me — they allowed me to take a month off to dedicate to WorldSkills training.
Graduated SAIT: 2009
Occupation: Master Electrician
Fun fact: Loves mountain climbing and downhill biking
What was SAIT’s role in your training?
We trained every day over the summer. SAIT set Dan Reid and I up in a room on campus with materials. We split the space and practiced old Skills programs. It was good to be able to practice over and over.
What would you say to an apprentice who is considering competing in WorldSkills?
I would absolutely recommend apprentices participate in Skills. You’ve got nothing to lose and you’ll come away learning — at the very least — a few new things and gain experiences.
IT/PC Network Support
Graduated SAIT: 2010
Occupation: Technical Sales
Fun fact: The IT Manager for the 2009 WorldSkills Competition is now one of Matthew's customers
What spurred your involvement with WorldSkills?
I was very fortunate to have my instructor from SAIT, Doug Warden, who was very passionate and heavily involved with WorldSkills. He identified early on that I would be a good fit for the competition, so we built a two-year plan around how to get there. He was able to point out what was important and provided one-on-one guidance during training for Provincials, Nationals and WorldSkills itself. I attribute where I am today in my career not only to his mentorship — but to the community of people who helped make the competition possible. I still run into influential people today who remember WorldSkills in Calgary.
What would you tell Taylor as he prepares for WorldSkills?
You’ll have a lot of people who want to support you — take advantage and ask for help when you need it. Also the result isn’t what you’ll remember when you think back on WorldSkills. What you’ll remember, and what will impact your future, is everything you took away from the experience. It’s something you’re going to want to talk about for the rest of your life.
Ten years later, SAIT’s still got it. Get amped up and cheer on Taylor as he gets set to give his all at WorldSkills Kazan 2019 on Aug. 22. Visit sait.ca/compete to follow his journey.