Campus News
A close up of a student welding.

About 100 high school students from across southern Alberta cooked, built and designed for bragging rights, medals and thousands of dollars in prizes at the South West Regional Skills Canada competition at Lethbridge College Saturday.

Organized by Career Transitions, the event was an opportunity for students to demonstrate proficiency in 14 categories of skills ranging from automotive technology and carpentry to hairstyling and video production.

“This competition provides high school students experiential learning and a chance to push out of their comfort zones,” says Judy Stolk Ingram, executive director of Career Transitions. “It also lets them demonstrate their skills under pressure and experience the value of professional development as they get valuable feedback from industry experts and college faculty who judge their work.”

Saturday’s event featured 12 competitions that feed into the provincial skills competition, and two “challenge events” that aren’t yet part of the secondary school competitive program — heavy equipment technician and plumbing. “We want students with an interest in those trades to have a chance to compete, and we’re hoping one day they will be full-fledged competitive events,” Stolk Ingram says.

While this competition was for students in Grade 10 through 12 across southwestern Alberta, Lethbridge College students also seized the opportunity to learn this weekend. Post-secondary competitors don’t compete regionally and can enter the Alberta event on a recommendation from their school. That competition is held in Edmonton in early May, and some Lethbridge College students used the weekend to shadow judges and get a better sense of what to expect from the main event. This year, two Culinary students vying to represent Lethbridge College at provincials competed in their own cook-off Saturday to earn a spot on the team at provincials.

An overhead view of students woodworking in a lab.

Lethbridge College students have a long history of success at provincial, nationals and even international events. Last year, the college unveiled a Wall of Honour in the Trades, Technologies and Innovation Facility featuring championship banners students have won. New banners unveiled this year recognized 2023 medallists: Walter Loedeman, provincial and national gold in heavy equipment technology; Ethan Wagenaar, provincial silver and national bronze in Automotive Technology; and Jaylen Koehn, provincial bronze, Welding. Loedeman will compete in September at WorldSkills in Lyon, France.

“Our students have made us very proud with their success,” says Sheldon Anderson, dean of the Centre for Trades. “Their success is a testament to their hard work, knowledge and practice. But it also speaks to the commitment our instructors have made. Our faculty have invested countless hours to help prepare our students, to help judge and organize competitions at all levels from regional to worlds. They know how valuable these competitions can be to individual students and to elevating an appreciation of skilled trades.”

Jeremy Bridge, an instructor in the college’s Plumbing apprenticeship program, has been named Canada’s expert in plumbing at the WorldSkills event and served as a trainer when Lethbridge College student Joshua Mandin competed in Germany in 2022.

“I enjoy the competition and I enjoy helping students better themselves,” says Bridge, who will also attend WorldSkills this fall. “With skills events, it’s very rewarding for me to help someone who is learning their trade realize their potential.”

An over the shoulder view of a student working on a sewing machine.

The more students can experience high school competition, the better they’ll be prepared for skills competitions at the post-secondary level, Anderson says. The competitions can also stoke interest in careers in the trades, and Canada needs more skills tradespeople to keep the economy growing, he says. “The world needs skilled tradespeople and our young tradespeople are some of the best in the world.”

Stolk Ingram says representatives from business and industry also get involved as judges or through generous sponsorship, including significant prizes such as tools and equipment. These special guests were treated to a special lunch prepared by competitors in the cooking and baking competitions. While the official judging was done by chefs in the kitchen, the diners offered their own constructive feedback as part of the competitor’s learning process. “That feedback adds that real-life flavour to the challenge,” Stolk Ingram says.

For a list of South West Regional Skills Canada winners, visit Career Transitions.

Career Transitions is a non-profit organization that has created career development activities and programming for southern Alberta students since 1998. It began organizing the South West Alberta Skills Competition in 2002.

Lethbridge College offers 65 certificate, diploma, degree and apprenticeship programs, and offers a range of exploratory, dual credit and other opportunities for youth to explore career options.