“I’ve never been to Halifax and I’m really looking forward to it,” says 19-year-old Justin Dekok, who leaves Saturday for the Nova Scotia capital with 60 other high school and post-secondary teammates on Team Alberta.
Dekok, of Picture Butte, won silver — and a generous prize package of tools — at the Provincial Skills Canada Competition in Edmonton May 8 and 9 when he received news he’d be advancing to the national competition.
“It has to be very precise. It’s a lot of pressure. You have to get stuff done at certain times and the biggest thing is to finish it.”
- Justin Dekok
Team Alberta will have time to tour Halifax before the competition on Tuesday and Wednesday. Dekok and his fellow plumbing competitors will have 12 hours over the two days to plan and plumb a laundry room. His work will be judged on how it conforms to design, the piping installation, accuracy of drawing, safety and materials.
“You start with bare walls and you plumb a working system with water and drainage, all up to slope and up to code,” he says. “It has to be very precise. It’s a lot of pressure. You have to get stuff done at certain times and the biggest thing is to finish it.”
The provincial competition proved to be a valuable learning experience. “My planning was not quite up to par,” he says. “But I aced my copper,” referring to how he bent and soldered the water lines.
Dekok and fellow plumbing apprentice Dylan Wachtler were encouraged to enter the provincial competition by their college instructors, including Jeremy Bridge, who attended the Edmonton event. Bridge says he was proud of both Dekok and Wachtler, as they appeared to be setting the pace at the competition, getting tasks done before their competitors and being mindful of the clock. Wachtler finished fifth provincially.
In both apprentices, Bridge saw a level of skill, attention to detail and the potential to gain competitive experience this year in hopes of making a successful run to the next WorldSkills competition to be held in Shanghai in 2021. The international event is only held every two years.
Dekok has benefitted from the experience of his boss at Aquatech Plumbing and Heating, Ken Howe, who advanced to the WorldSkills competition in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in 2015. That same year, Dekok’s brother Rylan went to worlds in cabinetmaking.
Like his brother, Dekok was pursuing cabinetmaking, until a job offer from Howe more than a year ago introduced him to plumbing. “I never thought plumbing was in the books for me, but I just love it,” he says. “It’s a clean job. You start fresh. You lay out your tools, spend time planning, get organized, and at the end you have something you can take a picture of and say, ‘I made this.’ It challenges me every time, and I like seeing a project through from the ground up.”
Skills Canada National Competition is the only national, multi-trade and technology competition for students and apprentices in Canada. More than 550 students and apprentices compete in more than 40 trade and technology competitions.
Bridge says skills competitions are an important way to expose young people to the possibility of a career in trades and to build confidence among young people entering the trades. “They can say, ‘I’m really good at this.’ It boosts their confidence and it develops skilled labour. The more precise you are as a plumber — and in other trades, too — the better things go for the next trade that comes in after you.”
Bridge’s advice to Dekok before provincials holds true as he heads to the national event: “Have fun. Enjoy it. And learn from the experience.”
As a first-year apprentice, Dekok spent January and February in the classroom at Lethbridge College, learning the extensive code requirements related to plumbing, and building on the experience he gets on the job the rest of the year. After completing the four-year Plumbing apprenticeship program, students earn their journeyman certification.
Three other Lethbridge College students competed in the Provincial Skills Canada Competition in Edmonton earlier this month: Taylor Scoville in Carpentry; and Arnond Avila and Danny Peters in Heavy Duty Mechanics.
All photos are provided courtesy of Skills Canada Alberta.