Apprentices Across the Province Prepare for Skills Ontario 2018

On May 7 – 9, 2018, thousands of people from schools, government, private industry, trade unions, and other organizations will gather at Skills Ontario at the Toronto Congress Centre. It’s a massive career showcase designed to help encourage young people to become interested in the trades. For IBEW Locals across the province, it’s also a chance at winning a medal in the post-secondary division.

Skills Ontario medals
Skills medals won by George Kardaras during his apprenticeship.

“Think of it like the Olympics for trades,” says George Kardaras, Assistant Education Director for IBEW 586 in Ottawa. “There are opening and closing ceremonies, gold, silver, and bronze medals, and a great combination of friendly competition and sportsmanship.”

As this year is a qualifying year for World Skills, the stakes are higher than ever. Winners at Skills Ontario will be able to go on to Skills Canada, and from there possibly to the World Skills competition to be held later this year in Amsterdam.

Training to a Higher Standard

apprentice practicing for Skills Ontario
Local 586 apprentice Mitchell Weynerowski practices under the watchful eye of George Kardaras.

Since 1998, IBEW locals have won over 70% of the medals, a testament to their ability to not only attract talented young men and women, but to train them better as well.

Dave Graham, Training and Skills Development Director for IBEW Local 804 in Kitchener says it’s easy to explain why. “It’s all of our supplementary training that gives our members an edge. Our apprentices at 804 must complete at least 13 supplementary training courses throughout the course of their apprenticeship.”

Mentoring also plays a huge role. Graham adds, “A lot of skills are learned at college, but really developed through the mentoring and support that all the IBEW local unions give their apprentices. It explains why over 90% of our apprentices complete their programs, whereas the general rate is about 50%.”

For most IBEW locals, apprenticeship candidates must meet much higher standards than the provincial minimum. At Local 804, instead of just grade 10 math, applicants need Grade 12 math, physics and English. At Local 586, applicants also need to write an aptitude test, and only the top 20% are accepted. At Toronto’s Local 353, competition is so fierce they only end up taking the top 10% of candidates.

On the Competition Floor

It’s a long day for the competitors. They check in around 7 AM, and attend an orientation session. Marshalls confirm that they carry in only the allowed tools.

Every year, the project is different, but it always requires reading an electrical drawing and preparing a number of electrical installations reflecting work on the jobsite. The task is ambitious: last year not all of the contestants were able to complete their task in the allowed time. There are two safety judges from the Infrastructure Health & Safety Association (IHSA) that ensure all competitors follow safety standards. If the judges see an unsafe practice, they take the time to properly instruct the competitor to ensure that they aren’t cutting corners that would put them or others in danger. Skills Ontario has all competitions include a job interview segment that accounts for 5 percent of their final score.

What makes a great Skills candidate? Kardaras, a three-time Skills Ontario medallist himself, comments, “It’s exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time. There are lots of spectators, and you have to be able to block that out. You have to be very well rounded as well, as it includes aspects of all kinds of residential and commercial work.”

Dave Graham says, “I’d say it takes an apprentice that shows real passion for the trade – someone who’s looking for a career, not a job. Fifth term apprentices also have an advantage, as they’ve had more experience on a variety of job sites.”

Going for the Gold in 2018

Skills Ontario winners 2017
L-R: Jodi Hill of Local 353 (Skills Electrical Installation Tech Chair), Andrew Padre-Cura (Silver), Andre Viau (Gold), and Bill Daniels (International Vice President, IBEW First District Office).

2017’s silver medallist Andrew Padre-Cura from Local 804 is exactly the sort of candidate Graham is talking about. Originally a Computer Science and Computer Programming student, he made the switch to an electrical career after his second year. “My cousins, Tony Melo and Kyle Melo have been in Local 353 for years. My godmother’s husband is also an electrician.”

This May, Padre-Cura will be back and shooting for the gold medal. Last year’s contest was so close that it only took 1.5 points to put Local 1687’s Andre Viau in the top spot.

“I’ve been practicing with Dave Graham at the training hall,” says Padre-Cura. “Especially pipe bending, which I didn’t have a lot of jobsite experience with until last year.”

At Local 586, the Skills candidate is Mitchell Weynerowski. He has been fascinated by electricity and electronics since his Grade 9 science classes, and has already completed an Electrical Engineering Technologist college program.

“I’m really excited to compete,” says Weynerowski. “And maybe a little nervous to see what I’m up against.”

He continues, “I’ve been preparing with George at the training hall, but I’m also been asking for work on my job sites that I think might be related. I practice every day, just by doing what I do. My older sister’s an electrician, and I’ve been asking her questions as well.”

Advice for Other Apprentices

Does Padre-Cura have any words of advice for apprentices who are thinking of competing at Skills some day? “I’d say compete. It’s very challenging, but a really great experience. You get to meet people from across the province.”

For competitors, Padre-Cura has this advice. “If you’re stuck on something, move on and come back to it. The contest is really constricted for time – it’s eight hours but you need to keep working at a constant pace. It may not look like it, but it’s a lot of work. It will make you remember everything you’ve ever learned, in both commercial and residential fields. If you don’t have a good background in both you’ll be lost.”

Kardaras sums up, “It’s a huge honour to go in itself, considering the that only a few of the apprentices in Ontario get to go. Win or lose, it’s a huge learning opportunity – the practice will make them all better electricians.”

Dave Graham agrees. “There’s some friendly competition but in the end it’s about everyone trying their best and having a great time learning. May the best apprentice win!”