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Schools take Skills online

Students compete in virtual trades competition

St. Albert and Sturgeon-area students cut, carved, baked and crafted before an online audience this week as they competed in Canada’s first-ever virtual Skills competition. 

About 370 students from across Alberta took part in the 2021 Skills Canada Alberta regional competition running March 2 to 18. 

Last year’s Skills contest was derailed due to the pandemic, which reached Alberta right in the midst of regionals, said Skills Canada Alberta spokesperson Victoria Anderson. Instead, Skills Canada Alberta held a virtual contest in May 2020 with modified events students could do at home (as Alberta’s schools were closed at the time). The 2020 Skills Canada nationals contest was cancelled. 

This year, Skills Canada is for the first time ever holding its national, provincial and regional competitions online to ensure student safety during the pandemic, Anderson said. 

“Skills, trades and technology are so, so important right now,” Anderson said, citing the many chefs and technicians keeping Canada running during the pandemic, and Skills Canada wanted to give students a safe way to celebrate their skills. 

Anderson said students in each event competed on the same day from their home schools under the supervision of a local teacher. Contestants completed a variety of trades-related tasks in baking, cabinetry, carpentry, culinary arts, hairstyling, video production or welding under a tight time limit to the satisfaction of judges watching via livestream. Top-scoring students advanced to provincials. 

Local challengers 

About 20 Morinville, St. Albert and Sturgeon County students were expected to compete in regionals as of March 8.  

Paul Kane Grade 12 student Sarah Shipka is to face the Hairstyling Intermediate challenge on March 18. Her event tasks students to craft a unique bridal updo hairstyle on a mannequin’s head in just 1.5 hours. 

“The front will remind you of waves, but in a gentle way,” she said of her design, and might include some flowers.  

Shipka said the pandemic had made it impossible for cosmetology students such as herself to work on walk-in clients, which she found devastating, but had also given her more class time to learn and practise techniques (classes at Paul Kane were up to 155 minutes long during the pandemic as the school switched to a four-term, two-classes-per-term system).  

Shipka said she had learned much about hair from her coworkers at St. Albert’s Pose Salon and hopes to attend MC College after high school. 

“Hair is art,” she declared, when asked about her passion for her craft. 

“It’s so cool that it’s something most of us share but not all of us have, and how we can manipulate it and use it to make gorgeous updos, and how much creativity you can have with hair.”  

Sturgeon Composite Grade 12 student Dylan Kostiw said his March 3 welding challenge saw him assemble a box with an attached staircase in five hours. This involved about 25 pounds of metal, 15 joints, an arc and a MIG welder. 

“It was really fun but also stressful at the same time,” he said.  

Kostiw said he started practising for his event in early February, welding parts about six times a week at school and at home.  

While Shipka said she would have loved the excitement of an in-person contest, she and Kostiw said competing at their home schools was also an advantage, as they could work in a familiar, quieter environment. They encouraged other students to try Skills to represent their schools, polish their resumés, and show their creativity. 

“It’s so cool to be able to show your art and put yourself out there and work toward something,” Shipka said. 

Regional winners were announced during an online ceremony March 25 at 6:30 p.m. The provincial Skills contest was scheduled for April 14 to 23. Visit for details. 

Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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