Every year more than 500 competitors from all over the country meet at Canada’s only national, multi-trade competition for students and apprentices: Skills Canada National Competition. There are more than 40 skilled trade and technology competitions involved. The aim to raise awareness about the skilled trade sector in Canada to Canadian youth. Schools, industry, and students from all over Canada participate and support the event.
Here at Steel Toe Jobs, we talk about trades and embrace trades as a choice, investing our time in trying to convey the message that a Bachelor of Arts is not necessarily the best use of your money, time and efforts. We fight the stigma around construction workers and tradespeople because the reality is far from the stereotype.
But words are words and a good example is worth thousands of them, so here we are today to talk with Mitch De Sousa.
Let’s start simple: You just came back as the winner of Skills Canada Provincial Competition and placed second at the Skills Canada National Competition 2018 held in Edmonton. What is this competition about, and why did you decide to participate?
The competition I participated in is the Electrical Automation competition. I deal with a Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) that, to make it simple, takes inputs and gives outputs from whatever you wire and it creates an automated process from that.
I decided to participate because my first-year electrical instructor noticed my particular interest in PLC and programming. He offered me the possibility to go to BCIT and train and work at the same time, so I just took the opportunity! It worked out well and I liked it, so here we are.
This year we had to simulate a luggage sorting system. There are a few switches we had to mount on the wall. Basically, a big luggage hits many switches a small one hits maybe just one switch and that allows to activate motors and lights and automations you’ll have to program with PLC.
What does it take to be ready for this event? Did you have to train?
I did train for about 3-4 years now. Every year I would take a couple of months off and my weekend to focus on programming. This year it was way more intense on the practicing, so I was training almost every day after school. I got a good shot at this.
I didn’t get too much of a chance of understanding what was going on around me because I was competing and by the time I was done the place was closing down. I was really impressed though by the size of the event: it was much bigger than the Provincial competition. There were so many talented young skilled workers and it amazes me that you see nothing at the start of the competition and then at the end of the day there is this amazing structure they are building in carpenting, or landscaping or whatever…
I placed second at the National Competition, so I and the third-place competitor will have to compete again in Halifax next year to figure out who can go to Russia, where the international competition will be hosted. The competition will be more advanced compared to the one I saw already, but whoever wins that gets to go to Russia.
The first-place competitor cannot qualify to the next step because of the age restrictions of the competition so I and the third place have a chance.
It all kinda started with my uncle. He was an electrician and he was a big role model for me. He used to bring me to work every now and then and he taught me how to use with my hands. In tenth grade, my career counselor came to our class and talked about this trades opportunity where you could leave high school and do an electrical apprenticeship instead of that. And I just chose that path. I honestly didn’t get out of my way to end up here, but I just took the opportunities I had in front of me. And then I talk about these options to my mom and she mostly says, “You better do that!”. So, I told her also about the competition and she said: “You’re doing it, right?” And I had to say: “I guess I will…”
It’s funny cause a lot of people want to firemen or something like that when they are kids, but I always wanted to be an electrician.
Once I finish my electrical apprenticeship, the first thing I’ll do is take some months of cause it’s been so busy in the past years. And then, I’d like to rather go back to school and do some sort of worldly knowledge stuff. I feel I might have missed some of the things that most university students go through in terms of general knowledge. I’m also very interested in music so now that I have my school and skills, I think I can take some time to broaden my horizon.
But I’m still going to be an electrician.
I totally understand the pressure. It was a big stressor for me too. I feel that just taking the opportunities that come to you is maybe not the best thing you can do, but actually, it’s a good start. A lot of the people I worked with they started as drywallers and they don’t get a lot from what they do but then, you get connections and you start moving and you might end up in a better place. I guess it’s better than not knowing where you’re gonna go and not doing anything.
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