Each province and territory sends its best high-school and post-secondary students to compete in the Skills Canada National Competition.
This year, out of a possible 26 competitors in welding, Jaslynn Menton was the only female.
“I thought there’d be more girls,” said the 16-year-old, who competed in Halifax this week. “I’m hoping more girls will see me in skills and hopefully do welding.”
Menton, who attends St Patrick High School in Yellowknife, has spent the past month putting in three hours of practice each day. She would weld from 8am to 9am each morning before school, and then after school she was back at it from 3:30pm to 5:30pm.
She said she stumbled into the trade by accident when she had a spare class to fill in Grade 10 and “was kind-of just forced into it – and then I liked it.”
At the territorial competition in Yellowknife in early May, Menton beat out the competition to earn a spot on Team NT as a welder for nationals.
Chatting after two straight days of welding over May 28-29, she reflected on her time at the competition.
“It was a lot of fun, [but] kind of stressful,” she said, “But I had a lot of fun just doing welding and doing my thing.”
On day one, Menton had to make a miniature lighthouse. On day two, she made a box that tested different welds.
Lighthouse made by students in Halifax. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio
Her coach, Doug Wourms, is the welding instructor at St Pat’s. He is also a national technical chair for welding for Skills Canada, and was in Halifax for the competition.
“She’s the only female in a male-dominated competition,” he said. “But when she gets in there … she looked at the drawings and what she had to fabricate and then she was comfortable, because she did practise the same thing back in Yellowknife.
“She settled in and realized that she’s not any different than anybody else here and that she can put it together and weld just as good as anybody else.
“She just didn’t get nervous and didn’t let anything bother her.”
While Menton battled it out, other members of Team NT looked on as part of an observer program – designed to set up the territory’s students for success in future years.
Magen Rabesca is the best secondary-school baker in the Northwest Territories, winning gold at territorials, but the Grade 10 student from Wekweètì didn’t feel quite ready to compete at nationals.
Instead, she came as an observer.
The Northwest Territories may be the only delegation to send student delegates to observe at nationals, in the hope it better prepares them to succeed later.
“For sure I’m going to sign up again for next year,” said Rabesca. “I really want to come again [and] experience more things.”
She was joined by Lexie Rosilius, the principal of Alexis Arrowmaker School in Wekweètì.
“It’s a really unique opportunity for kids,” said Rosilius of the observer opportunity.
“And it gives them the ability to prepare because coming from the Territories, you’re not always ready and you’re not prepared for such a large competition.”
Wekweètì is home to just 130 people – and there were over 550 competitors in over 40 trades, plus thousands of high school students and chaperones, family members, and officials at the competition.
“But just to be able to say, ‘No, you’re not ready, but let’s get you ready by bringing you here’ is a wonderful opportunity,” Rosilius said.
Rabesca has her sights set on the 2020 national competition, which will be held in Vancouver.
“I’m going to keep baking, all day, every day,” she said of her plans to prepare.
Showing ‘extreme promise’
“That’s the goal, to get them to be able to compete nationally and have that experience as a competitor one day,” said Skills Canada NWT’s executive director, Ali Kincaid.
Kincaid highlighted Kaylin Harder of Inuvik, who attended last year as a delegate observer and is back again this year as Team NT’s fashion technology competitor.
“She got to chat with technical committee of the fashion technology competition to see what exactly was involved at this competition level,” said Kincaid.
“It really helped to motivate her and ensure that this is something she could do if she went home and practised, and prepared, and worked hard.
“This year, she’s here as a competitor: she’s doing very well, she’s extremely confident, she’s very happy, she doesn’t feel overwhelmed at all.”
Harder spent her time as an observer not only talking to the technical committee, but also to the competitors and their coaches about what skills she should practise for the national competition.
“Observing the competition and being in it are two very different experiences,” said Harder.
“So I’m still learning, but I’m feeling pretty confident about my designs.”
Kaylin Harder competes in 2019’s territorials in Yellowknife. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio
For students from smaller communities, said Kincaid, experiencing the competition without having to compete can take away some of the stress when they return as competitors.
Kincaid said Skills Canada NWT would like to further develop the program. Interested students should first sign up for territorials and then make their interest known if they want to continue on to nationals.