Fort Simpson's self-taught Skills Canada stars

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When Daniel Manalo turned up to Skills Canada territorials last month, he forgot his camera. It didn't stop him winning gold.

The 18-year-old, self-taught in photography, banished all memory of his Canon and gratefully borrowed a Nikon from leading Yellowknife photographer Angela Gzowski, who was on-site capturing the event.

Using Gzowski's camera, Manalo – who doesn’t use Photoshop either, calling it "too complicated" – scored a spot on Team NT at nationals in Halifax.

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While he didn’t win a medal at the national competition last week, he did take home the “best of region” award for Team NT, which is given to each province or territory’s top-scoring competitor.

Manalo doesn’t have any formal training as his trade isn’t offered as a course, inside or outside school, in his community.

He fell into the hobby with some help from his older brother. He is also naturally talented, according to judges at both the territorial and national competitions.

At nationals, each province and territory sends their top competitor to compete in more than 40 different trades and technologies. Team NT sent just over 20 students and apprentices to compete at secondary and post-secondary level this year.

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Unlike larger centres, the territory doesn’t always have the resources or the capacity to offer training and support in every skill. Youth are up against students who attend polytechnic high schools and have the opportunity to hone their skills for hours a day.

But that doesn’t stop people like Manalo and his classmate, Branden Jumbo, who have simply worked hard on their own, from giving the other participants some stiff competition.

Manalo’s photography challenges at nationals included incorporating a mystery image into a photo, submitting a raw photo with no editing allowed, and producing a composite image.

“I really struggled on that one because I didn’t know I was expected to be able to use Photoshop,” he said of the last challenge.

But he made it work: “I was going back and forth on YouTube and Photoshop.”

Despite the challenges, Manalo had a great time at the competition.

“It’s pretty awesome,” he said.

Learning on the land

Jumbo learned about small engine repair while on the land – and that was enough to make it to Halifax, competing in the outdoor power and recreation equipment category.

“We would go in the bush for quite some time and a couple of times the machine broke down,” he explained.

Branden Jumbo works on a task for outdoor power and recreation equipment at the Skills Canada National Competition. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio

Branden Jumbo at Skills Canada nationals. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio

Jumbo was just a kid, and he didn’t know what to do, but the Elders he was with did.

“I just started watching them. I started listening in and observing and I just picked it up over the years and I got it,” he said.

The 18-year-old plans to apply for an apprenticeship to become a heavy-duty mechanic.

Funding for Skills Clubs

“It is extremely impressive that those two joined us at territorials and did very, very well at territorials – well enough to join us here at the national competition,” said Ali Kincaid, the executive director of Skills Canada NWT.

She said while not every school has the resources of schools in Yellowknife or southern Canada, her organization has money set aside to fund Skills Clubs – extracurricular clubs run by teachers or community volunteers who have some knowledge in a skill area.

“A lot of them tend to actually learn along with the kids,” said Kincaid.

Skills Canada NWT funding can help purchase equipment and supplies, or bring in experts.

“So while it's great to see those Daniels and Brandens out there, we hope to be able to help find them coaching and find them some resources," said Kincaid.

"Then, when they do come up against some things that they don't know, we can help them find the answers and get better.”

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