The Olympics of skills
Imagine being asked to build a five-foot wide, hydraulically-driven conveyor system including all of the component pieces that must be assembled to create a fully functioning machine. Now imagine completing the job in front of 325,000 onlookers, in less than 20 hours and within a margin of error of plus or minus one thousandth of an inch.
That’s the challenge that Peter Lauser will face when he represents Canada at the Worldskills Competition in Sao Paulo, Brazil in August.
“The Worldskills Competition has existed for 62 years,” explains Craig Brazil, a professor and coordinator of the Industrial Mechanic Millwright program at Sheridan and a person who will serve as the Chief Expert for that discipline at the competition this summer. “What’s new is the inclusion of our discipline at this international competition for the first time in history.”
Craig has long been a champion in the field. He’s taught at Sheridan for the past 12 years, after working as an Industrial Mechanic Millwright in industry and education for another 20. He’s been on a tireless, seven-year mission to get industrial mechanic millwright recognized and included as a discipline at the Worldskills event alongside 49 others like hairdressing, brick laying, air craft maintenance, pastry making, landscaping and CNC machining.
Given his deep-seated passion for the field, it’s no wonder that Craig did what few others might when being presented with some disappointing news.
In 2014, Craig’s apprentice Graham Mills won the industrial mechanic millwright competition at Skills Canada, earning the right to represent Canada at Worldskills, should the discipline gain acceptance on the world stage.
But Graham would be too old to compete at the international level in 2015.
The opportunity was given instead to Peter Lauser, an apprentice at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) in Calgary, who finished second at nationals, right behind Graham, in 2014.
Craig had a choice to make. Focus all his energy on serving as Chief Expert – the person who organizes and runs the Industrial Mechanic Millwright competition at Worldskills — or split his time to also work with Peter and help Canada put its best foot forward in Sao Paulo.
Without missing a beat, Craig reached out to Brian Vintinner, an Industrial Millwright Instructor at SAIT who is Peter’s trainer. Craig invited the pair to visit Sheridan’s Skills Training Centre so that Peter could undergo three days of intense training in a program Craig designed especially for him. Peter and Brian happened to be in Ottawa meeting the other members of Team Canada who would be going to Worldskills. The stop at Sheridan would allow Peter to have his work critiqued by two instructors, one from Sheridan and one from SAIT, each of whom is interested in helping him to succeed.
“Urgency is a priority … you’re only given so much time. Building the project is a cumulative process spread out over four days” – Craig Brazil
The Sheridan training regimen included machining, welding, hydraulics, alignment and fabrication – all skills that Peter will need to perform with a high degree of accuracy in Brazil. “Beyond that, we’re trying to teach Peter how to think, how to look at the challenge ahead and plan it out. That’s the real skill,” said Brian. Craig adds, “Urgency is a priority … you’re only given so much time. Building the project is a cumulative process spread out over four days. You also have to be able to handle distraction given the high volume of spectators, noise and strange environment.”
The bulk of Peter’s training happens at SAIT and is coordinated by Brian. To give Peter the range of skills he needs to compete, Brian has co-opted help from three other instructors at SAIT. Like Brian, they are donating their time and the required materials on a voluntary basis to work with Peter outside of their normal teaching hours.
Instructors aren’t the only people who are investing a great deal of time and energy in competition preparation.
Peter is an apprentice industrial mechanic millwright in training with two years left in his education. He currently works full time with FT Services, a contractor to Canadian Natural Resources Limited Horizon in Fort McKay, 800 km north of Calgary. Like many in the industry, he works seven days straight and then has seven days off, during which time he returns to SAIT in the south, to train.
“I think what I like best about competing is that I get to solve the problem that’s in front of me and get to do it in my own way, without anyone looking over my shoulder,” said Peter. He’s also planning on drawing on his “field experience”, having won the provincial skills competition in Alberta in 2013 and 2014. “My strategy is to stay calm, take it day by day, and not get hung up by the small mistakes – especially if they’re something you can’t change.”
“I think what I like best about competing is that I get to solve the problem that’s in front of me and get to do it in my own way, without anyone looking over my shoulder” – Peter Lauser
A total of eight countries have entrants in this new category – Canada, Brazil, New Zealand, Australia, Norway, Holland, Japan and Chinese Taipei.
From Craig’s perspective, Canada has already won, no matter the outcome at the event. “It was Canada that proposed the addition of the Industrial Mechanic Millwright competition at the Worldskills level.” Having the discipline included is validation for the industry, for related training and education programs and for the thousands of people around the world who choose this career path.
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Written by: Christine Szustaczek, Vice President, External Relations at Sheridan.
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