Saturday, September 5, 2009

Calgary Welcomes the World

Sharon Wildwind

This week the 40th World Skills Competition—an olympics of work—is being held in Calgary. When the bus advertisements and billboards with the slogan “Calgary Welcomes the World” started appearing earlier this year, I had no idea what a big deal it was. After I took a look at their site, I decided to take a look at it.

This international competition was started in the 1950s to promote and celebrate labor skills. The competition this year contains six competitive sections: information and communication technology (think computers); creative arts and fashion (things like jewelry, fashion technology, graphic design and floristry); transportation and logistics (cars and airplanes); manufacturing and engineering technology (ranging from computer manufacturing to welding) ; social and personal services (hair dressing, beauty culture, food preparation, and health care) ; and construction and building technologies, which is the largest group with 14 sub-specialists.

Wednesday morning, my husband and I started out in the Landscaping tent, where the first event for teams of landscape gardeners was to lay a perfectly round brick walk path.

One tent over, carpenters built wooden decks; cabinet makers, a most intricate diamond-shaped cabinet, and joiners pieced together a complex trellis arch, which as far as I could see, was all curved pieces and very difficult to fit.

The welding, metal works and sheet metal technology was like walking into Vulcan’s forge. Because looking at welding sparks damage the eyes, a tall black-and-red translucent booth surrounded each contestant. The most we could see was a shadowy figure working in the booth and showers of sparks peering over the top. It was hot, noisy, and spooky. Maybe metalwork won’t be my next career choice.

The event we giggled over when we read the program was IT PC/Network Support. You know, your average system maintenance computer geeks. Watching a silent room full of young men staring at computer screens, how much fun could that be? We decided to take a look at it anyway and it turned out to be . . . a silent room full of young men and women staring at computer screens. What I hadn’t expected was being struck by how intense and methodical those young people were when they worked. From the concentrated scowl on some of their faces, the problem that had been set for them might even be tougher than that intricate cabinet being assembled over in carpentry.

One young Asian man had a piece of the innards of a computer in front of him. I guessed something was wrong with it, and he had to figure out what. Beside him on the table, he’d drawn a colored-pencil drawing of the hardware, labeled each element with neat block printing, and was proceeding to methodically test and describe the condition of each element. He was not only fixing the computer, but also creating a work of art with his drawing.

What struck me at each event was the youth and commitment of all the participants. I thought that if this represents the younger generation, we don’t have anything to worry about.

On our way out of the grounds, we stopped by the try-a-skill tents. The Alberta Ironworkers Local 720 Edmonton and Local 725 Calgary tent was shilled by a twenty-something guy in jeans and a hard hat; he would equally any carney barker. “Come on in, try your hand as an ironworker. What about you, ma’am, have you got what it takes to walk the iron?”

The iron was a steel girder, suspended about six feet off the floor. Heights are not my thing, but he was young and cute and I was not so young but figured I could still take a challenge. So I walked the iron, and now I have the T-shirt to prove it.

We tend to throw this weekend off as the end of summer or the first weekend the kids are back in school. I suggest we find our favorite worker and hug him or her, tell them thank you for the work that they are doing. Even better if we find a young worker, one of those just coming up and tell them thank you for continuing the tradition. Tradespeople of the world, celebrate!
I drew this with my finger on an electronic board. No dry marker, no eraser needed. What will they think of next?


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Too funny about the IT competition! But it sounds like it was a lot more interesting than it could have been.

Technology is moving at such a fast pace...

Mystery Writing is Murder

Julia Buckley said...

Sharon, we have those smart boards at work. They're very neat, although sometimes I prefer the plain old blackboard. Why? If you accidentally bump the smartboard, you have to "realign" it, which is time-consuming.

No problem with that on the board, although I do use powerpoint just as often. :)

Sandra Parshall said...

I wish we could celebrate an upsurge in jobs this weekend, instead of the highest unemployment rate in years. Only when so many workers are unemployed do we realize how important they are to a healthy economy. I'm worried about the future of US workers, but I hope things will be considerably better this time next year.

Anonymous said...

Elizabeth, I think the IT competition was one of those things where you had to be there.

Julia, I didn't know that about smart boards. It sure was fun to play with for a couple of minutes.

Sandra, I agree. I think workers get far less respect in all areas than they deserve, especially in current conditions where the emphasis is on dollar signs instead of on human beings and their families.