Interested in trying out robots or learning to weld? How about building a hovercraft? People taking in the Skills Canada National Competition this week will not only be able to watch skilled competitors, but will also be able to try their hand at various trades.

Hundreds of young skilled trades and technology specialists will be flocking to Saskatoon to compete in the ultimate trades challenge. The Skills Canada National Competition is a multi-trade and technology competition for students and apprentices. More than 500 young people from across the country will participate in over 40 skilled trades and technology contests. And thousands of students will get a chance to tour the competition and see trades in action. The competition promotes trades and technology careers to young Canadians so they can get a taste of what the industry is all about.

“It profiles excellence in skilled trades and technology careers, much as other competitions do with high-level academics and athletics,” says Shaun Thorson, CEO of Skills Competences Canada. “It reinforces the decisions these young people have made in choosing a career in trades and technology. It provides a network for young people to connect with industry professionals that can lead to future employment.”

This year’s competition is being held May 27-30 in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Thorson says Saskatoon is a great place to hold this year’s competition because the city’s diverse economy has created many jobs for trades and technology workers. Al Gabert, executive director of Skills Canada Saskatchewan, says there is a shortage of skilled trades and technology workers in the province, especially in welding and mining, as well as hospitality in northern Saskatchewan.

“It doesn’t seem to matter where you go or what field you’re in. Whether you’re an electrician or a welder, a bricklayer or a cook, there’s always jobs,” he says. Gabert attributes this to a strong provincial economy and the provincial government’s promotion of trade and investment.

“Our economy has been growing for several years, and it just seems like you can’t keep up (when it comes to employees). I talk to people in the industry and they often can’t find enough employees.”

Gabert encourages young people to pursue a career in the trades and shares two ways of getting trained. The first is through the main trades training provider in the province: Saskatchewan Polytechnic. There are four main campuses located in Prince Albert, Saskatoon, Moose Jaw and Regina. Students can enroll in the pre-employment program, and counsellors will help them find which area suits them best.

The second is an apprenticeship program through an employer, which is the path to becoming a certified journeyperson. Apprentices are paid for on-the-job training and spend a certain amount of time at technical training each year while working toward their journeyperson certification. The majority of Saskatchewan apprentices work in Red Seal trades. Red Seal is the national standard of excellence for skilled trades in Canada, and at the end of training, apprentices write the interprovincial journeyperson exam. Consistently, more Saskatchewan apprentices pass the Red Seal exam than the Canadian average of apprentices.

“This is an avenue for young people who are looking for an opportunity to work and train at the same time. It gives them an avenue to get into the employment world faster, yet gives them the necessary skills,” Gabert says.

He says the skills competition is a great way for people who are interested in the trades and technology industry to learn and connect. It takes place in Saskatoon at Prairieland Park May 27-30 and is free to the public.