The judges are in place. The clock is ticking. The best in the world have come to Canada to compete. No, it’s not the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. It’s Worldskills 2009 in Calgary. And next to the winter games, it might be one of the most logistically complicated events being organized in Canada today.
Worldskills 2009, September 1-7, is an international competition showcasing young professionals in trades and technology-related careers. Held every two years, the competition (formerly the Skill Olympics) sets world-class standards in 45 categories ranging from welding and landscape gardening to cooking and web design.
The 40th WorldSkills Competition will bring 1,000 competitors between the ages of 17 and 22 to Calgary to test themselves against tough international standards to prove they are the best in the world. Representing Canada will be 38 of our top professionals, participating in 35 competition areas.
“The WorldSkills Competition is part of a global movement to develop, recognize and inspire young people in the skilled professions,” said Richard Walker, president of WorldSkills Calgary 2009 Ltd., the organizing committee leading the event. “The competition has established itself as the premier showcase for young skilled professionals and we’re excited to have the event come to Calgary.”
The event is the largest international competition held in Calgary since the 1988 Olympic Winter Games, and marks the second time Canada has hosted the competition; the first was in Montréal in 1999.
In addition to the competitors, WorldSkills 2009 is expected to bring more than 150,000 spectators to the city, including students, parents, policy makers, media, employers, teachers, trainers and experts from around the world. “With this large number of visitors come tourist dollars and long-lasting economic benefits to the city,” said Walker. “We estimate more than $82 million will come into Calgary.”
Walker is working with WorldSkills International, Skills/Compétences Canada, and Skills Canada Alberta to coordinate the event. Along with numerous sponsors and suppliers, funding partners include the Government of Canada, the Government of Alberta and The City of Calgary.
The Alberta government, the event’s largest financial supporter, is investing $24 million to cover planning and hosting costs of the competition, the purchase of equipment that will be used during the competition, and an apprenticeship and education awareness program.
Following the event, the equipment will be distributed to secondary and post-secondary schools as a legacy of WorldSkills 2009, said Walker. Equipment and supplies will also be donated to organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, food shelters and other non-profit organizations. Besides falling within the mandate of Alberta Advanced Education and Technology and Alberta Education, the event also is supported by Alberta Employment and Immigration.
“We understand the importance of promoting careers in the skilled professions,” said Shirley Howe, Deputy Minister for Alberta Employment and Immigration. “WorldSkills 2009 is an excellent opportunity to showcase some of Canada’s most skilled young people and the quality of our training in trades and technology-related fields. We hope the competition and other parts of the event will encourage more people to choose trades and technology-related careers because of the many opportunities they offer.”
The goal of the event is also to encourage more businesses that depend on skilled workers to invest in Canada, Howe added.
If enrolment increases following the competition held in Finland in 2005 are an indication of what to expect in Alberta, the spin-off could be very positive, said Walker. “After Helsinki held the games, the city saw a 10 percent increase in enrolment in vocational schools in the first year, and another 10 percent in the following two years.”
The Government of Canada is committing $13.4 million through its Youth Awareness initiative. Youth Awareness activities are delivered by employers, employer associations and organizations to respond to the changing needs of the labour market and encourage communities to recognize youth as an important part of the workforce. Initiatives that are part of this funding for WorldSkills are designed to expand awareness of the shortages of labour in certain skilled trades sectors and improve opportunities for youth living in smaller, rural communities where jobs and employment services are more difficult to find.
Organizers are also excited about having the spotlight on Calgary. “Host cities are continually raising the bar, and the competition is becoming bigger and better each time,” said Walker. “We want to build on the success of previous events, and make the Calgary competition the new benchmark for future competitions.”
WorldSkills 2009 will also include opening and closing ceremonies, a World Leaders’ Forum, and a Global Skills Village. Students will be able to take part in Try-A-Skill Demonstrations, which provide a hands-on look at some of the most in-demand occupations. There will also be a Learning Opportunities and Career Pathways Showcase, featuring more than 100 trade and technology focused employers, partners and educational institutions to provide career advice to students.
With just over six months until the competition, preparation is in full swing. There are many people involved and many things to consider to ensure the event runs smoothly. Organizers have accumulated a few tips for hosting such an event:
- Start planning early. “When Calgary won the bid, planning for the event started immediately,” said Walker. A team of volunteers was recruited to sit on the board of directors and staff was hired. Stampede Park was chosen as the location for the event and dates were put in place.
- Look at past events. The first WorldSkills Competition was held almost 60 years ago in Spain. Other host countries include Switzerland, Korea, Ireland, Finland and the U.K. When organizing an event, it helps to look back at previous events and talk to previous organizers to see what went well and where there may be room for improvement. After winning the bid, a group from WorldSkills Calgary 2009 attended the competition in Japan in 2007 to get a better idea of what to expect.
- Create a plan. A plan provides a step-by-step guide to organizing and executing a special event. It is an outline of goals for each part of the event, and may include a list of tasks and who will be responsible for each area. “For WorldSkills 2009, a plan was developed early and continues to be an important guide for organizers,” said Walker.
- Look for sponsors early in the planning stages. Sponsors can be an important part of hosting a special event, especially one the size of WorldSkills 2009. Sponsors may include government partners, large or small companies, and individuals. The largest funding partners include the Canadian, Alberta and Calgary governments, but Cisco Systems, Festo, Fluke Corporation, Draka, Fluke Networks, Autodesk and Samsung have signed on as Global Sponsors to provide further funding, as have numerous other suppliers and businesses. “Hosting a competition as large as WorldSkills is a major undertaking and it would not be possible without the support of government partners and other sponsors,” said Walker.
- Recruit volunteers. The event requires thousands of volunteers, including 750 skills-specific and trade-certified individuals to support the set-up, execution and tear down, and 2,500+ volunteers for general operations, information technology, hosting, administration, and security to help make the event the best it can be. A 20-member volunteer board of directors and a six-member board of advisors have a