YORKTON – The Yorkton Regional High School played host to a Skills Sask Trade and Tech Day Nov. 22.
For the YRHS, the Practical and Applied Arts Department is not just about teaching students practical skills, it's about preparing them for a future that is increasingly reliant on technology and practical skills.
Chad McDowell, the head of the department, and Jayden Leister, the Executive Director for Skills Canada Sask, are leading the charge in this transformative education.
"I oversee and guide all the practical and applied arts classes in the high school," said McDowell in an interview with Yorkton This Week.
McDowell said the school's curriculum is diverse, covering everything from traditional shop type classes like mechanics and construction all the way to cosmetology and cooking as well as tech classes like photography and video.
The school has formed a partnership with Skills Canada, a non-profit organization that promotes tech and trade to youth. "We've basically formed this in partnership with Skills Canada," says McDowell, noting the current executive director of Skills Canada is a former graduate of Yorkton Regional High School.
One of the main goals of these initiatives is to help students see the connection between their high school classes and potential career paths.
"A lot of times you take an automotive technology class ... which we call mechanics ... just the term 'mechanics' you think you're limited to cars and trucks and your basic vehicles and they don't understand that is the same thing as getting into heavy duty mechanics or going into recreational mechanics or aviation technology," explained McDowell.
Skills Canada hosts workshops and competitions at the provincial and national level. "In Canada they host provincial competitions," said Leister, adding, "the winners from those move on to nationals."
In March 2024, there will be a provincial competition in Regina. Gold medallists from this competition will qualify for Team Sask and compete against other provincial teams in Quebec City at the end of May. Last year, three students from Yorkton Regional High School qualified for Team Sask and one of them even won a gold medal.
More than a decade earlier, the current Executive Director for Skills Sask. participated in Skills competitions which culminated in him competing on the international stage.
Leister's journey from electronics student to executive director is a story of dedication and hands-on learning.
"I needed something to help me develop and grow and so I decided to take a PAA Course doing electronics," recalled Leister.
His teacher suggested he try the Skills Canada Robotics competitions, despite having no prior experience with robotics.
"I spent a ton of time here working on robotics stuff for our first year in 2009 and 2010," said Leister.
"In our third year we ended up winning gold at provincials — moving on to the national competition in 2012," said Leister, who went on to win gold at the national level, qualifying him for a spot on Team Canada for the World's Competition where the team placed ninth overall.
"Skills gave me an incredible foundation for my technical skills and then I ended up utilizing all that experience and had a successful career in the Navy as a weapons technician for the last six years."
As a weapons engineering technicians Leister said he learned systems on warships including radar, sonar, communications and the weapons systems.
"Everything I did with learning electrical mechanical systems with robotics set me up super well to work in that environment and that field at a higher level," said Leister.
After his stint in the Navy, Leister jumped at the opportunity to work for Skills Canada when the Executive Director role opened up. "For me it's a dream come true to come back to where is all started and share with these students that they are capable of getting these amazing opportunities just as much as I was," he says.
As Executive Director, Leister oversees outreach programs and competitions across the province.
Leister believes in the effectiveness of Skills Saskatchewan.
"One of our alumni from last year — who spoke this morning at out presentation — he got a job at Pattison Agriculture here in town because there was a General Manager from there who came and saw that he got awarded silver at the National Competition and wanted to offer him a job."
Leister estimates that about 90% of those involved with Skills Canada end up working in some sort of tech or trade-based career.
Through its diverse curriculum and partnerships with organizations like Skills Canada, Yorkton Regional High School is providing students with the practical skills and technological literacy they need to succeed in the future.
"It's all about job creation and making sure you're not falling behind other countries technology-wise or labour-wise," said McDowell.
"There's a huge need for tradespeople and technologists right now, and the need is only going to grow into the future as more people retire in those areas," said Leister.