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Thousands of students attend 13th annual Options Skilled Trades Fair in Pembroke

By Sean Chase, The Daily Observer

A small army of enterprising high school students invaded the floor of the Pembroke Memorial Centre Thursday to show off their talents during the 13th annual Options Skilled Trades Fair.

The day-long exhibition attracted 220 senior high school students from across Renfrew County to participate in skills competitions ranging from team carpentry to hairstyling. While they were busy at work, some 2,000 of their friends looked on while also learning what kind of trades jobs are available.

One of Eastern Ontario's largest skilled trades fairs, the Options venue generates the competitive juices in the students but more importantly it encourages youth to consider the trades as a career path on par with college or university. This aspect was pointed out by Pembroke Mayor Mike LeMay during the official opening ceremony.

“As a retired educator, I appreciate the many benefits of having interactive career fairs for students,” said LeMay, a former vice-principal of Fellowes and Champlain high schools. “They are very powerful tools to help inform young people of the benefits of working in the skilled trades.”

With labour market statistics showing evidence of a shortage of workers in many skilled trades, the Options experience helps frame what it is like to be a person working in the trades. Trustee Wendy Hewitt, vice-chairwoman of the Renfrew County District School Board, credited the venue with channelling her son into the construction program at Algonquin College. Last year he was on the Fellowes team that assembled a complete outdoor shed from scratch.

“Trades are hugely needed all across Ontario with 50 per cent of our tradespeople retiring,” said Hewitt.

As students draw closer to Grade 12 and the precipice of the post-secondary world, many feel the pressure to decide on a future pursuit grow more and more. That is the case for Opeongo High School's Abbie Howard. She and her classmates were feverishly re-landscaping the flower beds outside the PMC's entrance. Their project was to include a dry river bed representing the Laurentian Mountains, complete with limestone to represent the Ottawa River. Abbie said there is only so much information that can be gained by interviews with a guidance counsellor.

“Events like this show what kind of jobs are out there and if you went into that profession what it would be like,” explained the Grade 11 student.

For Fellowes High School student Devon Fischer, Options is a chance to explore the potential job market when it comes to being employed as an electrician, a field he is seriously considering.

“I would like to have a basic knowledge about that trade,” said Devon, whose team was working on the construction of a picnic table. “It will look pretty good. We might not win but we're just coming out for fun.”

Options exposes the students to interactive displays hosted by perspective employers where they can try things like painting, dry walling, using power tools or using mortar to build a brick wall. The fun comes in the form of a competition involving 15 stands. The contest includes tests of skills including welding, small engine repair, fashion and design, hairstyling, cake decorating, culinary, nail art and tire changing.

“This is a great opportunity for kids who take trades classes to get out and apply their skills in a practical setting,” said Gary Serviss, a teacher and co-op program supervisor at Valour K-12 School. “To make it a competition is even better.”

In one corner of the arena, some of Serviss' students were on the clock to fry up an omelette followed by a serving of eggs Benedict with hollandaise sauce. After hours of practice in the classroom and appearances at Canadore and Algonquin colleges, the team of Madison Brough and Sarrah Lane relished at the chance to put on a culinary clinic.

“This is our third competition so we're ready,” said Sarrah.

“I think I might want to be a restaurant chef someday,” added Madison.

Options Skilled Trades Fair was sponsored by Canadian Nuclear Laboratories, Renfrew County Community Futures Development Corporation, Home Depot and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. It was hosted by Algonquin College and the four school boards in Renfrew County in partnership with the City of Pembroke.

Sean Chase is a Daily Observer multimedia journalist

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