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Options Fair marks 15-year milestone

By Sean Chase, The Daily Observer


Renfrew County high school students celebrated a great milestone as one of the province's largest skilled trades fairs marked 15 years Wednesday.

More than 200 young entrepreneurs took over the floor of the Pembroke Memorial Centre to demonstrate their considerable talents during the 15th edition of the Options Skilled Trades Fair. During the opening ceremony, Pembroke Mayor Mike LeMay called the event one of the most important that the city has ever hosted.

“As a former educator, I truly enjoy watching the young people demonstrate their talent in the skills competitions and I firmly believe in the need to expose more of our students to opportunities within the skilled trades,” said LeMay. “Anything we can do to support young people and connect them to the local labour market is a benefit to helping us create a strategy to engage youth in careers that are facing skills shortages.”

To symbolize the impact that Options has had over the past 15 years, five former Options competitors, Kyle Lindley, Matt Sharpe, Brittany Arsenault, Heather Angus and Logan Harris, were invited to join the mayor for the official opening – the sawing of a board. The event also welcomed back some of the organizers who were involved when Options first started at the Petawawa Civic Centre before moving to Pembroke. That group included Fred Blackstein, Rick Klatt, Derek Tolhurst, Glen McGillvrary, Pam Duplessis and Mark Reinert.

The day-long exhibition attracted senior high school students from up and down the county to participate in 16 skills competitions ranging from team carpentry and automotive to hairstyling and nail art. While they were busy at work, a large crowd of 2,000 students wandered though the arena hoping to gauge what trades jobs are out there.

“It's more of a competitive environment,” said Fellowes High School student Todd Peters, who was waiting to engage in the culinary arts competition. “This gives you a chance to see what a restaurant feels like.”

As Eastern Ontario's largest skilled trades fairs, 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. Students were tested in welding, small engine repair, fashion and design, hairstyling, cake decorating, culinary, nail art and tire changing. This was the first time that Fellowes' Drew Vereyken competed at Options in culinary in which a two-student team was handed a dish to prepare in a limited amount of time.

“It gives us a sense of working together with others and working as a team,” said Drew, who is finishing Grade 12 this year. “This was a day well spent.”

Nearby, Hayleigh Crosby, a Grade 12 student from Valour High School, was waiting to find out if she would be tasked to bake a cake for a babyshower, wedding and engagement. She noted that the value of the Options event cannot be measured.

“Seeing the decline in the participation in skilled trades, we really need an event to get youth interested and Options is definitely the way to do it,” said Hayleigh. Her friend and fellow Voyageur, Renee St. Cyr, agreed adding that Options also reminds students of the programs within their own high school that can set them on potential career paths.

“It helps build these programs,” said Renee. “It shows you the more options that the high schools offer. It's a good way to develop some skills that you might not get.”

Options was sponsored by Canadian Nuclear Laboratories, Renfrew County Community Futures Development Corporation and Eastern Ontario Development Program, the Partnering to Articulate for Students Success, Home Depot, the Forest Products Association of Canada and the Ministry of Natural Resources. It was hosted through the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP) by Algonquin College and the four school boards in Renfrew County in partnership with the City of Pembroke.


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