Skills Ontario 2009 Retrospective

I wanted to go into the details of the Skills Ontario competition that I attended in early May 2009, and go over the entire experience. It has been 15 years since I competed at the Skills Ontario competition. The Skills Ontario competition was on Tuesday May 5, 2009, at the RIM Park and Manulife Financial Sportsplex in Waterloo, Ontario. I won first place in the IT and Network Support competition which qualified me for Skills Canada in late May 2009, which I also attended.

It has been 15 years since I went to this competition, and I have written some background information on how I became involved in the competition in the first place. I have also written a follow-up on my experience at the Skills Canada competition that happened a few weeks later in May 2009.

Table Of Contents

Disclaimer

This is not a post describing in-depth details on the Skills Ontario or Skills Canada competition and how to win those competitions. This post is just describing my experience with Skills Ontario and Skills Canada, and the events leading up to the event and everything that happened afterwards. This also happened 15 years ago, nothing that I could say is no longer relevant as the competitions have changed since then.

All information that I discuss or reference in this post is based on information that can be found on the Skills Ontario and Skills Canada website. All documents that I link to that are related to those competitions are the property of Skills Ontario and Skills Canada. They have not been modified in any way.

What is Skills Ontario?

Skills Ontario is a non-profit organization that promotes careers in the skilled trades and technology fields. The mission statement for Skills Ontario is simple:

To champion and stimulate the development of world-class technological and employability skills in Ontario youth.

They do this by hosting an annual competition in over 70 different fields, which is used to showcase the different trades that you can get into by attending post-secondary schools. There are many competitions that are hosted by Skills Ontario every year, and there are secondary and post-secondary competition scopes in many different fields. I competed in the IT and Network Support (Post Secondary) competition which sent students from several different colleges in Ontario.

What is the IT and Network Competition?

On a high-level, the competition was basically a day-long practical examination in networking and server administration. The purpose of the competition was:

To evaluate each competitor’s skills and to recognize outstanding competitors for excellence and professionalism in the field of IT and network support.

It was actually a great way to bookend my college program, as it included everything that I had learned during my time there. This applied to the other competitors from the other colleges as well, as their programs were mostly similar.

There were six major components in the competition, and they included the following categories and grading:

  1. Hardware Setup and Configuration (5%)
  2. Networking Setup and Configuration (20%)
  3. Windows Server Administration (35%)
  4. Linux Server Administration (25%)
  5. Windows and Linux Scripting (10%)
  6. Job Interview (5%)

Everything was timed during the competition, and there were milestones during the exam to ensure that you were on track to finish by the end of the day. If you started to get too far behind, then you would be forced to move onto the next section. The job interview component was done at random times and took around 15 minutes to complete. At the time I thought it was an unnecessary component, but in hindsight it was smart that the organizers included it.

Skills Ontario Preparation

Even though I had over six weeks between the end of my classes on March 20, 2009, and the end of my placement on May 1, 2009, I didn’t have much time to prepare for the competition. The program coordinator that asked me to go to the competition sent me a link to the competition scope which was available on the Skills Ontario website, so that I had something to reference so I could preparing and studying for the competition. I did write my resume ahead of time as I needed it for my placement, and it was also needed for the competition as there was a job interview component.

There was a cabling component to the competition, and the IT department at the college was nice enough to donate me a box of extra CAT 5E cabling so I could practice. I had done cabling in the three years that I was in college, but I had never had to do it in a hurry, so I made sure to practice ahead of the competition.

During those few weeks until the competition I was spending my time doing my placement, which was an 8 to 5 job, and I was also working on weekends as a lab monitor at the college. I had previously worked as a student proctor at The Glenn Crombie Centre, which ended when I finished my last class at the college. As a side note, I really liked that job, it was quite rewarding. I met a lot of interesting people and in the process, I indirectly learned a lot about disabilities that people have that are not immediately obvious and how they affect learning.

I spent all my free time going through the competition scope to ensure that I was ready. The competition scope just gave an overview on what would be covered but did not go into specifics.

When my time at college came to an end, going to the competition was a hectic few days for me. In a six-day period the following things all happened:

  • I finished my college program on Friday.
  • I said goodbye to my friends in Sudbury on Saturday.
  • I packed up and moved back home on Sunday.
  • I drove to Waterloo on Monday.
  • I competed in the Skills Ontario competition on Tuesday.
  • I attended the Skills Ontario awards ceremony on Wednesday and drove home right after.

It wasn’t until everything was finished that I had time to really take it all in. That was short-lived since I had to fly to PEI less than two weeks later for the Skills Canada competition.

Skills Ontario Competition

The Day Before the Competition (May 4, 2009)

I drove to Waterloo on May 4 to meet with one of my teachers, and a student from second year who was also competing with me in the same competition. It was common for participating colleges to send two students to compete, and they almost always sent a second-year and third-year student.

The college was kind enough to put us all up at a hotel for two nights, otherwise the drive would have been a nightmare on the day of the competition (Waterloo was a 3-hour drive for me). That day went by quickly, we all went out for dinner and went over everything to make sure that we were ready. We had to be at the competition site early the next day for registration, and to go over the rules and guidelines.

The Day of the Competition (May 5, 2009)

The day started at 6am for us. We quickly checked that we had everything that we needed, and then went out for breakfast before heading over to the competition venue. The day started at 7am with registration with the Skills Ontario organizers, and we then went over to our area (I have photos below from a different year) to meet with the judges, and do a short orientation.

The judges were very professional and laid out the rules for the competition before we started. We were allowed to ask questions if we weren’t sure about something, but it was the judge’s discretion on how they answered the questions and what they were willing to tell us. Competitors were also required to document everything that they did during the competition, and if something was not documented correctly then there was a chance it wouldn’t be graded.

The competition was done using several workstations with VMware, and with Cisco networking equipment. At the time there was no Packet Tracer at the competition, the networking components were completely hands on. What the organizers ended up doing was providing something like a CCNA kit that had several routers (2600 series) and switches (2960 series) for completing the networking components of the competition. We did use a Linksys WiFi router (some variation of the WRT54G), since Cisco Wireless LAN Controllers (WLC) and access points were extremely cost prohibitive, and to this day are complicated to setup and configure. Wireless was just a small part of the exam.

The competition focused on knowing the material, but also documenting the process correctly and paying attention to small details. The judges were also very strict about keeping your work area clean and organized. There were a lot of cables hanging over desks and it was a safety issue to have those cables all over the floor.

The competition day happened so fast that I was not really worried about the other competitors while I was working. I didn’t pay much attention to them at all, the event floor was setup in such a way that there was no way to see what they were even doing. I was aware that my colleague from my program was also there, but he was placed on the opposite end of our area. During our lunch break I didn’t talk to him at all, or any of the other competitors. Oddly enough, the lunch break was the most stressful part of the competition, because you couldn’t do anything for an hour and there was really nothing to do.

The day was extremely hectic, and it was over so quickly that at the time I was in disbelief on how quickly the day went by. At 5pm it was done, and I left the venue. I kept going over everything until the last minute to make sure that I completed everything as much as I possibly could.

We all went out for dinner afterwards and I was so tired that I didn’t really have much to say. I talked with the other student from my college to go over how we did, and I think we aligned on most of the competition tasks. At that point it was just a waiting game until the closing ceremony.

The Day After the Competition (May 6, 2009)

The closing ceremony was the next day at the Waterloo Memorial Recreation Complex, which was also in Waterloo, Ontario. I remember taking what I thought was the longest drive ever to the closing ceremony. I had absolutely no idea what to expect.

When they got to the IT and Network Support (Post Secondary) competition, I was extremely nervous. They called the third place and second place winners, and it wasn’t me. I think for those moments I wasn’t even breathing. All I thought was that I blew it, I didn’t win, I didn’t even get into the top three. The announcer then called my name for first place, and I was so shocked that I just stood up and looked at my teacher and he kept waving at me to go up to the stage. It was a weird day for me.

Results

The year of the Skills Ontario competition I came in first place in the IT and Network Support (Post Secondary) competition, and the other student from my program came in fifth place.

There were nine students total that year from six different colleges competing that year:

Ranking College
1 Cambrian College of Applied Arts and Technology
2 Algonquin College of Applied Arts and Technology
3 Mohawk College of Applied Arts and Technology
4 Algonquin College of Applied Arts and Technology
5 Cambrian College of Applied Arts and Technology
6 Durham College of Applied Arts and Technology
7 St. Clair College of Applied Arts and Technology
8 Humber Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning
9 Humber Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning

Skills Ontario gives out medals for the top three winners (gold, silver, and bronze), so I technically won gold in my competition. I still have my medals from Skills Ontario and Skills Canada, and here is the gold medal that I won at the Skills Ontario competition:

Skills Ontario 2009 Gold Medal. OTSC stands for Ontario Technical Skills Competition.

In a crazy, it’s a small world situation, I ended up working at the same company with another competitor for a short time. We didn’t compete in the same year, but while I was going through everything for this post, I realized that I worked with someone who also competed in the IT and Network Support competition. We never directly worked together as he was in a different department at the company, but it was a crazy coincidence and I wish I had known it at the time.

What Were the Next Steps?

By winning first place in the competition, I immediately qualified for the Skills Canada competition that was happening later in May 2009.

When the question came up if I would go, I obviously said yes. I will talk more about that experience in the follow-up post about Skills Canada.

Future Skills Ontario Events

In 2018 and 2019 I volunteered as a judge at the event in the same competition, although it has been renamed to the IT Network Systems Administration competition. This time the event was held at the Toronto Congress Centre in Etobicoke, Ontario.

I couldn’t take any photos prior to or after the competition in 2009. I ended up leaving my phone at the hotel room as I simply didn’t need it. One of the biggest issues that I had with Skills Ontario was that as a competitor, there was no opportunity to see the event as it happens. You are so focused on what you are doing, and you can’t just walk around. I thought that during the lunch break we would be able to walk around, but I realized afterwards that we couldn’t do that as to keep the other competitors from talking to each other.

Years later, I took a lot of photos while I was at the Skills Ontario event in 2018 and 2019, some of which can be found below:

Skills Ontario 2018 Competition. IT Network Systems Administration competition area.

Skills Ontario 2018 Competition. IT Network Systems Administration competition area.

Skills Ontario 2018 Competition. IT Network Systems Administration competition area.

Skills Ontario 2018 Competition. Powerline technician area.

Skills Ontario 2019 Competition. IT Network Systems Administration competition area.

Skills Ontario 2019 Competition. IT Network Systems Administration competition area.

Skills Ontario 2019 Competition. IT Network Systems Administration competition area.

Skills Ontario 2019 Competition. Just a random small aircraft inside the venue.

The event in 2020 was cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. I did volunteer in 2021 when the competition was held remotely, and that competition utilized Azure for the first time.

Unfortunately, I haven’t had the opportunity to volunteer since due to work and family commitments. It is something that I intend to revisit in the future as things get less busy for me.

Cambrian College Skills Ontario Results

I wanted to highlight the results of the Skills Ontario competition for students in the CETY program at Cambrian College. In the process of putting this post together I ended up going over all the previous results, and I expanded that to include everything that occurred after I had competed at Skills Ontario in the IT and Network Support competition.

Overall, Cambrian College has completely dominated the IT and Network Support competition at Skills Ontario over a two-decade period:

Skills Ontario Competition Year Student # 1 Student # 2 Competitors
2005 Results1 Silver 7th Place 9
2006 Results2 Gold 5th Place 8
2007 Results3 Gold Silver 4
2008 Results Gold Bronze 6
2009 Results4 Gold 5th Place 9
2010 Results Silver Bronze 9
2011 Results Gold Bronze 7
2012 Results 4th Place 6th Place 6
2013 Results Silver 4th Place 9
2014 Results Gold 4th Place 9
2015 Results Gold Bronze 13
2016 Results Gold 6th Place 13
2017 Results 7th Place 8th Place 13
2018 Results Bronze 4th Place 15
2019 Results Silver 8th Place 13
2020 Results5 N/A N/A N/A
2021 Results6 N/A N/A 6
2022 Results7 N/A N/A 5
2023 Results8 10th Place 15th Place 16
2024 Results9 7th Place N/A 18

Since 2005 there have been 17 post-secondary institutions that have competed in the IT and Network Support competition at Skills Ontario. Students from Cambrian College have won the most medals overall, and have won first place the most times by a wide margin:

Post-Secondary Institution Gold Medals Silver Medals Bronze Medals Total
Algonquin College 1 2 2 5
Cambrian College 8 5 5 18
Canadore College 0 0 1 1
Centennial College 1 4 2 7
Conestoga College 0 0 1 1
Durham College 4 4 3 11
Fanshawe College 1 0 1 2
Humber College 0 1 1 2
Loyalist College 0 0 0 0
Mohawk College 0 0 1 1
Niagara College 0 0 0 0
Northern College 0 0 0 0
Seneca College 0 0 0 0
Sheridan College 0 0 0 0
St. Clair College 3 3 3 9
St. Lawrence College 0 0 0 0
Waterloo Networks Inc. 0 0 0 0

I have no issue highlighting how well Cambrian College has done at the Skills Ontario competition. I am their biggest fan, and I will always point out how well they do.

Skills Ontario Legacy

I believe that Skills Ontario is doing a phenomenal job in what it has set out to do. I am extremely grateful that I was able to experience everything from the competition, and I will never say a negative thing about the organization. As stated above, I have volunteered as a judge three times, because I wanted to get involved.

I am also grateful with the support that Cambrian College provided to me for the competition. I had the good fortune of having the best teachers that I could have asked for in college. I would not be where I am today without their guidance and support.


  1. First year that Cambrian College sent students to the Skills Ontario competition. ↩︎

  2. First year that Cambrian College qualified for the Skills Canada competition. ↩︎

  3. First year that Cambrian College students won both first and second place in the same competition. ↩︎

  4. First year that Cambrian College sent more than one student to the Skills Canada competition. ↩︎

  5. The Skills Ontario competition was cancelled due to COVID-19. ↩︎

  6. Virtual Skills Ontario Competition. Cambrian College sent no competitors to this event. ↩︎

  7. In-person Skills Ontario competition. Cambrian College sent no competitors to the IT Network Systems Administration competition. ↩︎

  8. Most competitors that Cambrian College has ever sent to Skills Ontario (28 competitors in 15 competitions). ↩︎

  9. Cambrian College only sent one student for the IT Network Systems Administration competition. This year also featured the most competitors in that specific competition. ↩︎

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