Skills Canada 2009 Retrospective

After writing about the Skills Ontario competition I also wanted to go into the details of the Skills Canada competition that I attended in late May 2009, and go over the entire experience. It has been 15 years since I attended and competed in the Skills Canada competition. The Skills Canada competition was a week-long experience, starting on May 19, 2009, and ending on May 23, 2009, at various locations in Charlottetown, PEI. I won first place in the IT and Network Support competition, making me the first student from Cambrian College to win in that competition. On top of that I was also the first student from Cambrian College to ever win gold at Skills Canada in any competition.

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 also talked about what got me to Skills Canada in my post about the Skills Ontario competition that I wrote about a few weeks ago.

I am not sure what the reason is, but Skills Canada does not keep a good record of past events. Finding information is quite difficult and I am not sure why Skills Canada does not keep a proper archive of their previous events. I kept everything from the 2009 Skills Canada event when I was involved with the competition, which was a good decision at the time as most of those documents and media files are no longer available. Fortunately, I was able to find most of the remaining information that I needed for this post using the Wayback Machine.

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 Canada?

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

To encourage and support a coordinated Canadian approach to promoting skilled careers in trades and technologies to youth and their communities.

Just like with the Skills Ontario competition, Skills Canada hosts an Olympic-style annual competition in over 40 different trades and fields, which is used to showcase the different trades that you can get into by attending post-secondary schools. I competed in the IT and Network Support (Post Secondary) competition which sent students from several different colleges from all over Canada.

What is the IT and Network Competition?

On a high-level, the IT and Network Support competition was a two-day practical examination in networking and server administration. The basic 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.

A lot of the competition built on a similar scope from the Skills Ontario competition that I had already competed in. Just like with the Skills Ontario competition, it was a great way to bookend my college program, as it included everything that I had learned during my time there.

Instead of going over everything that I already knew, I spent the most time going over the things that I had the least experience with. In hindsight, I should have taken the time while getting ready for Skills Ontario to look at the Skills Canada scope. There was some overlap on the two scopes, and I could have saved myself some time by looking at both.

The main difference between the IT and Network Support competition was that it was a two-day event at Skills Canada, as opposed to a one-day event at Skills Ontario. The competition was 14 hours long, split into 4 blocks (morning and afternoon). Some tasks performed during the competition were standalone and were graded immediately, and some tasks built on others which meant that errors that happened earlier could affect later tasks.

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

  1. Hardware Setup and Initial Configuration
  2. Networking
  3. Windows Server Operations
  4. Linux Server Operations

Unlike the Skills Ontario competition which closely defined the sections that would be graded, these categories were not specifically contained, and they were spread out over the entire competition. The grading was also different as well, and you could be graded differently depending on the task being completed and different sections could be bundled together for grading.

Just like the Skills Ontario competition, there was no internet access at all, it was completely air gapped. There was only one exception, and it was due to a requirement with installing required packages in CentOS. This section required a judge to supervise the student, and it was timed.

The big difference between Skills Ontario and Skills Canada was that I was not only representing Cambrian College, but I was also representing Ontario for the IT and Network Support competition. Only one student from each province competes in each event (with only a few exceptions), so I was the only competitor for Team Ontario in the IT and Network Support competition.

Skills Canada Preparation

I mentioned in the Skills Ontario post that it was actually a hectic few days leading up to that competition as I didn’t have a lot of time to prepare for it. I had very little time to get ready and even get to the competition as everything happened so quickly after I finished my last day of college. With the next competition I had just under two weeks from the end of the Skills Ontario competition to get ready for Skills Canada. Just like with the Skills Ontario competition, I was able to get a copy of the competition scope as it was published a few weeks beforehand, and that gave me a good idea on what to expect for when I got there.

At the time of both competitions, I had just finished college and I should have really been looking for a job. I had also decided to not continue living in Sudbury after graduation, I wanted to move back to southern Ontario and find a job there. I had no family in Sudbury, and most of my friends moved on, so there was no longer anything keeping me there at the time. Since I had moved back home, and I wasn’t working yet I needed to take time to get ready for Skills Canada. Luckily, everyone was supportive, and it wasn’t an issue.

Skills Canada Competition

Skills Canada and Cambrian College arranged everything for me for the competition. I had no expenses at all during the competition, everything was taken care of. They arranged my flights, my lodging, my meals, and everything else. At the time I was not doing well financially as I had just finished college and wasn’t working, so I am forever grateful that they took care of my expenses.

Skills Canada Agenda

Unlike Skills Ontario which was a one-day event, Skills Canada was a five-day event and it required multiple venues to host all competitors for the various competitions that were taking place. The information package document has a more in-depth overview of how those days were organized. The schedule for the five days was organized like this:

Date Event
Tuesday May 19, 2009 Arrival and Registration
Wednesday May 20, 2009 Orientation Day
Thursday May 21, 2009 Competition Day One
Friday May 22, 2009 Competition Day Two
Saturday May 23, 2009 Awards and Closing Ceremony

Unlike Skills Ontario which had to do all registration and orientation tasks right before the competition, it was spread out more at Skills Canada to allow people time to get settled in, and not have to stress about it the day of.

Arrival Day - Tuesday May 19, 2009

I flew to Charlottetown and met with one of my teachers from Cambrian College who would be with me during the entire competition. I stayed at the dorms at the University of Prince Edward Island with a few of the other teams for the duration of the competition, and the rest of the teams stayed at various hotels in the area. Skills Canada ended up taking over large portions of Holland College for a lot of the competition events and used other venues in Charlottetown for the opening and closing ceremonies. I didn’t really do a lot on this day except registration, and I was just trying to get settled in and get organized.

Orientation Day - Wednesday May 20, 2009

There was an orientation session in the morning to go over the details of the competition and finish any remaining registration tasks. I had brought some tools that I needed for the competition which I gave to the organizers so they could be taken directly to the event. They wanted to make sure that there were no delays on the competition days, and making sure we had everything we needed saved a lot of time. This also gave people a chance to buy anything they might be missing, as there was at least one competitor in my competition that forgot a few things.

Afterwards I met with the organizers for Team Ontario and met the rest of the students who were also from Ontario. They arranged a bus tour of the north shore of PEI, and my teacher took a few photos from the tour and sent them to me after the competition:

We did a few team-building activities, including a sandcastle building contest which was a fun activity. In hindsight I really should have worn a jacket that day, it was quite cold in late May in PEI:

No tour of PEI is complete without seeing the Anne of Green Gables house and the Haunted Woods:

The opening ceremonies happened in the evening at the Confederation Centre of the Arts in Charlottetown before the actual competition began. Unlike Skills Ontario which had an orientation session right before the competition began on the morning of the competition, we had an orientation session the night before to save time the next day. I preferred this setup compared to Skills Ontario, as I knew exactly what I was walking into.

Just like with Skills Ontario, the judges were very professional and laid out the rules for the competition. 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. We were also required to document everything that we did during the competition, and if something was not documented correctly then there was a chance it wouldn’t be graded or less points would be awarded.

As I said earlier, the competition was so large that there were multiple venues required for all competitions. The IT and Network Support competition was hosted at Holland College at the Tourism and Culinary Centre. My immediate observation was how nice the venue was, the IT and Network Support competition took place in a cafeteria of all places, and it had a nice view of Charlottetown Harbour. At least the view was good during downtime while I was waiting for things to install or restart.

Competition Day One - Thursday May 21, 2009

Everyone got to the venue at 8:00am and the competition started at 8:30am.

Like the Skills Ontario competition, Skills Canada used several workstations with VMware and Cisco networking equipment for everything. There was no Packet Tracer at the competition, the networking components were completely hands on. There was a combination of Cisco 2800 routers and Cisco 2960 switches, as well as a Linksys WiFi router for a small component.

The morning of the first day of the competition focused on hardware troubleshooting, cabling (creating and troubleshooting), configuring VMware Workstation, and creating the virtual machines that were needed for the rest of the competition (Windows XP Professional, Windows Server 2008, and CentOS).

Just like with Skills Ontario, I didn’t take my phone to the competition. My teacher was nice enough to take photos during the competition:

After a short break for lunch, the afternoon of the first day of the competition focused entirely on networking. There was a requirement to create a network IP scheme, summarize routes, and use Visio to create a network topology. Just like Skills Ontario, wireless was a component of the competition, but there wasn’t a lot of emphasis on it on the first day.

The first day wrapped up at 4:00pm and we all left the venue and returned to the dorms or hotels. I ended up going out for dinner with a few people from Team Ontario, I didn’t talk to any of the other competitors in my competition.

Competition Day Two - Friday May 22, 2009

Just like on the first day, the competitors got to the venue at 8:00am and the competition started at 8:30am. Before starting that day, the Secondary and Post-Secondary students all got together for a group photo:

Skills Canada 2009 - IT and Network Support Competitors (Secondary and Post Secondary). On the first day everyone wore shirts from their schools, but on the second day it was more flexible. I am in the bottom row, third from the left.

The entire morning on the second day was dedicated to Windows Server 2008 management and configuration, mostly related to customizing Active Directory and scripting. There was also a section on installing and configuring Exchange Server 2007. There was also a section on creating scripts for running certain tasks on Windows, including a PowerShell script that I had to create.

After a lunch break, the afternoon on the last day of the competition focused entirely on configuring Linux services and scripting. There was also a short section on wireless configuration that was started on the first day.

The last day of the competition wrapped up at 4:00pm and that was it. I had no idea how I did, I had to wait until the next day. Since the competition was over, I finally talked to the other competitors and exchanged notes on what we did for every task. There was a lot of debate about who had won, but it was out of our hands.

PowerShell Scripting

There was a script that was asked for in the morning of the second day of the competition that was related to getting information from a Windows host. I won’t get into the specifics on what the script was supposed to do, but at the time it was not a straight-forward script that could be easily completed. Since there was a requirement to use whatever tools were natively available on Windows Server (we had no internet access after all), there were some limitations on what could be used. The request could technically be accomplished using VBScript or WMI, but that was only if you knew exactly what you were doing. I read the question a few times to get an understanding on what it was asking for, and I ended up asking a judge if I was allowed to use PowerShell to write the script.

Keep in mind that in early 2009, PowerShell was a new thing and had only been available for a few years. The competition scope didn’t even mention PowerShell as part of it. Windows Server 2008 included PowerShell as an optional feature, so you had to install it if you needed it (installing Exchange Server 2007 required it). It was so new that I had little experience with it, I only vaguely knew about it because of Exchange Server. As part of my preparation for Skills Canada I did some reading about how it worked. Once I determined how to load Cmdlets and use pipes and grep (Select-String), I had a basic understanding of how it worked.

The judge allowed me to use PowerShell, and I was able to use a single Cmdlet and a few other commands to get the output that was required. I put one line into a PowerShell script file (PS1) and submitted it for grading. The same judge asked me to explain how it worked and I gave the explanation on how it functioned, and it was accepted as being correct. They had never had a PowerShell script submitted as an answer, so they wanted me to explain in detail how it worked.

The IT and Network Support competition scope was modified after 2009 to include PowerShell as something that was part of the competition. I talked to someone related to the competition a few years later and they mentioned that I was the student that brought PowerShell to the competition.

Awards and Closing Ceremony - Saturday May 23, 2009

The closing ceremony took place at the University of PEI on the final day of the competition. Before the closing ceremonies began, Team Ontario posed for a group photo before entering the hall:

Team Ontario 2009. It is hard to see, but I am at the very top of the photo, tenth from the left.

Skills Ontario maintains a page on their website of Team Ontario photos from past events. The photo that I posted above was a scanned copy of a photo that they mailed me back in June 2009.

Just like with Skills Ontario, I had no idea how I had done with the competition. I knew I had made mistakes in some areas, and I knew there were some sections of the exam that I was not able to complete due to time constraints. When I was talking to the other competitors the night before, I started second-guessing some of the solutions that I had done.

During the closing ceremony the only speaker that I remember the most was Mike Holmes, who at the time was involved with Skills Canada. He talked a lot about the value of skilled trades and how important it was, and how it helped him get to where he was today. I got to meet him backstage after the awards were given out and I was waiting with a group of award winners. He was very nice, he said a lot of positive things to us.

When they started announcing winners for the competitions they eventually got to the IT and Network Support competition, and they did the awards for the Secondary students first:

IT and Network Support competition winners (Secondary).

Once they started announcing the Post-Secondary awards, I was starting to panic, and I was getting nervous. I don’t think I was even moving, I was just clapping whenever other people were while I was waiting for the announcements. They called the winners for third and second place and it wasn’t me. The only thought on my mind was that I blew it, I didn’t even make the top three. My only goal for Skills Canada wasn’t even to win, it was to at least get into the top three. They then called my name for first place. Once again, I froze up and one of the other competitors told me to get on stage:

IT and Network Support competition winners (Post-Secondary).

After the closing ceremonies were completed, the Secondary and Post-Secondary winners met for a group photo outside of the venue. We also met with the local Cisco Networking Academy representative who congratulated us on our wins at the competition, and also posed with a photo with us:

IT and Network Support competition winners.

After everything was done, I flew home later that day.

Results

Unlike the Skills Ontario competition, I was the only representative from my college, and the only one from Ontario in that competition (I represented Team Ontario). I came in first place in the IT and Network Support competition at Skills Canada in 2009. There were students from nine provinces that competed in the IT and Network Support competition that year:

Ranking City and Province
1 Lindsay, Ontario
2 St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador
3 Red Deer, Alberta

Skills Canada 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 Canada competition:

Skills Canada 2009 Gold Medal. This was for the 15th Skills Canada (SCNC) competition.

Also competing that year were students from four provinces in the IT and Network Support competition in the Secondary school competition:

Ranking City and Province
1 Chilliwack, British Columbia
2 Orléans, Ontario
3 Calgary, Alberta

I attended my graduation at Cambrian College on May 28, 2009. I ended up getting a special mention during graduation as I was the first Cambrian College student to ever win gold at Skills Canada in any competition. I didn’t know that mention was happening until right before I went onstage to get my diploma. The weirdest part about that mention was that they handed everyone cards with our information on it (name and program) right before, and my card had a lot of writing on it. For a quick second I thought there was some issue, like I was a credit short and couldn’t graduate. Fortunately, it all worked out.

A few weeks later I was mailed several documents from Skills Canada acknowledging my participation in the competition. I also received a letter from the Ontario Minister of Colleges and Universities congratulating me on my win as well. Cisco sent me several items as well, and also gave me a three-day, all-expenses paid trip to San Jose to visit their campus in July 2009.

What Were the Next Steps?

There were no next steps, I was now done with Skills Ontario and Skills Canada. It wasn’t until after I had competed at Skills Canada and later attended graduation in late May that I finally started job searching. I started interviewing at companies in July, and I started my first job in early August. Taking a month off from job searching to just focus on the competition was worth it at the time.

There was technically one final step, WorldSkills, but it didn’t apply to me.

WorldSkills

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

WorldSkills has built a movement that is changing the lives of young people through skills. Our 88 Member organizations reach two-thirds of the world’s population and create measurable impact at every level. They build the confidence of millions of young people, empowering communities and fueling economies. WorldSkills is a movement of change.

Even though I won first place in my competition at Skills Canada, I did not qualify for competing at the WorldSkills competition. WorldSkills events are held every two years, although the COVID-19 pandemic changed their plans over the last few years. Prior to the pandemic, WorldSkills qualifying years were on even years, and the competition occurs the next year. There was a WorldSkills competition in September 2009 in Calgary, Canada, and in 2011 in London, England.

Unfortunately, there were two things working against me for WorldSkills. It was not a qualifying year (2008 and 2010 were), and I was older than 22 years old at the time of the competition (I was 23). I was ineligible no matter what. It would have been interesting to be a part of it, but I am happy with everything that I accomplished at Skills Ontario and Skills Canada.

San Jose Trip

As part of winning first place in the IT and Network Support competition at Skills Canada, Cisco awarded me an all-expenses paid trip to San Jose, California to visit their campus and meet with the Cisco Networking Academy staff. I went with one one of my teachers, and I also went with the winner from the Secondary competition, plus the winners from the Skills USA competitions. It wasn’t a long trip, I was only in San Jose from July 23 to July 26, 2009.

I didn’t take a lot of photos while I was there, and the ones that I did take were not the best quality photos (my BlackBerry Curve 8330 took terrible photos):

I had to get a photo of one of the Cisco signs on their campus while I was there.

I won’t get into the details on everything that I did while I was there, but it was very generous of them to send me on the trip as I was no longer a student and I was about to start my first job outside of college in an IT-related field. It was a unique experience and I am fortunate that I was able to do it.

Cambrian College Skills Canada Results

Like with the Skills Ontario competition, I wanted to highlight the results of the Skills Canada competition for students in the CETY program at Cambrian College. The big difference between Skills Ontario and Skills Canada is that when a student from Ontario goes to the Skills Canada competition, they no longer represent their individual college, they represent Team Ontario for all competitions (the same applies to the other provinces and territories).

I went over all previous results of the times that Cambrian College has gone to the Skills Canada competition. Overall, Cambrian College has completely dominated the IT and Network Support competition at Skills Canada over a two-decade period compared to the other colleges in Ontario. Cambrian College has qualified 8 times for the IT and Network Support competition at Skills Canada since 2006 and medalled 7 times:

Year Ranking Location
2006 Results1 Bronze Halifax, NS
2007 Results N/A Saskatoon, SK
2008 Results Silver Calgary, AB
2009 Results2 Gold Charlottetown, PEI
2011 Results Gold Quebec City, QB
2014 Results Gold Toronto, ON
2015 Results Bronze Saskatoon, SK
2016 Results Silver Moncton, NB

From a Team Ontario perspective, Team Ontario has medalled 14 times since 2000 in the IT and Network Support competition:

Year Event Location Gold Silver Bronze
1994 Results3 1st Hamilton, ON ? ? ?
1995 Results4 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
1996 Results 2nd Montréal, QC ? ? ?
1997 Results 3rd Red Deer, AB ? ? ?
1998 Results 4th Vancouver, BC ? ? ?
1999 Results5 5th Kitchener, ON NS ? ?
2000 Results6 6th Quebec City, QB N/A N/A N/A
2001 Results 7th Edmonton, AB PE NL NS
2002 Results 8th Vancouver, BC PE MB BC
2003 Results 9th Kitchener, ON PE NB NS
2004 Results 10th Winnipeg, MB AB QC ON
2005 Results 11th Edmonton, AB ON AB PE
2006 Results 12th Halifax, NS QC PE ON
2007 Results 13th Saskatoon, SK NL BC NS
2008 Results 14th Calgary, AB AB ON QC
2009 Results 15th Charlottetown, PEI ON NL AB
2010 Results 16th Waterloo, ON QC MB NL
2011 Results 17th Quebec City, QB ON BC NL
2012 Results 18th Edmonton, AB NL PE QC
2013 Results 19th Vancouver, BC NL PE BC
2014 Results 20th Toronto, ON ON QC MB
2015 Results 21st Saskatoon, SK MB QC ON
2016 Results 22nd Moncton, NB QC ON BC
2017 Results 23rd Winnipeg, MB ON NL BC
2018 Results 24th Edmonton, AB NL MB QC
2019 Results 25th Halifax, NS BC MB QC
2020 Results7 26th Vancouver, BC N/A N/A N/A
2021 Results8 27th Quebec City, QB ON AB NL
2022 Results 28th Vancouver, BC BC ON AB
2023 Results 29th Winnipeg, MB MB ON NL
2024 Results 30th Quebec City, QB MB BC ON

Cambrian College has medalled 7 times in the IT and Network Support competition since 2004 (when Team Ontario has medalled in the competition):

Year Gold Silver Bronze Ontario Post-Secondary
2004 AB QC ON Fanshawe College
2005 ON AB PE Fanshawe College
2006 QC PE ON Cambrian College
2008 AB ON QC Cambrian College
2009 ON NL AB Cambrian College
2011 ON BC NL Cambrian College
2014 ON QC MB Cambrian College
2015 MB QC ON Cambrian College
2016 QC ON BC Cambrian College
2017 ON NL BC Algonquin College
2021 ON AB NL Durham College
2022 BC ON AB Durham College
2023 MB ON NL St. Clair College
2024 MB BC ON St. Clair College

Just to further analyze the results, it turns out that Cambrian College has been the leader in medals for Team Ontario for the last 20 years. Cambrian College has medalled 7 times, which is considerably more than the other colleges in Ontario:

Ontario Post-Secondary Gold Silver Bronze Total Medals
Algonquin College 1 0 0 1
Durham College 1 1 0 2
Cambrian College 3 2 2 7
Fanshawe College 1 0 1 2
St. Clair College 0 1 1 2

Just like with Skills Ontario, Cambrian College absolutely dominates that Skills Canada competition. They have the most medals overall from an Ontario college in the IT and Network Support competition in the last 20 years.

Skills Canada Legacy

Just like with Skills Ontario, I believe that Skills Canada 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. Cambrian College and Skills Ontario went to a lot of trouble to get me to the competition, and I am very appreciative of their assistance.

Competing at the Skills Canada competition was a unique experience. I have talked about it to a lot of people over the years and I am glad that I took the time to put together this post to document the experience. While I am not sure I got any jobs because of it, competing and winning at Skills Canada helped my confidence and I think it helped get me where I am today.


  1. First time attending Skills Canada and medalling in the IT and Network Support competition. ↩︎

  2. First time winning gold for IT and Network Support at Skills Canada. ↩︎

  3. This is the first year of the Skills Canada (SCNC) competition. ↩︎

  4. There was no Skills Canada competition held in 1995. ↩︎

  5. I was unable to find the Silver and Bronze winners of the IT and Network Support competition in 1999. ↩︎

  6. The earliest complete competition results that are publicly available on the Skills Canada websites. There was no IT and Network Support scope in 2000. ↩︎

  7. The Skills Canada competition for this year was cancelled due to COVID-19. ↩︎

  8. The Skills Canada competition for this year was hosted virtually due to COVID-19. ↩︎

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