RRC grads vie for podium placement at skilled trades competition in Abu Dhabi

Ashley Weber and Silas MeechesAshley Weber and Silas Meeches are no strangers to performing under pressure.

Between them, the Red River College grads have six gold and silver medals from provincial and national skills competitions under their belts. Now they’re taking their talents to the international level.

Weber and Meeches will travel to Abu Dhabi next week to compete with Team Canada in the 44th WorldSkills Competition, which will host 1,259 competitors from 58 countries and regions.

Held every two years, it’s the biggest vocational education and skills excellence event in the world based on global industry standards, and the best opportunity for competitors to demonstrate technical abilities while executing tasks they’d perform in their workplaces.

“It feels completely different,” says Meeches. “Part of it is being in a different country, but the competition is a lot more advanced. It’s longer and the rules are a lot more strict.”

The 21-year-old will be competing in the CNC Milling category, where he’s hoping to set a new record.

“The highest a Canadian has placed in my skill is seventh,” he explains. “Ultimately I want to win the gold, but placing sixth and setting a new record would be incredible.”

Weber, 20, has been passionate about car painting from the moment she got her hands on a spray paint gun in high school. She’s hoping this month’s opportunity will earn her a new credential for her resume.

“I’m aiming to receive the Medallion of Excellence,” says Weber. “It means that you’ve met or exceeded the industry standard in your trade. I feel confident that I have the most knowledge to do the best that I can in the competition, but I hope my best will earn me the medallion.”

Since qualifying in the spring, both competitors have been hard at work training — which in their case included travelling to use specialized equipment and materials that will be necessary in the competition.

Weber recently spent four days in Toronto learning how paints that contain solvents best mix, spray and dry, while Meeches was in Chicago to train on the same milling machine that will be used in Abu Dhabi.

“Imagine if you’ve always had an Android phone and then somebody asks you to use an iPhone,” says RRC instructor Warren Palmer, who is Meeches’ coach. “That’s why it’s important for them to train on the machines they’ll actually be using (in the competition).”

Meeches and Weber’s performances so far have earned them more than just bragging rights — they’ve also each been recognized in their chosen industries.

Straight out of high school, Weber was offered a job at Urban Autobody and Chrome, where she completed the work experience component of her RRC training. The position allows her to refine and perfect her skills on a daily basis.

As for Meeches, he’s been fielding offers from businesses across North America. As of November, he’ll be working as a CNC Programmer at Magellan Aerospace in Winnipeg, but he says one of his future goals is to return to the College as an instructor — one who can encourage more young people to participate in skills competitions.

“It’s important for me — [given] everything my instructors and the College have done for me — that I can give back. I want to see young people succeed,” he says.

This year’s WorldSkills competition takes place Oct. 15-19. You can follow Silas and Ashley’s progress at worldskillsabudhabi2017.com.