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No cutting corners: Apprenticeship Carpenters showcase skills at annual competition

June 20, 2019

It was a race against the clock, but the contestants who took their time fared best at Red River College’s annual Carpentry Competition.  

The 25th edition of the contest took place June 7 and 8 in the Skilled Trades and Technology Centre at RRC’s Notre Dame Campus. 

This year’s event featured nine graduates of the College’s Level 4 Carpenter Apprenticeship program, each battling to be the best builder. On day one, the competing carpenters wrote an extensive exam worth 30 per cent of the challenge. Day two of the competition saw contestants tasked with building an elaborate “hug bench” with limited time and materials. 

Alex Mackenzie, of PBR Construction in Niverville, Man., was named the competition’s top carpenter, while Walker Enns and Caleb Gossen finished second and third, respectively. 

“A couple guys went right to the last minute. Actually, the last two guys that finished at the last minute, literally, they placed first and second,” says Jeff Martens, the core instructor of the Level 4 Carpentry Apprenticeship program. 

“It’s amazing, the attention to detail. And of course, detail takes time. They used every second that they had.”

Mackenzie (shown above) won a $1,500 shopping spree courtesy of Bosch, while second and third prize were worth $1,400 and $1,000, respectively. The six other contestants all went home with $500 worth of portable power tools and accessories. 

RRC Carpentry Competition, June 2019This year’s prizes were donated by Bird Construction, PCL Construction, Prime Fasteners, Bosch, Milwaukee, Dewalt, the Red River College Students’ Association, Parkwest Projects and Pauls Grinding Industries, as well as Carpentry Apprenticeship alumnus Joey Poncyak, who donated a stiletto hammer and pry bar.

The materials for the competition were donated by McMunn & Yates. Judging this year’s contest were Chris Erbus, superintendent at PCL Construction, Shawn Ward, construction supervisor at Habitat for Humanity, and Galen Reimer, the winner of last year’s competition.

Martens says he selected the competitors based on how well they performed academically in class, their experience in the industry, and their overall performance history in the Carpentry Apprenticeship program.

“I talk to their previous years instructors, especially the Level 3 instructors,” Martens says. “In Level 3 they build a full-sized shed. It’s an all-inclusive framing/exterior project. I interviewed the instructor and asked how the students did. Did they perform well? Were they good leaders? Were they followers? 

“I like to try to choose the students that are well-rounded with academics and practical skill set.”

Rob Masi, the academic coordinator of RRC’s Carpentry program, says the hands-on portion of the competition contains many everyday applications. 

“It’s definitely going to help them in the workplace,” Masi says. “For example, time management is huge on the job site. You don’t want to show up to the competition and start cutting materials without even figuring out what you’re doing.”

“With our number one winner (Mackenzie), we were kind of worried, because it was almost an hour before he started cutting,” Martens adds. “He obviously had good knowledge and experience with material management and time, doing the mathematical calculations for all the pieces he had to cut, double checking, and measuring and laying out.”

The conservation of materials is another important takeaway from the competition.

RRC Carpentry Competition, 2019“As far as materials, we give them exactly what they need,” Masi says. “It goes back to the iconic ‘measure twice, cut once’ scenario. If you make a mistake, yes, you can ask for a second piece, but it will be deducted from your score.

“[You’re] also troubleshooting, trying to figure out what the next step is. It’s experience in reading blueprints and reading plans.

“It also doesn’t hurt to be called ‘Top Carpenter in Winnipeg’ when it comes to your resume.”

“Just to be chosen for this competition is a feather in every competitor’s hat,” Martens adds. 

This was the first year the RRC Carpentry Competition was held in the new Skilled Trades and Technology Centre, which opened in August 2018. 

The 104,000-sq. ft., state-of-the-art space will prepare approximately 1,000 students a year for careers in trades such as carpentry, electrical, mechanical and manufacturing. 

Both Martens and Masi are pleased with the new learning space, and excited by its potential.

“We had the contractors install this observation booth, this glass wall where you can see 180 degrees,” Masi says. “It puts us on display. It puts us on the map. We’re not a science or manufacturing program that gets a lot of recognition, but now people can see what we’re doing, whether it’s building brand new sheds or furniture for the College.” 

“In the old shop, people loved walking by the door because they like the smell of the wood. Now they can see exactly what we do,” Martens adds. “It’s amazing some of the things that come out of this place and go on in this shop that nobody has ever seen before except our students and staff.”

Profile by Jared Story (Creative Communications, 2005)