The Spectator’s Guide to WorldSkills 2009

By:  Reginald Tiangha

So imagine this:  You’ve been hearing about it for months.  Your friends/colleagues/co-workers/whatevers have been talking about it for a while now.  You’ve seen the posters around town.  Your interest is piqued: Just what is WorldSkills?

You want to know more, so you decide that the only way to do that is to come down to Stampede Park and see the WorldSkills Competition for yourself (the fact that it’s free to attend doesn’t hurt either!).  So you’ve checked out the schedule on-line, familiarized yourself with the venue map, picked out a date and time to visit and are ready to go!

At this point, you may be asking yourself questions like:  What can I expect when I get down there?  I could be spending an hour or two on site; will there be any place to eat?  If so, what’s available?  Just what exactly is there to see and do?

Take it from a guy who didn’t know what to expect the first time he visited:  I know exactly how you feel.

Well, don’t fret, because I’ll share with you what I’ve learned.  This is my handy-dandy Spectator’s Guide to WorldSkills 2009 and I’ll walk you through what happens when you arrive, what’s available to be seen and done, and what’s available in terms of food and beverage choices.  In fact, you might be surprised at what you can find!  I know I was…

Do I have your attention?  Great! Then read on!

First, some general tips:

The event takes up virtually the entire Park.  Repeat:  The entire Park.  Literally every building from the BMO Centre to the Grandstand is reserved solely for competition space such that they had to build six more tents outside just to house everything needed to contain the 45 different skill competitions (and we’re not even counting the various exhibition tents at the Global Skills Village and Skill City).

As such, you may find yourself walking a lot to see everything (no different from Stampede Week, really).  So make sure you’re prepared:

  • Wear comfortable walking shoes.
  • Be prepared for the elements; bring sunscreen or an umbrella (or both, as (let’s face it) this is Calgary we’re talking about…).
  • Make sure you’re well hydrated, especially on hot, sunny days; bring water or pick some up as you visit.
  • Take your time.  There’s lots to see and do.

Basically, pretend it’s Stampede Week and you’re visiting the grounds.  Be prepared for the weather and the walking and you’re all set!

Admission

When you first arrive at any of the gates to Stampede Park, you’ll notice registration booths and sign-up forms.  Registration (which is free) will net you a copy of an Event MiniMap and a WorldSkills Program, as well as a General Access name tag that you can wear around your neck to the various venues, keep your MiniMap in for quick access, and in my case, use to make yourself look and feel special and important when you leave the Park.

Armed with these three items, you’re ready to go!

What to do?

There is actually a lot to see.  Like I said above, the event takes up the entire Park, with most of the space going to house what’s needed to hold the 45 different skill competitions, and the main draw of WorldSkills 2009 is indeed the skill competitions.

Each venue houses one or more skill competitions that spectators can watch, and you can use your mini-map to find out which ones are where.

Each competition consists of various students from different countries who have to perform various tasks related to their trade or discipline.

The format varies between fields.  For example, in the computer programming competitions, competitors are given a set of software requirements that they must program and complete before the competition ends.  For some of the various construction competitions, they need to build something by the end of the day.  For the nursing/caregiver competitions, the participants have to role-play and act for the audience and the judges (called “experts” who also hail from different countries) by pretending to care for a sick or disabled person.  They are then judged on how they interact with the patient and on other various technical matters.

Each competition is judged on criteria relevant to that trade.  There is so much variety between the various disciplines that I’m certain you’ll find a competition somewhere that’s to your liking.

My short list:  The Cooking and Confectioner/Pastry Cook competitions in Hall E of the BMO Centre, the Mobile Robotics competition on the first floor of the Big Four building, and the Caring competition on the second floor of the Grandstand building.

However, with that all said, there’s more to see than just the skill competitions themselves.

Exhibitions – Global Skills Village

As WorldSkills helps to promote vocational education and training, many industry leaders in various disciplines are represented here.  Many of them have exhibition booths set up in the Global Skills Village where you can meet and network with them.

If you’re into free stuff (or swag, as some like to call it), you can find plenty of that here too as many companies are giving away free things such as yo-yos, luggage tags, pins, and the like, all in an effort to promote vocational education and training.  If you have interest in starting a career in the trades, this venue offers the perfect opportunity to ask questions of various professionals and educational institutions.

Attached to the Global Skills Village are Canada House and Alberta House.

Canada House contains various interactive displays and activities that shows how skills, trades, and technologies impact our daily lives.  All of the exhibits are interactive and hands-on.  My recommendation:  Check out the flight simulators where you can sit in a replica cockpit and pretend to pilot a plane via Microsoft’s Flight Simulator software.  It’s really cool (OK, so it’s actually in Alberta House below, but it’s still really cool)!

Alberta House showcases Alberta’s key strengths in learning, working, innovating, living, and visiting.  Each themed area will have displays, demonstrations, and interactive resources regarding post-secondary options, and how to start a career in skills, trades, and technologies.

Try-A-Skill Activities

There are many hands-on activities on Park as well that you can participate in and use to experience what it’s like to work in a trade.

Many of these activities can be found at Skill City, which is housed in the Big Top.  Here you can try your hand at welding, piping, cooking, baking, and many other different skills and trades.  The best part is that you can take your creations home with you when you’re done.

There’s also an actual working Oil Rig demonstration set up at the South end of the Park that you can sit down and watch people operate.  If you’ve never seen an oil rig being operated in person, it’s an interesting experience. This particular rig was designed to be fully automated; in other words, requires no humans to operate.

Entertainment

Every morning (from 9:30 a.m. to around 2:00 p.m.) from now until the end of the competition, there will be various acts on the Coca-Cola Stage as part of the WorldSkills Cultural Celebration.  Each day has a theme and the various acts that appear on stage are related to that theme.  Here’s how it breaks down:

  • September 2 – Hip Hop, Beat box, Spoken Word Day
  • September 3 – Indie, Folk, Roots Day
  • September 4 – Blues & Country Day
  • September 5 – World Music/Dance Day

For more details on what’s going on at the Coca-Cola Stage (including specific acts), see here.

Internet Access

If you’re like me and have been trying hard to avoid owning things such as Blackberries or iPhones (a phone is a phone, darnit!), yet need to check email while you’re down on Park (or have to make a quick Stampede Blog posting, *cough,cough*), you can find a few free Internet Cafe stations in the Global Skills Village that you can use to check your Facebook, Twitter, or the Stampede Blog for all the latest news on WorldSkills 2009.  Very handy.

Food Options

OK, so you’ve seen quite a few things already, but now you’re starting to get hungry.  You didn’t bring a lunch, so what are your options?  Luckily, you have many, and if you’re a regular visitor during Stampede Week every year, you may be surprised at some of the choices that are available.

First, Mavericks in the Big Four building and The Cantina at the BMO Centre are open during WorldSkills.  Mavericks offers traditional restaurant fair, which is great if you want a hot and hearty meal.  The Cantina also offers various meals of different types.

If those sound too fancy for you, or you’re stuck somewhere else on Park and don’t want to walk all the way there, there are various food kiosks scattered around Park that may be more convenient, and you might be surprised to hear that a couple of Stampede favorites are still available.

The biggest surprise to me was that the majority of Weadickville (located at the North end of Park by the Victoria Park enterance) is opened for WorldSkills.  The vendors being represented this week are Macs (selling ice cold Frosters, water, and other beverages), a Bryers stall selling ice cream, The Nut Man selling various candies, nuts, and other snacks, and a Second to None Meats stall selling hot dogs and other naturally raised beef products.

Outside of the Grandstand building, there are a few kiosks serving Soft Serve ice cream (46 different flavors) as well as a kiosk serving Taco-in-a-Bag, Hot Beef Sundaes, and other traditional Stampede midway treats.

Near the Stampede Corral, there are some kiosks serving freshly squeezed lemonade and gourmet hot dogs.

Outside of the Big Four building, there are Opa and Pocket Dawg kiosks.

If you’re in the BMO Centre visiting the various Halls, many of the concession stands are open selling everything from pizza to Stampede burgers.

Finally, if you’re still suffering from Stampede Week withdrawal and are craving mini-donuts, there’s a kiosk set up right outside the Stampede Store to the East of the building.

There’s probably more available; these are just the ones I noticed easily.

So if you’re visiting and you forget to bring your own food, rest assured that there are plenty of food choices on park so that you won’t starve.  Cool, huh?

Shopping

Finally, if you’re looking to pick up some souvenirs of your visit, the WorldSkills Calgary 2009 Merchandise Store can be found in the Global Skills Village.  Here you can find various WorldSkills 2009 branded merchandise such as pins and shirts.  The Stampede Store also has a kiosk at this location, and the main store located at the center of the Park is open as well.  In fact, if you’re lucky, you might even find that a bunch of items are on sale this week…

So there you have it.  Armed with this, you should have a better idea on what to expect during your visit to WorldSkills Calgary 2009.  So what are you waiting for?  Come by and visit! The WorldSkills Competition runs from now until September 5 at Stampede Park.