A student from Steinbach Regional Secondary School will be bringing his skills to the world stage next September.

Earlier this year, James Bartel won gold in Autobody Repair at the provincial skills competition and then received the highest overall score at nationals, qualifying him for the WorldSkills Competition. The WorldSkills Competition is still nearly 10 months away, but Bartel is hard at work crafting his skills, in order to give himself the best shot at another medal.

The 2024 WorldSkills Competition takes place from September 10th to 15th, in Lyon, France. Bartel says the four days of competition will be double what he was asked to do at the Skills Canada National Competition (SCNC). And, between now and then, he says there will be a lot of practice.

Bartel says he still does not fully know what his assignment will be in France. He recalls the task at SCNC was to replace a vehicle's quarter panel as well as do some welding with aluminum, perform aluminum dent repair, and also a door skin replacement. Though he has a general idea of what his assignment will be at the WorldSkills Competition, Bartel says it will probably be two or three months before he is handed a more specific task.

According to Bartel, no Canadian has ever finished higher than sixth place in Autobody Repair at the world level. His goal is to better that.

"Getting even close to that would be definitely a goal," he adds.

Bartel says there will likely be about 20 competitors in the field, and he says most of the winners tend to come from China and Japan.

Even though the WorldSkills Competition is almost a calendar year away, his team has already started fundraising in order to cover some of the costs. Jessy Unrau is Bartel's instructor at SRSS but is also serving as his trainer. Unrau says Bartel's trip expenses are covered. However, Unrau will need to pay his own way, plus there are costs associated with training. He notes they are now trying to raise at least $15,000. Unrau says the fundraising has already started.

"The Culinary Arts department has been involved in helping fundraise for us as well, which is really awesome," he says. "We are going to be taking some letters out to the industry to ask for support and anybody who wants to support us."

Unrau says both the school and the division have been very supportive and generous in allowing him to do what needs to be done to make sure Bartel is as ready as possible.

Unrau explains that as part of WorldSkills Team Canada 2024, they are working with what is known as a WorldSkills Expert. This Expert has connections that they will utilize in order to give Bartel the best chance possible of winning. Unrau says some of these training missions will be out of province and even out of country. For example, the Expert might hook them up with a VW manufacturing plant and have Bartel work inside that plant to see how vehicles are welded and built and how to replace parts and panels. And, because Bartel is still underage, he needs a chaperone with him, which only adds to the costs.

Unrau says it means a lot to him to have one of his students qualify for the WorldSkills Competition.

"It means that they've shown dedication," he says. "They have shown that they have worked very hard to get where they have gotten and that they are really good at listening to instructions and being not afraid to work hard and being able to problem solve and just have also the mental ability to be able to handle everything that comes their way."

Unrau says as a student, Bartel is very aware of his surroundings, understanding the basic concepts and steps for how things work.

"He can basically apply it to any situation, which is really going to be huge and be key in this competition," says Unrau. "To be able to perform a task, doesn't matter where on the vehicle, it's the same idea, the same process but on a different part of the vehicle, that will help him a lot."

Unrau recalls that at SCNC, Bartel showed up ahead of time to walk around and examine the projects.

"Looking at what other people had done and just kind of processing what has been happening and I think that's really big," he says.

Unrau says Bartel naturally works really well with his hands on the cars. He thinks his mental preparedness will be key, adding he has the qualities to do really well.

Though Bartel is in grade 12 today, he qualified for worlds as a grade 11 student, which Unrau says is very rare. Unrau says he thinks it was about 20 years ago, the last time someone under the age of 18 qualified for WorldSkills Team Canada in Autobody Repair.

As his instructor, Unrau admits that the award ceremonies at both the provincial skills competition and SCNC were nerve-wracking. However, he says no matter what the outcome would have been, he would have been super proud of his student.

"When I heard that they called up my name for the gold medal, I was definitely a bit overwhelmed," says Bartel. "Then shortly after I was told that I had the opportunity to go the WorldSkills Competition and that was also very overwhelming."

But now that reality has set in, Bartel says it is a matter of being as prepared as he can for next year's competition. He says this involves a lot of practice in order to master the basics and become better prepared to complete some of the more advanced tasks. 


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