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To Russia with love: P.E.I. skills competitor embraces challenge, narrowly misses medal

Justin Buchanan from Knutsford, P.E.I. leads the Canadian delegation into the opening ceremonies for the World Skills Competition in Kazan, Russia. Buchanan competed in 3-D Digital Game Art.
Amy Buchanan photo/
Justin Buchanan from Knutsford, P.E.I. leads the Canadian delegation into the opening ceremonies for the World Skills Competition in Kazan, Russia. Buchanan competed in 3-D Digital Game Art. - Amy Buchanan photo
KNUTSFORD, P.E.I. —

Just before the opening ceremonies of the World Skills Competition in Kazan, Russia, were about to commence, Blain and Amy Buchanan received a text from Skills P.E.I. organizers advising them their son, Justin, was going to be Canada’s flag-bearer.

Luckily, Mom, Dad and an aunt had made the decision to accompany Justin Buchanan to Russia, so they were already in the 45,000-seat stadium for the Parade of Nations.

“He had the biggest grin we’ve seen on his face for a long time,” Blain said, describing his son’s flag-waving entrance.

“It was the luck of the draw,” Justin Buchanan, 21, said of being tapped to carry the flag. “It’s apparently tradition that they draw from a hat.”

He was a second-year student in Holland College’s two-year Video Game Art and Animation course when he was named a national finalist in the 3-D Digital Game Art category at the 2018 Skills Canada competition in Edmonton. That put him on the verge of representing Canada on the world stage, but one more competition stood in his way. He had to prepare for a head-to-head competition against one other finalist at the 2019 national event in Halifax.

He had also previously competed nationally for Westisle High School in job skill demonstration. 

A Knutsford native now living in Charlottetown, Justin said he committed at least 20 hours per week to training for Worlds since graduating from Holland College in 2018.

Amy Buchanan captured this photo of her son, Justin, participating in the 3-D Digital Game Art competition at World Skills in Kazan, Russia Aug. 22-27. contributed
Amy Buchanan captured this photo of her son, Justin, participating in the 3-D Digital Game Art competition at World Skills in Kazan, Russia Aug. 22-27. contributed

“It was worth every minute; I saw a lot of improvement in my work in the year that I was training,” he said. “It clearly paid off because I made it through Halifax and ended up going to Worlds.”

Both Justin and his father compared the Kazan experience to the Olympic Games, complete with dazzling opening and closing ceremonies. Among those in attendance were Sophia, the world’s first artificial intelligence robot to be awarded official citizenship (Saudi Arabia) and the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. 

World Skills attracted more than 1,300 competitors from 62 countries.

Best travel experience

Blain said the stadium was filled for the closing ceremonies, and he estimates there were 40,000 in attendance for the opening.

He said he was reluctant about going to Russia, but is glad his son “guilted” him into it, calling it the best travel experience of his life and admitting Google Translator came in handy. 

He marvelled at the 177,000 volunteer hours that Russians put into hosting the competition, the precision of the event and the showcase overall. He said all the competitions had world-class equipment. 

“Basically, just pick a business and, whatever the best you could get for that business, that’s what they had set up for these young people to deal with," Blain said.

“I think the highlight was just testing my skills against other people from around the world and just seeing where I am at, in terms of skills,” Justin said, describing the experience. 

He placed seventh out of 12, narrowly missing out on a medallion for excellence. Competitions were scored out of 1,000 and he finished his four days of challenges with 695 points. Scores of 700 or higher triggered the medallion. 

“It’s annoying but can’t really do anything about it,” he remarked on how close the medal was to his grasp.

Canada entered 32 competitors in 29 of the 56 World Skills competitions in Russia. All 10 Canadian provinces were represented for the first time. Robbie McMahon from Charlottetown, was the only other P.E.I. competitor. He was entered in the Industrial Control competition and finished 14th out of 16.

The Canadian team returned with one silver medal for heavy vehicle technology and 14 medallions for excellence.
China and Russia dominated.

Just like the Olympics, trading of country pins was popular, and Justin said he met a person who managed to acquire pins from every participating country. Canada pins and the Canadian bandana were popular, he said. 

Now that the World Skills Competition is over, Justin said he is fine-tuning his resume, ready to apply for jobs in his field, opportunities like 2-D or 3-D animation, re-creation of historical artifacts or even architectural modelling. He believes the experience he gained at the Worlds, and in training to get there, will aid him in that job search.

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