– As he edges closer to retirement later this month after a 17-year teaching career at College of the North Atlantic (CNA), Felix Slaney did something he had never done before.
Slaney, a Construction/Industrial Electrician instructor at CNA’s Seal Cove campus, has worked countless hours in classrooms and workshops with students during his tenure; however, he had never taken a high school student under his wing – until this year.
“What a rewarding endeavour it was to see Julia do her best work on the national stage,” said Slaney, speaking of Julia Rose, a Grade 11 student at Holy Spirit High School in Conception Bay South who competed at the 24th Skills Canada National Competition held early this month in Edmonton, Alberta.
“It was different with Julia (than post-secondary students), as I was more focused on the actual hands-on, working with all the tools that she normally would not have exposure to. Whereas with Steven (Steven Adams, Team NL’s and CNA’s post-secondary competitor at the nationals), it was more about the theory and throwing different scenarios and circuitry at him – the actual hands-on he would have picked up in college and on the job as an apprentice.”
Although Rose didn’t have the same level of exposure to the trade, Slaney says she was a quick study and he was impressed with her composure at such a high-pressure competition.
“With the limited amount of prep time we had (approximately three weeks), Julia did excellent,” said Slaney. “She worked very hard to understand the concepts of electrical circuitry, which was not easy to do with the amount of time we had. It took a significant commitment of time working at this on her own.”
The instructor says Rose (and her father, Walt) came to the Seal Cove campus on the weekends in order to do the practical training required – but that wasn’t where it ended. Walt took it upon himself to construct a training booth in the family’s basement so she could practice on her own.
“We practiced at the college a couple of times, but where our schedules are so difficult, I basically had two or three weekends with Felix,” she said. “It’s been great. I’ve learned a lot and it’s opened my eyes to a lot more opportunities in the trades and technologies sectors.”
Preparing for competition
Rose won gold at the Skills Canada – Newfoundland and Labrador provincials this past spring, but still felt she wasn’t fully prepared for what awaited her at the 250,000-square-foot Edmonton Expo Centre competition floor.
“(Before I got there) I was downplaying it from what it actually is. I thought maybe it was going to be like provincials, but it’s definitely not. You walk in and you’re like, ‘Wow!’ just at how big it is with all of the different competitions and how much work has been put into it – it’s amazing.”
This year’s Skills Canada National Competition was the site of 550 competitors from around the country going head-to-head in more than 40 technology and skilled trades fields. Rose didn’t medal at the competition, but her results placed her in the middle of the pack with secondary students who had been exposed to the trade for a number of years.
“We’re very proud parents and it’s an inspirational event for her to attend because it boosts her self-confidence, for starters – it’s a lot to take in and a lot to appreciate, and she’s done well. She made the commitment so I made the commitment. It was good because I actually learned some things that I had forgotten,” joked her father, who along with his wife, Jennifer, made the cross-country trek to see their daughter compete first-hand.
“Considering that she was competing against students who had a lot more knowledge than she did, it made me really, really proud,” said Mrs. Rose. “I find that sometimes when she’s gotten frustrated, Felix is able to joke around with her and bring her down; they seem to have a really good rapport because of that.”
Throughout the two-day competition, Slaney could often be found hovering close by, eager to see how his prize pupils were doing even though he wasn’t permitted to have any contact with them while they were on the competition floor.
In the meantime, Slaney’s retirement is drawing closer, and while nothing is written in stone, he isn’t writing off the possibility of working with Rose again next year to make a run for the gold!
“I would look forward to doing so. She is a bright student with a great work ethic that will serve her well in whatever career path she decides to take.”
His protégé feels the same.
“He’s a great coach – so hopefully he’ll stay to coach me again next year.”
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