VIU Students Heading to Skills Canada National Competition

June 3, 2014 - 2:00am

Students Toshi Akama, Thalia Austin, Cam Chanin and Erin Hollywood have been working hard to perfect the skills they’ve learned in Vancouver Island University’s (VIU) Culinary Arts, Construction and HVAC programs, and will be putting those skills to the test against competitors across Canada at the Skills Canada National Competition (SCNC) in Toronto June 4 to 7.

“I’m nervous, and I feel like that’s normal,” says Akama, who will be competing in the post-secondary Culinary category at the SCNC after taking the Gold Medal at the provincial Skills Canada competition April 9.

Growing up in Whistler, Toshi Akama was exposed to a vibrant culinary scene, from watching his father cook at the family’s restaurant, Ka-Ze Sushi in the Westin Resort & Spa, to working in the Whistler Four Season’s Resort as a kitchen helper before entering VIU’s Culinary program. He’s been busy practicing for the Nationals while preparing to start a job in Kelowna’s Mission Hill winery that starts right after the competition.

Thalia Austin is a “dual credit” high school student taking VIU’s Culinary program through School District 68’s Headstart program. After taking Gold at both the secondary school level regional Skills competition hosted by VIU and at the provincial Skills competition in April, she admits to pre-competition nerves leading into the nationals, but has been practicing hard alongside Akama in VIU’s teaching kitchens.

“I got lucky finding something I wanted to do right away,” says Austin. A student at Parksville’s Ballenas Secondary, she’s been coached by high school culinary instructor Luc Ouellet. She says she brought an interest in baking to VIU, and soon discovered a love for all aspects of cooking.

With a co-op work assignment lined up at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise for the summer months, Austin has been busy getting ready for her new adventure in the working culinary world while practicing on recipes that will be put to the test in Toronto.

Studying in VIU’s Construction program, Cam Chanin is a dual credit student from Nanaimo District Secondary School (NDSS), and was in Grade 12 when he won Gold in both the secondary Skills regional comp and the provincials.

Jessie Chalmers, Department Chair for VIU’s Construction program, says Chanin has what it takes to do well at the competition.

“It wasn’t a surprise that Cam was successful at the regional and provincial competitions and will go on to the nationals,” Chalmers says. “He’s shown a strong work ethic and great attitude in both VIU’s Carpentry Foundations program, and in his job as an apprentice carpenter with GNB Builders.”

Chalmers has a unique perspective on the Skills competitions, as he won the nationals himself in 2000 while completing his apprenticeship in Construction at VIU.

Also competing at the Skills nationals will be Erin Hollywood, who completed the HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) program at VIU’s Cowichan Trades Centre in May. Originally from Campbell River, Hollywood says he’s looking forward to attending the competition, and will leave right from there for a new job in Calgary.

“I’m a little bit nervous about the competition, but mostly excited to see what it’s all about,” he says.

Glynis Steen, Associate Dean of Trades, says the students’ success in Skills competitions is a result of their hard work and dedication to improving their skills, and also results from their instructors’ commitment to their success.

“I think our students’ progression to the Skills Canada Nationals really puts us on the map as a destination for training in Culinary, Carpentry and HVAC, and in all the Trades programs we offer,” she says.

The Skills Canada National Competition is the only national, multi-trade and technology competition for students and apprentices in the country.


For more information about the Skills Canada National Competition, see


Shari Bishop Bowes, Communications Officer, Vancouver Island University

P:250.740.6443 C: 250.618.1535 E: T: @viunews

Tags: Student Success