Derrick Penner, originally from Altona and now living in Steinbach, had a great showing for the second consecutive year at the Skills Canada National Competition which took place May 25th and 26th in Winnipeg. Currently attending Red River College Polytechnic in Winnipeg, Penner participated in the Post Secondary Cabinetry competition against students from across the country, bringing home gold in the category, again, as well as being selected as the RBC Best of Region Award for Manitoba at the 2023 event. Penner won gold at the National competition in Vancouver in 2022.
"It blew me away, to be honest," shared Penner with CFAM Radio 950 Morning Show Co-Host Chris Sumner. "I was sitting there thinking, okay, they're doing their best of region thing, that's always other people. So they started with Alberta and then British Columbia. Oh, they're going in alphabetical order. Oh, Manitoba's next. Oh, Derrick Penner! What?!? I wasn't expecting that at all. Yeah, that one was a bit of a shocker for me, to be honest."
For the second consecutive year, the RBC Best of Region Awards were awarded at the Skills Canada National Competition to the competitor with the best weighted score from each province and territory. For winning, Penner received $1,500 toward his education and future career in the trades. He is currently pursuing his Red Seal accreditation in cabinet making.
Penner attributes his love for woodworking to time spent with his grandpa Dick Penner.
"Not necessarily tons of time, but when we did, it was a treat for me," reflected Penner. "If I could ask him to go into the shop and build something, sometimes it was just building a dinky little airplane out of scrap pieces that didn't really look like anything, because it was built by a little kid, but it was just always a treat for me. Those were some special memories."
That little plane wasn't the only early project that came to mind for Penner.
"I think around preteen age, or something like that, I built a little wooden box with a garage door that I could open with a string for parking my Hot Wheels in," he said. "I love working with wood. I love working with my hands, and basically when you get to take a piece of wood that's just a chunk of wood, and you get to make it into something beautiful, or something functional, it's like you're building functional art with your own hands. It's really satisfying."
Turning to the cabinetry competition, Penner outlined competitors were given twelve hours over the course of two days to complete the assigned project.
"The project we had to build was a standing cabinet," he explained. "We had the box with the cabinet. We had crown molding around it. We had a styled door with lighter corners and a diamond veneer pattern on the door panel. We also had legs with different joints that we had to use for joining the different parts of the legs together."
Now for those not familiar with woodworking, that may all sound like a challenge, but to someone who has a passion for it, and is going to school for cabinet making, Penner noted one part in particular required extra attention.
"The most difficult part that I found was probably the dovetails and the legs," he said. "I was practicing those at home for a week or two before the competition, and couldn't quite get them 100% where I wanted them, but I I just did my best."
And with yet another gold medal, and now the RBC Best of Region Award, in his trophy case, what does the future have in store for him once his Red Seal is attained?
"To be honest, I'm not 100% sure," Penner said. "I don't know if it will be trying to start my own business at some point, or if it will be opening doors for other jobs like in education down the road. I'm just excited to see which doors it's going to open."
It's no secret the demand for skilled trades is very high with many sectors clamoring for qualified workers to fill those jobs. With that in mind, Penner was asked for his advice to students, or those thinking of making a career change, and are considering trades as an option.
"I would say go for it, and if you're nervous about whether it's something you're really wanting to commit to, dip your toes in and give it a shot," he encouraged. "If you have a chance in high school, go check out these trades, or take a course in this, or a course in that. Go for it. Try it. It might not be for you, but you might end up loving it, and finding a career that you really enjoy."
Penner wasn't the only competitor with local ties to do well at the competition. Altona's Luke Friesen, who works at Altona Farm Service, took home bronze in the Post Secondary Outdoor Power and Recreation Equipment Repair category. Friesen is also currently attending Red River College Polytechnic. Meanwhile, Alyssa Wall, an Esthetics student from Garden Valley Collegiate in Winkler, and attending the Esthetics program at Northlands Parkway Collegiate also competed at the National event. Instructor Brenda Richer tells us Wall was a great competitor, but did not medal at the event.
You can listen to Penner's conversation with CFAM Radio 950 Morning Show Co-Host Chris Sumner, below.