Skip to content

Young Sunshine Coast orators map a future for trades and tech

An inaugural student public speaking event held on the Sunshine Coast last week produced a pair of powerful advocates for technical advancement and self-expression.
Speakers Louise Olaniyan (left) and Atala Herrera Stevens at the inaugural Skills Canada BC public speaking competition on the Sunshine Coast, with event coordinator John Leech (centre).

An inaugural student public speaking event held on the Sunshine Coast last week produced a pair of powerful advocates for technical advancement and self-expression. 

The Technology Festival Association of BC, founded by Gibsons resident John Leech three years ago, organized the regional speech competition of Skills Canada BC. Skills Canada is a non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of careers in technology and skilled trades. 

Leech’s association has coordinated an annual popsicle stick bridge-building competition for students and last year ran its inaugural egg drop at three elementary schools of School District 46, involving more than 350 participants. 

“This Canada Skills speakers competition is another addition to our work and we’re looking at other opportunities to engage other STEM-related organizations,” said Leech, who is the retired CEO of the Applied Science Technologists and Technicians of BC. “We want to see how we can further ramp up information and awareness around STEM education and careers.” STEM is pedagogical shorthand for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. 

Leech and fellow festival coordinator Lisa Murata recruited teenaged orators from the Sunshine Coast’s three high schools. Two Grade 10 students from Elphinstone Secondary stepped forward to compete on March 7: Louise Olaniyan and Atala Herrera Stevens. 

“I thought this would be a good challenge for myself,” said Olaniyan. “And the topic was quite interesting because I’d never really thought about how technology could affect the trades. If I was ever to speak about this topic again, I’d have a lot more depth, and be a lot more grounded.” 

Both Olaniyan and Herrera Stevens delivered prepared remarks about the impact of technological advancement on trade work. Herrera Stevens recounted an interview she conducted with a skilled construction worker and discussed the potential impacts of artificial intelligence on technology-dependent industries. 

“I know one thing for sure,” she concluded, “the trades worker whom I contacted has strong opinions on the matter. For those who resist adapting in the industry, [A.I.] will not slow or wait. It’s not just recommended to change with the times. It’s crucial.” Herrera Stevens plans a career in broadcast television. 

For Olaniyan, who will pursue post-secondary education in architectural engineering, adaptation is a priority. “The task of adopting new ideas, fostering a culture of lifelong learning and moving with the flow of change while upholding the core values of artisanal craftsmanship will be a daunting hill to climb, especially when crossing the borders of new to old,” she said. “The skilled trades have an opening to navigate these changes.” 

The two competitors also delivered impromptu speeches based on questions from competition adjudicators Laurel Sukkau (representing local Toastmasters clubs) and David Kipling. 

Herrera Stevens collected the gold medal, while Olaniyan earned silver. Herrera Stevens will advance to the provincial public speaking competition of Skills Canada BC on April 17 at the Abbotsford Trade and Exhibition Centre. 

Meanwhile, the Technology Festival Association is planning for expansion of the regional speaking contest. Its catchment area includes schools in the Lower Mainland, and Leech wants to bring competitors to the Sunshine Coast for the annual event. 

“There’s a big job to be done,” Leech said. “The job is to educate parents in particular who are major influencers of young people in terms of their careers, and young people and the community as a whole in terms of where STEM exists and in what career areas we might find STEM-related education.”