A first-year plumbing apprentice out of Lethbridge College has a national silver medal after competing in Halifax at the Skills Canada National Competition on May 30.
Nineteen-year-old Justin Dekok has only been trying his hand at plumbing for the last year and a half, and he’s already turning heads in his chosen trade.
“I was in cabinetry for a long time — since I can remember pretty much — and then my now boss, Ken, called me and asked if I wanted to try out plumbing,” Dekok said. “I was a little hesitant, but I decided to give it a shot, and I loved it within the first month.”
His “now boss Ken” is Ken Howe, local co-owner of Aquatech Plumbing, and another Lethbridge product who is decorated on the national — and even world — stage.
“Throughout Grade 10, 11 and 12, I competed in cabinet-making, and after that I graduated and went into plumbing and started competing in plumbing,” Howe said. “From there, in 2013, I went to Nationals and placed bronze.
“In 2014, I placed gold in Toronto and went on to World Skills, which was in Sao Paulo, Brazil in 2015, and I placed 11th out of 35 countries there.”
Howe met Dekok through a connection with his older brother — Rylan Dekok — who also competed at World Skills.
“We first met when I was actually competing in World Skills,” Howe said. “I was training and I ended up meeting another competitor from Lethbridge here, which happened to be his brother — Rylan Dekok. We both competed at World Skills.”
“I come from a trades family,” Dekok said. “Everyone is expected to be good, young, pretty much.
“My family thinks it’s pretty awesome, but I think they’re pretty used to it because Rylan went through the whole process too.”
A couple of years later, it was Howe who convinced the younger Dekok brother to give plumbing a try when he ran into him at a school job fair.
Because of his background, Howe is all too familiar with the pressures that are involved in the Skills Canada competitions, as well as the provincial competition in Alberta, and he’s been infinitely impressed with Dekok.
“He’s displayed a lot of talent, and just the fact that he’s taking time off work to compete in these competitions shows a lot about his character, and shows his dedication to his career.”
Howe said that the accomplishment is even more impressive when you consider Dekok’s age.
“The difference between the provincial skills competition and the Nationals is, in the Provincials, there’s an age limit of 21 in Alberta – and that’s just an Alberta requirement – whereas in Nationals, he was up against 24-year-olds, there was one guy there who was 42 years old,” he said.
“He was up against people who have been doing it a lot longer, and that’s what really shocked me with his outcome that he had.”
Howe said he believes that Dekok has the perfect skill set for plumbing, and it came in handy in Halifax.
“Each competitor is under a lot of pressure. Not one competitor actually completed it 100 per cent.”
Dekok was one of the closest competitors to finishing the task in the 12-hour time frame, and Howe said that it was the little things that Dekok does that got him on the podium.
“What makes him really good at plumbing is his attention to detail, his time management. A lot of people look down on plumbing as a trade, but it’s a trade that requires a lot of knowledge and mental ability, a lot of thinking on your feet, a lot of decision-making, and I think that Justin has a lot of those qualities and it’s really good to see.”
For Dekok, it’s the organized nature of plumbing that he enjoys.
“It’s a system and you can just follow the system — the schematic — and at the end, you can take a picture of it and it looks awesome.”
Up next for the 19 year old is attempting to qualify for the World Skills competition, which happens every two years. 2020 is the qualifying year, and the competition is in 2021 in Shanghai, China.