Northern Alberta Institute of Technology

Auto apprentice named Team Canada top prospect for WorldSkills

Representing country ‘an honour’

A NAIT Auto Body Technician apprentice will face off against a Western Canadian rival for the right to represent the nation at the world’s largest skilled trades competition.

Muhammad Afzal, a fourth-year apprentice, was named a Team Canada prospect in auto body repair – NAIT’s lone representative – Skills Canada Alberta announced. That means he’ll compete against one other finalist for the right to represent the maple leaf at the 2019 WorldSkills in Kazan, Russia. The event is like the Olympics for skilled trades and technology.

“I would definitely enjoy it a lot, the opportunity to represent my country,” says Afzal. “That’s pretty big. Not everyone can say that.”

Afzal has represented Alberta at skills competitions for two straight years, most recently this past June in Edmonton when he went up against peers from other Alberta post-secondaries and won silver. That was enough to earn the right to square off in nationals the following day, where again he took home silver, opening the door to the possibility of competing internationally.

“I would definitely enjoy it a lot, the opportunity to represent my country.”

The 20-year-old has been interested in working on cars since he was a kid when his dad bought and resold vehicles, which saw them frequent many repair shops. “That’s where my passion for cars came from,” he says.

Muhammad AfzalSkills competition a challenge

His apprenticeship and working in industry for the past five years prepared him for the challenge of competition. His employer, Modern Auto Body in Edmonton, focuses on luxury vehicle repair and Afzal says he’s been fortunate to work with the latest technology of the trade – and on some pretty cool cars, too, from BMWs to Teslas.

Afzal heard about skills competitions from co-worker and NAIT instructor Nathan Badry (Auto Body Technician ’09), who previously won gold at provincials and silver at nationals. Competitors complete about six tasks on the clock, Afzal says, analyzing vehicles for damage, fixing the shell of a car door, dent repair and more.

“Basically, working on a day-to-day basis is me prepping for skills. It’s learning new stuff every day.”

“I think he’ll do well. We’ll be rooting for him.”

Program chair Bryce Nelson (Auto Body Repair and Refinish ’93) says the polytechnic is often well-represented at skills competitions, which is a credit to a “great group of instructors” working with apprentices.

“As far as Muhammad [potentially] going to WorldSkills, that really that just showcases NAIT and how we’re a leading trainer in trades and other programs,” he says.

Afzal is a good student, Nelson says, adding his performances at recent skills competitions reflects his commitment to push himself. “I think he’ll do well. We’ll be rooting for him.”

Confident about his chances

Afzal says he’s happy with his silver medals at provincial and nationals, especially considering both gold medallists he faced were older and more experienced. Age limits precluded those winners from qualifying for WorldSkills, where competitors must be 22 years old or younger. The top two competitors from 28 categories at nationals were named Team Canada prospects.

In order to punch a ticket to Kazan, Afzal must defeat a British Columbia-based auto body repair prospect at the Skills Canada National Competition next May in Halifax.

Though he doesn’t want to “jinx it,” Afzal points out he already bested his rival on the national stage once before and likes his chances for a repeat.

“I’m pretty confident that I’ll be taking home the medal.”

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