My students have this incredible ability to work with their minds and their hands. They have such unbelievable aptitude and finally have an outlet for it."
Bobby Haraba of Edmonton thinks big, and has a gift for inspiring others reach their full potential. He is the driving force behind introducing heavy vehicle technology to the world stage through his involvement with Skills Canada Alberta, Skills/Compétences Canada, and the international WorldSkills competitions. As an instructor at NAIT, he helped launched the careers of thousands of students as skilled tradespeople.
Born in Edmonton, Bobby grew up in a single parent family, just blocks from the NAIT campus where he would later become a leader in apprenticeship education. After high school, he began hunting for any job that would hire him; it was the ‘80s and many companies were struggling. It was by pure chance that he landed a job in a heavy equipment shop, where he discovered what would be his life-long passion.
"It was my first introduction to the trades. They inspired me to apprentice. Everyone relies on everyone in that industry, so they were always willing to share their knowledge. I even got my first experience of leadership there,” says Bobby. “Looking back, I didn't have the skills for the leadership role, but that's how we learn."
Bobby earned Red Seal journeyperson certifications as a heavy duty equipment technician, and truck and transport mechanic. Then, after 18 years working as a heavy equipment technician, Bobby applied for a teaching post at NAIT, which would let him spend more time with his young family. Today, he has been an instructor for more than 20 years, teaching the technical aspects of the heavy equipment trade to apprentices from across the province.
"In the trades we're always training our coworkers and apprentices to help them develop their knowledge and skills. So moving to teaching at a technical institute seemed a natural transition for me," Bobby says.
An early teaching success for Bobby came when the company Finning Canada approached NAIT to develop a certification program for teaching to repair its machinery that complied with Alberta standards, called ThinkBig. Bobby took on this project, blending the Alberta standard heavy equipment curriculum with Caterpillar’s curriculum, then leading implementation of a program that still runs today as part of Grande Prairie Regional College Fairview Campus. This Caterpillar-sponsored Heavy Equipment Service Technician Program remains the only program of its kind in Canada.
Bobby has always been the type to give back. He searched for volunteer opportunities within the Edmonton community, but never quite settled on one. This changed when Skills Alberta asked him be a judge for the provincial automotive competition, and he witnessed first-hand the positive impact on kids and the trades community.
“I was very impressed with what they were doing. This competition was also the province’s largest career fair, and they would bus in thousands of young kids and expose them to the trades, often through hands-on activities and demonstrations,” says Bobby. “It meant a lot for the kids, especially those who had parents who were indifferent to the trades.”
Bobby asked Skills Alberta how to make heavy equipment part of the competition. They told him he would need financial sponsorship and volunteers to start a competition in a new trade. Because of his large contact base, Bobby was well prepared to meet the challenge.
“People were interested. If there's an opportunity to give back, they will give back,” he says.
Bobby found supporters across Alberta for the addition of the Heavy Vehicle Technology Competition to Alberta’s Skills Canada competition in 2004. He then went further, connecting with trades professionals around the country who were interested in seeing heavy equipment technology as part of the national Skills/Compétences Canada competition, which also began in 2004.
Winners of the national Skills Canada competition normally go on to the WorldSkills competition. Unfortunately, at the time, heavy vehicle technology competitions were not offered at the international level. Through Bobby’s advocacy and promotion at the 2009 WorldSkills competition hosted in Calgary, the international Heavy Vehicle Technology Competition eventually opened on the international stage – and has grown to be a standard part of WorldSkills competitions.
Bobby is a big proponent of the competitions, having seen first-hand how it can reach younger people and open their imagination to a career in the trades.
“That face-to-face interaction with young people is such a great opportunity to excite kids and show what a career in the trades has to offer,” Bobby says.
Bobby quickly realized that the competition was also an opportunity to stay current on industry technologies and the skills that were in demand.
“Designing each challenge is a good window into the types of skills industry is looking for. We have a team with an industry member and an academic instructor, and that really gives us good feedback on what we should be teaching in the classroom,” Bobby says.
Through his teaching, curriculum development and passion for promoting the trades, Bobby has released the potential of thousands of students, and he sees this as one of his greatest accomplishments.
“Most of our students don't have the best experience in school, so they might not feel worthy to come to a post secondary institution. But in your apprenticeship, you have to take at least one term of technical training. Students realize they're earning good marks and that education isn't all about reading textbooks. They are suddenly good at something, and it's a really big boost for them," Bobby says.
Over the course of his involvement with trades and apprenticeship promotion, Bobby has held several positions including, since 2004, chair of the Skills Canada (provincial and national) technical committees, chief expert for WorldSkills Sao Paolo in 2015, and competition manager of WorldSkills in Abu Dhabi in 2017 and Kazan in 2019. To date, he has earned two Skills Canada provincial safety awards and four national awards, including one for recognition of outstanding personal contribution. Skills Canada has also awarded Bobby’s competition with the Best Demonstration of a Trade Award, once nationally and twice provincially. He has twice received the NAIT Instructional Excellence Award in the school of trades, and has twice been nominated for the NAIT SHINE Extra Mile Award.
Bobby and his wife have a son and live in Edmonton, where Bobby continues his love of teaching apprentices and promoting skilled trades.