With a rush of activity and a buzz of excitement, the world’s largest international skills competition arrived on UK shores.
WorldSkills London 2011 – dubbed the skills Olympics – engulfed ExCel London, on Wednesday ahead of four-days of competition to find the best-of-the-best the skills sector has to offer.
Before the 944 competitors, representing 51 nations, got underway, the nearby O2 Arena hosted the opening ceremony on Tuesday.
Chairman of WorldSkills London 2011 Chris Humphries and Deputy Prime Minster, Nick Clegg officially marked the start of the skills competition, jobs and careers event, before a feast of entertainment, including dancing, singing and the traditional flag ceremony.
However, once the formalities – and the pleasantries between the entrants – were over, it was down to the hard-graft of the competition the following morning as the ExCel flung its doors open for the first time.
Speaking to FE Week just hours after thousands of people began flocking into the exhibition centre, Aidan Jones, the chief executive of WorldSkills London 2011, said: “It’s going brilliantly.
“We had a fantastic opening ceremony at the O2 on Tuesday night and we were very pleased to welcome Nick Clegg to join us.
“I was then lucky enough to be here when the roller shutters opened for the first time and people crossed them into the hall.
“It was like the Christmas sales. My heart was ticking really fast, seeing after three years of working for this that people were coming through the doors ready to enjoy the skills on show and on offer.”
However, Mr Jones does not just see this as an important event for the competitors – he also sees it as vital for the future of the nation.
He added: “There has never been a more important time to show the UK that skills shape our world and the future success of Britain’s businesses depend on a highly skilled workforce.
“We hope WorldSkills London demonstrates to the world how talented young British people are.”
While the competitors got down to the nitty-gritty action of their chosen skill, the halls filled with visitors – and not forgetting the event’s ambassadors, who proudly patrolled the arena to will the competitors on.
One of those was Eddie ‘The Eagle’ Edwards, who became Britain’s first Olympic ski jumper when he took to the slopes at the Calgary Winter Olympics in 1988, becoming a national hero.
However, it was as a plasterer the former Olympian spread his wings, having grown up in a family of plasterers.
As an ambassador for WorldSkills London 2011, he was delighted to watch the event unfold and cheer on Team UK.
He said: “I split my time now with Eddie ‘The Eagle’ work and when I’m not doing that I’m plastering ceilings and walls.
“This year was the first time I’d heard of the event and now that I’m finally here, I’m really looking forward to getting out on the shop floor.”
When arriving at the vast exhibition centre, he was surprised to see how big it was and how many schoolchildren were attending.
The first day of the event also saw the Junior WorldSkills event and a raft of primary schools invited to attend.
Eddie said: “There were a lot of schoolchildren looking around which is wonderful as most people think about university to study, but there are lots of things you can do without going to university.”
He was also keen to ‘Have a Go’ at the other trades and skills on offer available at the event to try himself, adding: “Who knows, I might get into something else. I’m all for learning.”
Another ambassador, who knows what it is like to perform on the world stage in front of thousands of people, is Olympic gold medallist Jason Gardener – and he was delighted to support Team UK.
The sprinter, won gold in the 4×100 metre replay at the 2004 summer Olympics games in Athens, said: “When I walked into the ExCel, I thought ‘wow, this place is enormous’. It blew my mind.”
He added: “It was great to meet Team UK and the competitors in the send-off event last week.
“Team UK have been prepared, they’ve gone through a rigorous two years of training, they’ve had mentoring and developed their skills and identified areas to improve.”
Businessman and star of BBC Two show Dragon’s Den, Theo Paphitis was also on hand to show his support for the skills sector.
He said: “Skills are vital to ensuring the UK’s future as one of the world’s biggest economies.
“Skills not only provide the talent organisations need to thrive, evolve and grow, but also give people a solid grounding on which to start their enterprises.
“By encouraging and nurturing those who take vocational routes – and raising awareness of the great opportunities out there for skilled workers – we can ensure the UK has the skills we need for the future.”
For a full FE Week round-up, including results, from WorldSkills London 2011, see our website www.feweek.co.uk on Monday.
Picture: Jazz Hands: City College Norwich Dance troupe performing on the main stage at WorldSkills