WorldSkills UK squad selection highlights

Hundreds of skilled and talented FE students from across the UK last week fought for a chance to take place in WorldSkills, the world’s largest skills competition.

They descended upon Stephenson College and North Hinckley and Warwickshire College, following the confectionery selections held in London late last month.

After months of preparation, competitors underwent a series of challenging tasks over several days, competing for a chance to represent the UK in next year’s WorldSkills Championship in Leipzig, Germany. Judges were on the lookout for the cream of FE talent, with hopes of beating last year’s tally of four gold medals.

The two colleges were transformed by the WorldSkills UK team into testing and examination centres. Stephenson was the base for skills such as stone masonry (a gold medal-winning skill for the UK last year) and refrigeration; while over in Nuneaton, North Hinckley and Warwickshire staged selections that included hairdressing, web design and cookery.

Competing in an international competition is by far one of the greatest symbols of achievement in any skill; competing within WorldSkills provides much more – and has become a life enhancing opportunity for many competitors.

Former Weston College student and now staff member, Hayley Wright, who competed in beauty therapy at last year’s world competition in London, spoke to FE Week about the opportunities that being a competitor has created.

Helping at this year’s selections, Hayley said, “I had always dreamed of owning my own beauty therapy salon one day; never in a million years did I expect to be standing here today mentoring the UK’s competitors in a global competition.

Nigel Leigh, principal of Stephenson College and Marion Plant, principal of North Hinckley and Warwickshire College

“I picked up many new skills as a competitor. These were recognised by my college, who, after the competition, encouraged me to become a teacher. I’m now doing my training and absolutely loving it.

“Would-be squad members love the fact that as alumni we are able to offer a perspective as previous competitors. It provides much greater reassurance and allows us to pass on the skills that we were taught.”

A key aim of WorldSkills UK and the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS), who have responsibility for managing the UK’s entry and performance in WorldSkills, is to ensure that all former competitors are an integral part of the training process. A relaunch of an independent alumni association and advisory board is in the latter stages of development and is expected to be launched in the next couple of months.

Competitors would be unable to develop and succeed at these competitions without the immense support that the professionals provide. Peter Waters, training manager for painting, explained that before the shortlist selection, competitors had undergone various training programmes to help to prepare them not only for the competitions but also the exposure that they would receive.

The opportunity to become a squad member provides a truly stretching and stimulating training programme that has invaluable benefit to competitors

“I have been working with these particular students since April of this year. Only a few weeks ago the three competitors here today spent almost two weeks with me developing their skill and making their approach to the competition more professional. Getting this far in the competition provides them with the opportunity to undertake one of the most comprehensive and challenging training programmes around, leading to the acquisition of skills that are stronger than the typical industry standard.”

Marion Plant, principal of North Hinckley and Warwickshire College and a WorldSkills champion (official supporter), is one of the loudest and most vocal supporters of the transforming nature that WorldSkills can provide. “Even before I became principal our college was taking part in WorldSkills competitions; they are a major part of what we do here and have become central to our business strategy.

“The impact has been two-fold. First, there has been the positive impact that it has had on our success rates. Skills competitions are now embedded within the teaching and learning of all courses, leading to more than 74 per cent of our students’ participating in a WorldSkills-associated activity last year.

Ofsted also recognised our engagement with WorldSkills as positive. Second, and most important from my perspective, is the transformational impact that it has had on the culture of our college.”

Nigel Leigh, principal of Stephenson College, said that he agreed the competition engaged and encouraged students across all levels. “As the college principal I act as the East Midlands Regional WorldSkills champion and I encourage providers in our region to incorporate competitions into their work, and to use them as one way of promoting their organisation at the Skills Show at the NEC in November.”

Jaine Bolton, director at NAS and UK official delegate to WorldSkills International, said: “I feel privileged to be able to be part of the selection for our UK Squad. It’s overwhelming to witness the determination and hard work of our competitors, training managers and professional coaches. “For those that are selected, these competitions are just a small part of an incredibly challenging and enhancing year. The opportunity to become a squad member provides a truly stretching and stimulating training programme that has invaluable benefit to competitors.”

Ultimately just one competitor, from each of 41 skills, will represent the UK at the 2013 WorldSkills Championship; the next few months will be spent ensuring that team UK is prepared to compete in the global arena.

Most competitors who make it into Squad UK will also take part at EuroSkills in Belgium in October this year. The squad selections will be announced in the next couple of weeks.

FE Week will be following the journey of the UK competitors from selection to the grand finale at the Leipzig WorldSkills Show in 2013.