Apprentices from Toyota, Airbus and Topshop are among 32 of the country’s elite learners who have been selected to represent the UK and go for gold at WorldSkills Abu Dhabi later this year.
The team [see below] will fly to the Middle East in October to compete against young people from 76 countries, in more than 50 different skills, ranging from aircraft maintenance and mechanical engineering, through to restaurant service and cyber security.
Those chosen for Team UK – and those who haven’t – have gone through a two-year qualification battle with the best this country has to offer in each discipline, giving up most of their weekends and evenings to hone their skills.
They’ve excelled at regional heats, a national final, the European finals, and last month jumped the final hurdle, facing the most testing international standards at a team selection showdown in Manchester.
“I said I wouldn’t cry if I made Team UK but I couldn’t help it,” said Jordan Charters, after he was told he had been chosen to represent the UK in painting and decorating. “All the hard work that I put in has paid off. It has made it worthwhile.”
While 32 members of Team UK have already been announced, two more will join them in June when the cooking and car painting competitors are selected.
All 34 will then undergo a rigorous regime of Olympic-style training in preparation for the most intense week of competition imaginable, at an event dubbed the “Olympics of skills”.
Of the team going to compete in Abu Dhabi, 13 represented the UK at EuroSkills Gothenburg in December last year, where the team brought home two golds, one silver, two bronzes and eight medallions of excellence.
Among them was plumbing and heating competitor Daniel Martins. He said he was “over the moon” to be chosen to fly to Abu Dhabi, an experience which he expects to be “unbelievable”.
At the last WorldSkills in Sao Paulo in 2015, Team UK finished overall seventh in the medal table, ahead of favourites France and Germany – bringing home three golds, four silvers, two bronzes and 23 medallions of excellence.
Skills and apprenticeships minister Robert Halfon told FE Week: “It is an absolute delight to have a great WorldSkills Team UK heading out to Abu Dhabi. I am also thrilled that that we have all of the nations from the UK represented in the team, and I have no doubt they will do tremendously well and I wish them every possible good luck. This is a wonderful day for skills in our country.”
Abu Dhabi: The Olympics of skills
This year’s global event will be the first time that a Middle Eastern country will host WorldSkills, although Abu Dhabi itself is no stranger to skills competitions.
The 44th WorldSkills will be held in the Adnec, the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre, a venue that has hosted both the Emirates skills competition and the Gulf Cooperation Council regional skills competition.
It is one of the largest exhibition centres in the Middle East, at 133,000 square metres, or the size of around 20 football pitches.
The event will take place between October 14 and 19, when temperatures can hit 43 degrees centigrade (in England the temperature will be a milder 12 degrees).
But the heat isn’t going to be a problem for any competitors from colder countries, according to Simon Bartley, the president of WorldSkills International.
Mr Bartley previously told FE Week: “I’ve visited the venue in the middle of summer, winter, spring and autumn and I can tell you that the centre where the competition is being held is fully air conditioned. It will be perfectly fit for running a competition.”