FE Week News Reporter Nick Summers gets into the spirit of WorldSkills London 2011 by ‘having a go’ at the trade skills on offer

WorldSkills has been cleverly dubbed the ‘skills Olympics’ – but to think of it merely as a tournament would be short-sighted. The aim of the event is not only to inspire visitors through the competition, but to encourage them to try some of the professions for themselves.

The ‘Have a Go’ activities were designed to get the public involved and try various skills. Booths were dotted all over the ExCel London and attracted plenty of attention thanks to huge billboards shouting “I am… ready to have a go!” These workshops were open plan and designed to represent and reflect the surrounding trades.

The activities, to name just a few, included plastering, carpentry, airbrushing and virtual car painting, hair styling, making wooden rocking horses and chocolate welding.

So in the spirit of WorldSkills (and with a bit of bribery from my editor) I got stuck in and tried as many vocational skills as possible.

My first challenge was to change the rear tire on a Honda motorcycle. Visitors were timed to see how long it took them to remove a bolt and washer, remove the rear calibre and slide out the spindle connecting the tyre. This was then followed by a new rear tyre, which visitors needed to use to put the bike back together again. Tricky.

The wheels were particularly heavy and I was surprised at the strength needed to use the ratchet gun and wrench. One of the mechanics was on hand to make sure I didn’t damage any of the equipment, and I was very impressed with just how hands-on I was allowed to get with the task.

Needless to say my final time for the activity was appalling (no surprise there). Even so, I felt that the task was a realistic glimpse of a profession that would be difficult to reproduce in a college prospectus or open day.

Tiling was next on my list. ‘How hard could it be to stick some ceramics to a wall?’ I thought with blissful ignorance.

To start with, the activity was made far harder by the tile design itself. The various slabs joined together to form a colourful union jack, and it was infuriatingly hard to try and sort them out and put them in their appropriate places. Sticking them to the wall proved even more challenging.

Putting plaster onto the various tools and spreading it with a thin consistency required a level of skill that I obviously didn’t have. The WorldSkills staff were keen to show me how to handle the grey goo with the necessary precision, but to be honest I knew I was a lost hope. Time for something else.

When I think of Bentley cars, I think of designers in smoky rooms, burly mechanics in steel factories and pristine businessmen in immaculate showrooms. Sewing does not come to mind. Yet this was the profession being shown off by the traditional and luxury British car company, offering visitors the chance to finish some cross stitching on a steering wheel.

I saw numerous young men scoff initially at the idea of sewing, but they soon changed their minds when they realised which company was behind the activity (show them a flash car and they’ll do anything – fact). It was refreshing to see the admirable care and craft that goes into car manufacturing, and I think it reminded many people of the different professions that are out there.

Waltham Forest College were offering skills arguably a little more ‘hip’ and modern. An instructor from Streetlife Radio taught me how to use a pair of turntables, keeping in tempo with the music and ‘fading’ across to various tracks. The timing was really tricky and it took me numerous attempts to finally nail a session and put two songs in perfect harmony. Based on the feedback from passers-by, I bet the classes are a resounding success at the college.

Throughout the day I also had the chance to sit in a Formula 1 racing car, try my hand as a racing jockey and even apply various facial masks.

You name it and WorldSkills London 2011 was offering it. Many of the activities were also child friendly, encouraging little ones to try simpler tasks such as plumbing puzzles and building cardboard furniture.

Everything on offer was exciting, fresh and hands-on. It was the perfect opportunity for any school leaver or potential learner to consider a vocational profession, not only by seeing what they enjoyed the most, but also by seeing what they were best at.

Team UK and the inevitable medals table will no doubt grab most of the headlines at WorldSkills, but I’d argue that training providers and young visitors are the real event winners. The first day of the competition was a resounding success and the ‘Have a Go’ activities helped unquestionably to inspire the future of Britain.

 Photos by Nick Linford, for FE Week

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