UK hosts special WorldSkills competition this week

Competitors visit ex coal mine and Welsh villages ahead of competitions

Competitors visit ex coal mine and Welsh villages ahead of competitions

The UK is hosting the global WorldSkills competition this week for the first time in over ten years – albeit on a smaller scale.

Competitors have travelled from around the world, including Singapore, Canada, and Zimbabwe to compete in aircraft maintenance and manufacturing in Cardiff and Wrexham from Tuesday until Friday. 

They are taking part in this year’s special edition of WorldSkills, which is being hosted by multiple countries after continuing Covid restrictions meant the whole event couldn’t go ahead in Shanghai as planned.

Despite fierce competition and rigorous training schedules, WorldSkills international competitors donned matching waterproof jackets and headed out into Wales’s lush countryside to explore the country’s cultural heritage. 

The tiny Welsh village of St Fagans, reconstructed into a museum in 1948, lies just a few miles west of Cardiff. Red, blue, pink, and white pebbledash cottages stand amongst reconstructed Iron Age farmsteads.

International competitors walking through a Welsh village

It is Coby Yong’s first time in Wales, having flown over from Singapore to compete against 13 other countries in the aircraft maintenance competition.

The 19-year-old said: “It’s a beautiful country… Singapore is highly dense and all-around Singapore there are high rise buildings. Whereas here there is a lot of flat lands, it’s very calm and chill here.”

The teams were taken further north to Blaenavon to visit an old coal mine, named Big Pit. In its heyday the mine employed up to 1,300 men. Since then, this little village’s population has dwindled down to a few thousand. 

WorldSkills competitors walked through the old mines 300ft tunnels, sensing what life would have been like for the miners in the 1800’s.

Ahmed Alkindi, from the United Arab Emirates Team, is happy to have travelled to Wales to compete. He said: “Wales is really nice. I think it’s the best because I have visited the castles and the mines. The weather is really cool compared to my country. It is 30 degrees in Dubai right now and gets up to 45 degrees in the summer.”

The finalists have been intensively training over the last three years to win medals in aircraft maintenance and manufacturing skills. Winning a medal will have a life-changing impact for them and their careers.

Ewan Payne is representing the UK in Aircraft Maintenance in Cardiff. George Denman, from Swansea, Michael Jones, from Caerphilly, and Charlie Samson, from Wrexham, are on the manufacturing UK team.  

Denman told FE Week that training has focussed on coping under pressure and being involved in WorldSkills will be a huge boost to his career. 

He added: “Being involved with WorldSkills UK … teaches us key skills that will be crucial in our careers. Things like coping under pressure, working as a team, and time management.”

Michael Jones says he thought that the Duke of Edinburgh would be the hardest thing he has done. Turns out he was wrong. He said: “This is harder, but I love it. To represent the UK is fantastic but I’m not sure that my partner, friends, and family quite realise yet how big this is. Winning a gold medal would be life changing.”

Payne, an RAF Aircraft engineer based at RAF Benson in Oxfordshire, is the only competitor representing the UK in aircraft maintenance. Payne has served in the USA, France and the Middle East and is a qualified sky diver. 

He is following in the footsteps of Hadyn Jakes, who brought home the gold medal for Team UK at the last championships in Kazan in 2019. Since competing in 2019, Haydn returned to his studies at the University of Nottingham and was awarded an MBE in 2020. He is now part of the WorldSkills UK training team and is working with Ewan in preparation for November’s final.

Jakes said: “It is like nothing you have experienced before and, as well as demonstrating you have the technical skills, you must be able to keep focus and perform under pressure.”

Payne added: “The training that I’ve been going through with my training manager has been hard. I’ve learnt a lot throughout this journey and I’m very appreciative of Jimmy, my training manager, for all the support he’s given me. It is a hard journey.”

Team UK are up against some of the world’s best talent. France’s Valentin Borkowski has been training full time for the past three years. Alkindi has also been training intensively over the past two years. 

As has Yong, who tells FE Week that he has been training full time, every day for the past three years. “My training starts at 8am and ends at 6pm Monday to Friday. Basically, it’s a job.”

Competitions will finish today, with winners announced tomorrow in the closing ceremony.

The 23-year-old Alkindi said: “We are all winners. Everyone who reached this level to make it to the WorldSkills are champions. Because I believe everyone here is a professional who worked hard for one to two years three years from their life. I think all of us are champions.”

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