It’s been a busy week – I have just returned from an enjoyable, exhausting and informative week working at the biggest event I’ve ever been involved in. And I’ve been involved with a few, from community events in wild west Wales to international expo’s in Paris and Jeddah. This one, the Worldskills finals, held in the gigantic and palatial halls of the Excel in London’s Docklands, was big in every regard. Big in message. Big in energy. Big in noise. Big in confidence. And Big in national pride.
Worldskills? Otherwise known as the ‘Skills Olympics’, Worldskills is an international movement, going since the 1950s, that raises standards and awareness of excellence in what in education we call ‘skills’ and what is often referred to as ‘trades’ or ‘crafts’. Everything under the sun was there – every trade, skill or craft one could think of – hair-dressing, beauty therapy, plumbing, tiling, thatching, brick-laying, stone-masonry, new media, carpentry and welding – fibre-optics, megatronics, resin-infusion boat-building, aircraft maintenance, car painting, construction metal-work, floristry, tourism and catering. It was like every subject there’s ever been a TV series about – all rolled in to one – the Clothes Show, Grand Designs, The Great British Bake-Off, Top Gear, X-Factor, the Hotel Inspector and Extreme Engineering. Everything you could ever imagine being paid to produce or provide – from hotel bed-making to welding chocolate and building air-conditioning units – was being demonstrated under strict conditions, live, in an international competition to find the best young people with the highest skills in the world.
It’s hard to overstate the impression Worldskills left on me. The sheer noise and energy was overwhelming, but also the feeling of optimism, of real jobs and a real future – and clever young people doing it so well – that filled so many with great excitement. No wonder the mainstream media were a little sniffy! Reporting on really lovely young people from all over the world, striving for excellence, and respectfully learning and competing and aiming to be the best in their chosen fields and map out careers for themselves, well, where’s the news value in that?
It is a clever idea – instead of focusing on competence – of course we all expect trained crafts and tradespeople to be competent – but to create a culture that strives for excellence by putting on a global competition and letting the public in – for free – to witness it with their own eyes – that is a brilliant idea, that creates quite an atmosphere. The 200,000 visitors – mainly under-18s – who arrived in a fleet of buses each day – to allow tomorrow’s students to meet today’s – and see with their own eyes – and have a go too – at the incredible diversity of roles and jobs that are vital to keep our country operating – that was inspiring.
As well as a ‘cafeteria’ of careers to chose from, visitors were invited to have a go – at skills such as nail art, stonemasonry, fibre-optics, tiling, oar-making and lots and lots of cutting-edge technology like making robots and music videos.The most up-to-date technology was on display and available to get your hands on. Air-conditioning principles were explained while kids went ice-skating round a small rink that had been set up. Video displays and computer terminals delivered short classes while instructors and assistants helped everyone to try their hand at anything they had ever wondered about doing as a job.
The combination of a huge and impressive international expo, top training establishments, champion students from each member country competing against each other and thousands of visitors watching – and having a go – along with an enormous number of state and industry organisations showcasing their wares and meeting and talking turned the Excel into the largest souk in the world – a market for future jobs and the exchange of ideas.
I’m still recovering from it all.