The last time I watched Collette Gorvett set a table for lunch service, she was competing in EuroSkills in Budapest. But in many ways, this competition at City of Glasgow College is no less important: It is the last chance for Collette to prove herself before experts and team leaders select the group of young people that will head to Kazan in August to represent the UK at WorldSkills.
Hers was one of four competitions taking place at the Glasgow college this week, as for the first time, WorldSkills UK held the selection competition for Team UK at a range of institutions across all four nations.
“We don’t want to be a UK-wide organisation in name only,” chief executive Neil Bentley said – and he meant it. Along with other key staff, he racked up a fair number of miles over the last few days, visiting every venue to show his support.
Background: WorldSkills UK LIVE 2018: What you need to know
More news: Winners of national skills finals crowned
Team selection competition is very different from the noisy, busy, incredibly intense atmosphere of WorldSkills Live in Birmingham – the national finals – or international competition.
With individual competitions spread across large college campuses and commonly seeing two or three competitors up against each other, they can even feel a little lost among hundreds of students and staff going about their normal business.
There is no big audience, and no flags being waved or cheers when competitors complete a task. And yet, the tension is tangible the second you step into the college training restaurant where the restaurant services competition is taking place.
The atmosphere is similarly tense in the college kitchens where, side by side, both the cooking and the patisserie and confectionery contests are, pardon the pun, heating up.
In neither competition, any of those in the running for a place on the plane to Kazan have got any experience of international competition, but they have spent months and months preparing to make sure they are ready to show that they can represent their country against peers from all around the world.
The same is the case eight floors up in visual merchandising, where the three competitors, along with international delegates from India, Poland and Sweden who are testing their skills against the Brits, are trying to create intricate shop windows in the midst of students rushing between classes and loud chatter in the college corridors.
It is hard not to worry about how those that are successful will deal with the added pressures of that Team UK polo shirt, and the thousands of spectators that will look on when they come to put their skills to the real test in Russia in August. That is, of course, why the WorldSkills team are so adamant that the young people need to have shown not just world-class skills, but also the commitment and the resilience necessary to be chosen for the team.
Few of the City of Glasgow students walking past will understand the momentous occasion they are witnessing or the pressure on the young people kneeling on the floor, attaching letters to the outside of their shop window.
For the competitors, once competitions draw to a close today, anxious hours of waiting will lie ahead before they find out on Sunday if they have made the cut. But even for those that are successful, that won’t be the end of their journey – instead, it will be the start of an experience most of them at this point will struggle to even imagine.