When the announcement came that colleges across the UK were to shut due to the coronavirus outbreak, the members of Squad UK for wall and floor tiling quite literally found themselves without a wall to tile. With our training facilities closing, our plans came to an abrupt halt. EuroSkills and WorldSkills are due to take place in the next 18 months and I knew any break in the training would be disastrous and could mean the difference between winning and losing a medal.
Like many teaching staff, our way of working as we knew it needed to change. This required thinking differently about how I could prepare my squad to continue to develop their skills remotely.
Selected after excelling in the WorldSkills UK nationals finals last November, I am working with four extremely talented young tilers: Dylan Calvert, Odhran Connolly and Dylan Gillanders, who all attend Southern Regional College, and Morgan Swift, who attends City of Glasgow College.
Need to know: EuroSkills 2020 postponed because of coronavirus
When I first started working with them, I was particularly struck by their professional attitude and commitment, but like many other teaching staff I was conscious that without our face-to-face training sessions, one of the biggest challenges I needed to overcome was keeping them motivated and engaged with the training. I also couldn’t ignore the personal challenges they were each facing around the uncertainty of their apprenticeship and future employment. While there may still be unanswered questions on this, what we do know is the impact of competition training on improving the future employment prospects for young people. Last year, 95 per cent of WorldSkills UK national finalists said their personal and employability skills had improved after competing.
To win big at WorldSkills we not only mould and grow well-rounded individuals for competition, but we also empower them with skills for life. It was this thinking that underpinned the remote training that I devised.
Training for WorldSkills in coronavirus lockdown
Before I moved my training online, I needed to first check that all my squad had access to laptops and tablets. I know from my role as a lecturer at Southern Regional College that this has been a challenge.
With everyone online, I next looked at how I could work with them to build on their technical skills. Wall and floor tiling requires materials, tools and a lot of space, which my competitors just don’t have at home. However, what we could all discuss in our online sessions were the specific skills and techniques that underpin international best practices in tiling. An understanding of this will not only help them in competition but will also support their career progression from apprentice to a senior position on site in a relatively short amount of time.
Sharing with them past test projects from previous WorldSkills competitions, we discussed what success would look like. I asked them to come back to me with how they would tackle the project to maximise marks in the competition. I gave them two weeks to complete this assignment but was surprised when they came back within two days and they were surprised with how this approach had helped them to understand the competition in a more comprehensive way.
Morgan told me that for the first time she really understood how WorldSkills prepares young people to thrive at the highest level in work, rather than just succeed in competition. In future sessions, we will look more closely at the WorldSkills marking criteria, which includes; work organisation and management, health and safety, communication and interpersonal skills, management of materials, design, problem solving and innovation. All these are essential skills not just for competition but also for the workplace.
The intensity of both training and the competitions can be mentally taxing on the young people we work with and never more so than in these challenging times. WorldSkills UK has responded to this by moving its boot camps online.
How's everyone feeling today? Coach Steph from our Performance and Wellbeing team has some great tips to help you feel a bit more happy and healthy 💛 pic.twitter.com/OyN8atgcp6— WorldSkills UK (@worldskillsuk) April 11, 2020
This means that the squad are still able to participate in performance coaching, performance psychology and physiological wellbeing sessions to help them create a "medal-winning" mindset. Our performance and wellbeing coaches have also adapted to support Squad UK members at this time, and I know we have all found these sessions invaluable. I have also shared their advice with the apprentices I teach at Southern Regional College.
Our training for EuroSkills Graz 2021 and WorldSkills Shanghai 2021 is not what I initially planned, but like all working in FE and at independent training providers, we have risen to the challenge. I am confident that despite new ways of training, Team UK will deliver a performance on the international stage that we can all be proud of.
Paul Doran is a lecturer at Southern Regional College and WorldSkills UK training manager for wall and floor tiling
To be in with a chance of representing the UK at WorldSkills Lyon 2023, apprentices and students must register for the WorldSkills UK competitions here by 5 May.