The journey from WorldSkills competitor to expert

In 2015, Mike Watson represented Team UK at WorldSkills in São Paulo, Brazil. This year, he is hoping to achieve glory in a different capacity – as a WorldSkills expert

Mike Watson

England's skills system can learn from the expertise on show at WorldSkills, according to a report by WorldSkills UK

Nothing can quite compare you for the WorldSkills competition; the sheer size, noise, and intense pressure of the whole event. It’s an amazing experience and one I thought I would never be lucky enough to experience again. 

Two years later, and it’s come round again. And I am part of it.

On Wednesday, I travelled out to WorldSkills Abu Dhabi 2017 as part of Team UK. But this time not as a competitor, but as the WorldSkills UK expert for CNC milling.

WorldSkills UK competitions formed a huge part of my apprenticeship with GKN Aerospace, where I still work now as a programmer. I was encouraged to enter the national competitions by my tutor at Bristol College. I won’t lie: at first, it seemed like a lot of extra work, but some of my mates were getting involved so I signed up. However, I soon saw the benefits. The accuracy of my work was improving and I was able to complete jobs at a quicker pace. This was great for my own development and it also had a positive impact on my colleagues at GKN Aerospace, as I was able to share the new skills I had learnt from my competition training with them. Realising the important role competitions played in developing apprentices, I was lucky enough that GKN Aerospace supported my progression through the WorldSkills UK international development programme.

When you are representing your country in a skill that you are passionate about, in extremely pressured conditions, you experience a whole range of emotions. From immense highs to lows when things don’t go to plan. But you aren’t alone. You are part of a team, you really are. The support of my expert, Ian Thompson, had a huge impact on my performance and no one was happier than him when it was announced that, after 22 hours of competition, I had reached the world standard and was one of the best young millers in the world. 

Show your support for Team UK

When the opportunity arose for me to take over from Ian as an expert, I jumped at that chance. It is certainly not an easy role. We are all volunteers and have to fit in the work, like the competitors we train, around our full-time jobs.

However, just as GKN Aerospace supported me as a competitor, they are fully supportive of my role as an expert. They see that the training I deliver for Ethan Davies, who will represent the UK in CNC milling at WorldSkills Abu Dhabi 2017, can be shared with our apprentices assisting with their development plans.

As a competitor, you don’t realise how much experts have to beg and borrow – but not quite steal – to deliver the training required to be able to prepare the team to compete at the international competition. The machine that Ethan will compete on isn’t readily available in the UK, so we have been working closely with DMG Mori, who generously support the work of WorldSkills UK, to access their machines for free. It is the same with Mitutoyo and Sandviq; again, without their support we wouldn’t be able to compete.

The technical side of the training is hugely important, but I have also been working with Ethan’s employer, Electroimpact, to make slight adjustments to his working day to help him acclimatise for the competition in Abu Dhabi. Electroimpact has a small workforce in the UK, but they have been hugely supportive of Ethan’s involvement. They have allowed him time off work to attend training sessions, even though this puts additional pressure on the rest of the workforce, and have allowed him to start his day three hours early to get used to the time difference in Abu Dhabi. This may seem slightly over the top, but it is preparation like this that can make all the difference in points – and points mean medals. 

I have one request to make of you all. Please show your support for Team UK on social media. When you have finished competing for the day and are scrolling through Facebook and Twitter, there is no better feeling than seeing all the messages of support. 

Mike Watson is an expert in CNC milling for Team UK at WorldSkills Abu Dhabi 2017

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