More than once last week, Team UK at the WorldSkills competition in Abu Dhabi made me emotional.
Usually, I don’t tend to get teary over a beautifully wallpapered wall or an exceptionally well-connected boiler. So what was different? Watching the UK’s best young bricklayer or car painter or mechanical engineer at work was, frankly, moving.
The 34 young people from the UK put everything they had learned from college lecturers and employers, as well as literally sweat and tears, into a competition in skills that too many people back in their home nation still view as inferior to a university career.
Over more than two years, they had put in hundreds and hundreds of hours of training while doing their apprenticeships, college courses or jobs. Painter and decorator Jordan Charters (pictured, left), whose story we told a fortnight ago, encapsulated the extraordinary commitment shown on the road to Abu Dhabi.
Jordan was one of two Scots – with Betsy Crosbie, from New College Lanarkshire, also representing her country in mechanical engineering computer-aided design. Both received medallions of excellence for their efforts. They are a true success story of Scottish education, and one from which we should all take inspiration (see pages 14-15).
Education is not always full of good news – and it certainly isn’t at the moment, as this week’s Tes Scotland demonstrates. But Jordan, Betsy and their teammates from across the UK gave us nothing but joy with their performance in the Middle East.
Skilled in team spirit
They showed not just a skill level that would be the pride of any nation, they also displayed all those “soft skills” we always hear about – from team spirit, cheering on and supporting each other, to grit and determination and commitment.
The amazing support of parents at WorldSkills was also incredibly touching. We often hear stories of parents who are disinterested in their children’s education or disappointed in them for choosing a vocational route.
But at WorldSkills there were fathers pacing nervously in the baking heat, just far enough away from their child’s work station so they would not disturb them, and mothers emotional at the sight of the cabinet their child had just built or the computer game they had designed.
It was wonderful to see the impact that true parental support can have.
Most importantly, Team UK, with its two Scottish members, showed what can be achieved by young people taking that vocational route after school, and the personal growth that is possible with support from great college lecturers.
Scotland’s colleges can offer students great opportunities, and Jordan and Betsy both exemplify this. There is no doubt that they will be a great success in their chosen careers and an inspiration to many students who follow them at Edinburgh College and New College Lanarkshire.
At a time where it would be easy for anyone working in education to get lost in tales of funding woes and workload pressures, they are a shining light of what is possible, regardless. So take a bow, Betsy and Jordan – you have given a whole sector something to smile about.