Skilled young Brits achieve best ever WorldSkills result
Worldskills London 2011 claims to have been the largest international skills competition ever - and Team UK rose to the occasion, coming fifth, the best ever placing in the medals table.
The team of 36 students, apprentices and under-25 workers overtook recent rivals such as Australia, Canada and France to win 12 medals: four gold, two silver and six bronze. First place was won by South Korea, with 24 medals.
Organisers and ministers who signed off on the event seized on the success. "These inspirational results are a tribute to the skill, imagination and purposeful pride of our young people," said John Hayes, the skills minister. "But I want many thousands more people in the UK to achieve excellence."
Improvements over previous years were relatively modest - three medals and one place on the leaderboard - considering the home advantage and extra effort expended. Up to #163;90,000 was spent on preparing the UK's contestants, much of it coming from industry sponsorship.
Some of the medals nevertheless came as a surprise, like the gold won by former apprentice bricklayer Philip Green against all expectations, not least his own. The 22-year-old from Lisburn in Northern Ireland had only set his sights on a medallion of excellence, the award for reaching a "world-class" standard.
"Words can't really describe it," he said. "To be called up to receive a medal was incredible." Concentration was vital: he had to place over 600 bricks precisely to the millimetre to form intricate designs such as a replica of Tower Bridge.
Home advantage counted in landscape gardening, one of the UK's big medal hopes: the theme was an English garden. Teammates James Cuffey and Simon Abbott were awarded a silver medal, with Switzerland taking the top prize.
The UK's bronze medal in Mechanical Engineering Design - CAD, showed how WorldSkills can reveal gaps in the skills system. According to training manager Matthew Bell, few people in the UK are trained in both the design and mechanical engineering skills needed. Ryan Sheridan, 20, a former student who now works for Motherwell College, was chosen for his design abilities and given a crash course in engineering. During weeks and months of intensive training, he learned enough to beat most of the rest of the world.
Whether WorldSkills, and the new national annual competition, will have a lasting impact partly depends on its success as a spectator sport, generating more interest in skills. A total attendance that reached 200,000, slightly more than expected, is one good sign. While some events were hard to follow - the welders had to be hidden behind safety screens - others captivated visitors. Large crowds marvelled at creations such as the intricate sugar presentation pieces made by the patisserie chefs, which looked like Lalique glass, with the added bonus of being edible.
As for whether WorldSkills will really inspire a new generation to acquire world-beating abilities, at least one young boy was heard to exclaim, "Wow! This is good," as he dashed over to watch landscape gardeners make drystone walls.
TEAM UK WINNERS
Cooking Ben Murphy, 20
Stonemasonry Chris Berridge, 22*
Visual Merchandising Kirsty Hoadley, 20
Bricklaying Philip Green, 22
Plumbing amp; Heating Shane Trevitt, 22
Autobody Repair Ross Varnam, 21
Landscape Gardening James Cuffey, 21, and Simon Abbott, 22
Automobile Technology John Couldridge, 22
Car Painting Ben Eaton, 22
Joinery Adam Bushnell, 21
Mechanical Engineering Design - CAD Ryan Sheridan, 20
Refrigeration amp; Air Conditioning Stuart Millar, 20
Welding Jake Rambaldini, 21
*As a "host event" stonemasonry is not included in the medal tally.