Trainees grab the spotlight
Sport lovers' excitement may already be building ahead of next year's Olympic games in London, but before that comes the FE sector's moment in the spotlight. For the first time in two decades, the UK is next month hosting WorldSkills, dubbed the "skills Olympics". More than 1,000 learners from 51 countries - not to mention 150,000 visitors - are expected to attend the four-day competition.
While Usain Bolt's attempt to smash his own athletics world records next summer will no doubt have the nation transfixed, the disciplines on show at London's ExCel exhibition centre will be somewhat more specialised. Trainees who shine in everything from aircraft maintenance to floristry, welding to mobile robotics, will compete to be crowned the best in their chosen field.
In colleges up and down the country, lecturers have been busy preparing the 43 members of Team UK. They and their students have been released from their usual timetables for bouts of specialised training, including smaller regional and national contests to acclimatise the students to competitive conditions and get them used to working under time pressure.
One of those lecturers is Mike David, who teaches web design at Coleg Sir Gar in Carmarthenshire. In his own time after classes, he has been coaching student David Bowen for the event. He has overseen a remarkable transformation in his protege. "Through the competition we have seen David grow from a very shy young man to someone who has built up great confidence in his skills and abilities, working at an exceptionally high standard in his chosen field," said Mr David. "He has had several career opportunities as a direct result of WorldSkills."
Any perks from a successful appearance at WorldSkills are richly deserved. Team UK members have been selected from a pool of more than 1,500 potential competitors. They were notified that they had made the cut in June, following the final national selection competition. Since then, they have been immersed in an intense eight-week training period to get them to peak performance in time for WorldSkills.
Among those gearing up for the contest are Westminster Kingsway College's chef lecturer Norman Fu and his cookery student Ben Murphy. "It's rewarding because I get to see a student begin to develop their own ideas and techniques," Mr Fu said. "Ben has impressed many people within the college with his high level of commitment and his rapid development, and we wish him the best of luck for this year's competition."
The origins of WorldSkills can be traced back to Spain in 1947. A national contest was held in response to a domestic skills shortage, with the aim of convincing students, parents and employers that the country's future lay in effective vocational training. Within three years, the competition had gone international. Britain competed for the first time in 1953.