Training world-class apprentices

World-class apprentices require world-class training. However, I am often asked in my role as WorldSkills UK Training Manager how do you prepare an apprentice to compete on the world stage?

Following Team GB’s success at recent Olympic Games, we all know what a medal winning performance in diving, cycling and even canoe slalom looks like.

But what does it take to win a Gold Medal in Cooking or my skill Carpentry?

The truth is there are many similarities between the preparation that Team UK will undertake for the WorldSkills Competition in Russia this summer, known as the ‘Skills Olympics’ and that of an elite athlete training for the Olympics.

Although, the WorldSkills Competition runs for four days and competitors will be expected to compete for eight hours a day, so you could argue that Team UK work harder than an Olympic athlete!

In training for the ‘Skills Olympics’

As you would expect skills development forms a large part of the training programmes that I and my fellow Training Managers develop for our competitors.

Under our guidance they complete an 18-month training plan focusing on their technical skills, which has to be fitted around their existing study and training commitments.

I have been working with Jack Goodrum, a carpentry apprentice who works for his family business in West Anglia, since he excelled at the National Finals, run in partnership with CITB at WorldSkills UK LIVE 2017.

At the WorldSkills Competition in Russia, Jack will work on a project that will test his ability to demonstrate carpentry craft skills to fine and exacting tolerances, these skills will be benchmarked at Level 6 and above.

Jack won’t know the exact details of the project until he arrives in Russia. He has a sound understanding of all these technical areas through his apprenticeship that he is completing with The College of West Anglia. However, the difficulty will be completing the WorldSkills project to the exact requirements under strict timed conditions.

Performing under pressure

There is no room for mistake. Being just one millimetre out on the overall design can result in points being dropped and a medal lost.

However, the technical skills of an individual are only the half story when it comes to taking part in international competitions. The members of Team UK for the WorldSkills Competition are no different.

They need the mind-set of medal-winning champions if they are to succeed. Positive attitudes and high levels of motivation and concentration can be hard to maintain when competition is tough.

To help Team UK prepare themselves, we work with a team of Olympic Coaches to deliver a programme that takes the key learnings of sports psychology which includes nutritional advice, communication skills, health and wellbeing and how to perform under pressure.

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Productivity Lab programme

A major benefit of being involved in WorldSkills is the opportunity to learn from other countries and it is this transfer of knowledge that was the driving force behind the launch of the WorldSkills UK Productivity Lab programme, which launched last year which I am excited to be part of in my role as a Training Manager.

The programme is designed to undertake research and transfer knowledge to help mainstream world-class excellence across UK skills systems, helping to make the UK more productive and competitive.

Sharing best practise with the 23 countries who will participate in the Carpentry Competition at WorldSkills Kazan has formed a large part of Jack’s training.

An International Perspective

In May Jack took part in the Russian National Competitions with the aim of getting him used to competing outside of the UK in an unfamiliar environment.

It was a hugely beneficial experience for Jack, not least because it was at the Kazan Expo which will host the international competition in August.  

As Centre Manager at the Construction Innovation Centre, I was fascinated to see how Russia has embraced skills competitions in educational reforms.

The WorldSkills Competition Standards are now fully embedded in the Russian skills systems and are used to inform assessments, qualifications and teacher training.

This has been identified as contributing to the increase in participation amongst young people in vocational education which has increased from 43% to 59%.

Leaving a legacy

I always say that WorldSkills is more than just a Competition. In my role both with the University of Wales Trinity Saint David and WorldSkills UK, I feel it’s important to align with international standards to support the next generation of industry professionals.

Drawing on my experience of WorldSkills International Competitions, I now shape our curriculum to reflect the high standards on show at these events.

By doing so, I can create fantastic opportunities for learners and apprentices at my centre, within the University and throughout Wales, to hone their skills and kick-start their careers – as well as providing an excellent source of international insight and innovation for the UK.

By supporting all learners and apprentices to aim for world-class we are can accelerate their career progression and shape the future of the construction industry.     

Gareth Evans, University of Wales Trinity Saint David – Construction Wales Innovation Centre and WorldSkills UK Training Manager

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