It has been over two months since I first announced the 60 members of Squad UK, all hoping to make it into Team UK who will head to Canada in September to compete on behalf of the UK at WorldSkills Calgary 2009. However, any ‘selection euphoria’ has now faded because the tough training programme is fully underway.

In general, all Squad UK members have to upgrade their skill levels by between 25% and 40% to be able to compete at a WorldSkills level. This is a significant increase, but unless they meet this requirement, they just won’t be able to compete effectively against the best in the World.

We’ve never said that being part of WorldSkills is easy; it’s a tough, demanding journey, and on average involves a minimum of 12 -14 weeks training in a work environment (hands on, practical training). Competitors also undertake training and development at Brathay, a people development organisation based in Cumbria. Brathay enables competitors to develop the mental attitude needed to cope with the unexpected and the pressure that they will experience at WorldSkills. What makes this process even more demanding is the fact that the training and development has to happen whilst competitors maintain fulltime jobs or study.

To ensure that they reach this high standard, we have a team of dedicated Training Managers – each skills discipline has its own Training Manager – and a team of independent experts, all geared to helping each potential competitor reach their full potential.

The first stage in the training process is to get squad members to understand and appreciate what WorldSkills standards are, and to work towards them. WorldSkills standards are far higher than general industry standards in the UK, so the first thing that competitors learn is what these exceptional standards are all about. Each person goes back to basics with their skill and re-learns how to do tasks to the exacting requirements of WorldSkills. As this is often the hardest part for our squad, we allow around four months for this phase.

The WorldSkills competition is 22 hours long, over four days, and there are numerous tasks the competitors need to complete within that time. As such, the next stage that we work on with potential competitors is to get them to produce the quantity of work needed whilst still maintaining the standards that they have just learnt. They train hard to make sure they can do this and were put to the test in April, when they took part in an extra training session where our assessors set them projects and appraised their work to see just how much they were improving, and what they still needed to improve on.

Having now achieved those world class standards in the given time frame, our potential competitors have moved into the final stage of their training – reaching excellence. At this stage we expect them to be hitting the 25% to 40% skills upgrade I mentioned earlier. It’s hard to appreciate how important this is, but to give you some idea, in the bricklaying competition, every one millimetre of error on the dimensions of a new wall is one lost mark, and it’s those marks that could mean the difference between a gold medal and coming home with nothing. That’s the degree of accuracy we’ve got to train these young people to, and these standards have to be met throughout the competition. It’s also what will be put to the test in the final stage in the fight for a position on Team UK.

In June, we will see all our squad members – 60 in total - competing in 29 skill disciplines to win a place in Team UK. Within each discipline, only a select number of squad members are chosen to compete at WorldSkills Calagary 2009, as part of Team UK. However if no-one comes up to the standard in a particular skills discipline, that skill will be unrepresented at WorldSkills Calgary 2009!

For these young men and women the journey has been long and hard, but the results are worth it and their ultimate goal is just steps away. Despite becoming a Team UK member or not, all can say that they are world class in their respective trades. The dedication and determination shown by each competitor is testament to how proud they are of what they do, how skilled they are, and how much still lies ahead of them in their careers. We wish every one of them the best of luck at the Team UK selection competition, and look forward to introducing them to you later in the year.

Simon Bartley is chief executive of UK Skills, which champions learning through competitions and awards


Read other FE News articles by Simon Bartley:

UK Skills chief Simon Bartley: Country needs to 'pull together and regroup'

Simon Bartley unveils Squad UK

Simon Bartley kicks off his new column with a history lesson

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