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How do you prepare an apprentice for the ‘Skills Olympics’?

Mike Swan

Mike Swan, Curriculum and Quality Leader at Dundee and Angus College and WorldSkills UK Training Manager in Painting and Decorating 

Following Team GB’ success at recent Olympic Games, we all know what a medal winning performance in diving, cycling and even canoe slalom looks like.  But I am often asked what does it take to win a Gold Medal in Painting and Decorating? 

What’s more, how does an apprentice prepare to compete against the best young painters from all over the world? 

Callum Bonner

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

As you would expect skills development forms a large part of the training programme that I have devised for Callum.  The WorldSkills Competition in Russia runs for four days and competitors will be expected to compete for up to 8 hours a day, so you could argue that they work harder than an Olympic athlete. 

During the Competition, Callum will compete in front of an audience of over 150,000 visitors including international skills experts and public policy makers from over 70 countries.  He will work on projects that will test his paperhanging, construction drawing and design, spray painting, traditional and modern painting techniques, creativity, colour mixing and theory at Level 6 and above. 

Callum 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 which he completed with Forth Valley College and Clackmannanshire Council where he now works.  However, the difficulty will be completing the project to the exact requirements under strict timed conditions.     

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

I have asked Mark Nevin of Nevin of Edinburgh, who won Gold at WorldSkills Calgary 2009 to join my training team.  There is no one better placed to share with Callum the realities of what it is truly like to travel to another country and compete against the best young apprentices.  In preparation for the Competition, I have given Callum different exercises to develop his capability and he has also travelled to Russia and China to take part in their National Competitions as part of his training.     

However, the technical skill of an individual is only half the 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 nutrition, communication skills, health and wellbeing and performing under pressure.  

As a Training Manager, I am also able to use the competition experience to improve my own teaching practises. I make sure the learnings are embedded into the curriculum programme at Dundee and Angus College but also like to share these experiences throughout the college sector with my involvement in the Scottish Association of Painting Craft Teachers so all apprentices and students can benefit. 

At WorldSkills Kazan 2019 we hope to replicate the medal winning success that our athletes have enjoyed at recent Olympic Games, but whatever the result we will know that Callum and the other members of Team UK, who will be competing in 32 different skills will take back to their employers invaluable skills which will accelerate their career progression.  For me, this shows that the UK’s involvement in international skills competitions is just as important as our participation in Olympics and should be celebrated as such.    

Follow @worldskills across social media to keep up to date with Team UK’s progress at WorldSkills Kazan 2019. 

Thanks to sponsors of Callum who have supported him in his training:  Crown Paints, Forth Valley College, Dundee and Angus College and Clackmannanshire Council.