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September 23, 2020

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‘Ambassadors’ promote vocational skills

EDITOR’S note:

The 46th WorldSkills Competition, a biennial global vocational contest, will be held in Shanghai in September 2021. Three previous winners of WorldSkills awards who have been named ambassadors for the event share their personal stories to inspire more young people to learn vocational skills.


Proceed diligently straight on the path you have chosen

Song Biao, 21, who won a gold medal at the 44th WorldSkills Competition, now teaches at the Changzhou Technician College in neighboring Jiangsu Province.

He started studying mold design and manufacturing at the college’s mechanical engineering department in 2014.

“I did not do very well in the high school entrance exam,” he said. “My score ensured me entry only in a very ordinary high school. So I told my parents that I would like to learn some skills instead. Luckily, they supported me.”

He added, “But many relatives and friends actually felt it was a bad choice because they thought I would become a blue-collar worker, which they didn’t view as a decent job with a promising future.”

Song made his decision about a career path after visiting the factory in Changzhou where his father worked as a technician every summer vacation.

“I was astonished to see that they could make all kinds of components out of tough iron materials,” he said. “I thought it was magical, and I was very curious about their skills.”

Driven by that interest, Song studied very hard. His academic performance and mechanical skills were so outstanding that he had won numerous scholarships.

In 2016, he breezed through provincial and national trials to become the only contestant representing China in the Industrial Mechanic Millwright category at the 44th WorldSkills Competition held in Abu Dhabi in 2017.

There, he won the championship in the category and also the Albert Vidal Award for best all-round performer, with the highest score among over 1,260 competitors.

He is the first and only Chinese competitor to have won the award. A duplicate of the medal has been donated to the Shanghai-based WorldSkills Museum, which will open during the 46th competition next year.

Song’s success was the result of sweat and toil. The competition tested skills in making components, machine installation, welding, turnery, milling, metalworking and debugging, with an allowed 0.02-millimeter margin of error.

“With the development of digital-control equipment and robotics, human beings will be replaced in some simple work,” Song said. “But for the fine, complicated work that requires excellent techniques, we still have to do it with hands.”

He remembers the training for the WorldSkills Competition as tiring.

He usually trained from 8am to 10pm, and sometimes until as late as 3am. Sometimes he had to punch more than 100 holes a day in steel plates.

“I did have thoughts about giving it all up,” he said, recalling how lonely he felt when he was the only one to remain on campus during the winter vacation. “But my coaches told me that I would learn more with every step as I moved forward. My father also told me that I should go straight forward on the path I have chosen.”

He was the recipient of several Chinese awards after the competition, but despite his honored status, he chose to stay at the college as a teacher. He is now an assistant coach for future WorldSkills candidates.

“Now as an ambassador, I hope that my experiences can inspire more young people,” Song said. “I hope my students will choose vocational skills as a proud first choice instead of just an afterthought.”

Chen Yifan

Honing skills opens up greater possibilities in life

Chen Yifan, 23, is now a first-class flight attendant at China Eastern Airlines and also a coach at the company’s technology application development center.

After graduating from the middle school division of the Shanghai Foreign Language School Affiliated to Shanghai International Studies University, she failed admission to the high school division.

“I thought it was shameful, but I turned my eyes to another path — to be a flight attendant,” she said. “My grandparents regretted that I didn’t pursue my childhood dream of becoming a teacher.”

Chen started studying at the Shanghai Civil Aviation College in a class tailored for China Eastern Airlines.

Her chance came in 2015, when China was selecting candidates to compete in the Restaurant Service category at the 44th WorldSkills Competition. She was selected as one of the 10 candidates from China Eastern Airlines because of her excellent command of English.

The category requires competitors to provide high-quality food and drink services to guests played by volunteers.

“It is not just about carrying plates to tables,” Chen said. “The tests require the skills of a chef, barista, bartender and even restaurant manager. We had to arrange food, make coffee and cocktails, and provide services in different styles for targeted customers.”

For Chen, the most challenging part was wine-tasting.

“I had never drunk alcohol before training, and when I first had to smell the aroma of wines in blind tasting, I could not tell the difference at all.”

With hard training, she developed a taste and smell for more than 100 alcohol products from different countries. After 18 months, she never made a mistake in blind tasting.

She also practiced repeatedly on making latte coffee, on using silent counting to calculate that six glasses of champagne have the same liquid level and on cutting fruit without touching them to her hands or wasting parts of them.

Opening a bottle of champagne was also a difficult challenge. No sound or splashing is allowed in Western dining etiquette. With constant practice, she finally mastered how to rotate the cork with her thumb and pull it out gently.

When a customer used a wrong knife or fork, she removed both the wrong and right utensils and provided a new set without embarrassing the customer. She accepted customer comments and questions with a smile and timely responses.

Her hard work propelled her to the 2017 finals in Abu Dhabi in 2017.

In the competition, Chen found that several core ingredients in her recipe for a mixed cocktail weren’t available because of the liquor ban in Abu Dhabi. So she chose other ingredients that made the drink refreshing in a hot climate.

“Fresh Morning,” she replied, when the judges asked the name of her drink. “I’d like everyone in Abu Dhabi to have a fresh morning.”

She won a medallion for excellence, and the achievement made her grandparents proud. She has also won various awards in Shanghai and China. China Eastern Airlines even set up a workshop in her name to train candidates for the competition.

Recently, she became the Asian representative of the WorldSkills Competition Championship Liaison Group, a post no Chinese have previously held.

“I hope the world can come to understand China and Shanghai,” she said. “When you master a skill, life is full of possibilities.”

Yuan Qiang

Challenging out-of-date stereotypes about career choices

Yuan Qiang, 23, is happy to see the changes that happened in Shandong Province after he won a gold medal at the 44th WorldSkills Competition.

“My college has developed more strength in skills such as print media technology, plumbing and heating, water technology and information network cabling,” he said of the school where he now teaches. “Other schools in the province have, too.”

Yuan started his six-year study of modern manufacturing engineering in 2012, after an unsatisfactory performance in the high school entrance exam.

“Our students are trained to address the real needs of enterprises, and they usually find work immediately upon graduation,” he said.

He began training for the WorldSkills Competition in October 2015, and went on to win the gold medal in October 2017 in the category of Industrial Control.

According to Yuan, that category tests technical skills such as designing circuitry, installing conduits, troubleshooting and programming.

“All the projects in the competition spring from real life and work, though many are not regarded by Chinese parents as good career choices,” he said. “But I think things are changing. Our government has been attaching greater importance to vocational training and education.”

He added, “I now see many parents more willing to have their children learn skills and become high-end blue-collar workers. I hope as an ambassador, I can raise the public awareness of the competition and promote wider respect for vocational skills.”


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