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WorldSkills London 2011: Supporting the next generation

November 2011

American competitor in the Automotive Technology skills contest

American competitor in the Automotive Technology skills contest, who received a Medallion for Excellence. Congratulations Daniel!

Brazilian competitor in the HVAC/Refrigeration skills contest

Brazilian competitor in the HVAC/Refrigeration skills contest who won the gold medal! Congratulations to all of the Brazilian winners, and to the SENAI team as a whole.

UK competitor in the Electronics skills contest

UK competitor in the Electronics skills contest. Thanks to Skills UK for a hosting an excellent event, and hats off to all of the UK competitors.

If you're a Fluke customer, chances are you believe that having a technical skill is something to be respected. But does your kid's high school counselor agree?

There's some dissatisfaction rumbling in America these days about how the primary path presented to youngsters is a (very expensive) four-year college that may not actually prepare students to immediately contribute to the workforce. Vocational skills, meanwhile, have been largely removed from high school programs because they're "no longer relevant."

The average person's suspicions have now been confirmed by nothing short of Harvard University. This report from Harvard is good reading. It's solid research that quantifies the vocational skills training gap in America and other developed-world nations, calls out the need for non-collegiate preparatory programs, and points the finger at a general societal de-valuing of voc-ed.

It's true. Many developed world societies de-value the worth of a skilled tradesman, when it comes to advising future generations on where to direct their interests. Emerging world markets, on the other hand, are applying every last ounce of energy they can to training as many skilled workers as fast as possible.

Trade unions have kept the vocational skills engines turning. But they can only take so many. What about the rest? What about getting to kids before they're ready for an apprenticeship? A new group of skills organizations are taking root that seek to directly connect high schools and vocational colleges with field experts and employers. From SkillsUSA to FFA, a growing number of organizations are working hard to fill that mentorship gap.

Several of these organizations have found a carrot that really works. They use regional, national and global competitions between students, in vocational skills excellence, to not only motivate students but to interest them in the first place. To put a whole new shine on the idea of being great at refrigeration, or electrical installation, or automotive maintenance.

In October at the global World Skills competition in London, young people from more than 50 countries competed in 46 different skill areas. Just as great? Over 200,000 high school and vocational college students from the UK visited the competition and got really, really excited about the trades.