Switzerland has once again shown it has some of the most skilled craftspeople in the world, picking up 17 medals at the WorldSkills 2011 event.
Sunday night’s glittering closing ceremony at London’s O2 Arena was a blaze of colour, noise and energy as 950 young competitors and thousands of supporters and delegations from all over the world watched the best teams receive their rewards.
Only the heavily-industrialised nations, Korea and Japan, could outshine Switzerland’s impressive line-up of six gold, five silver and six bronze medals.
Team Switzerland has again proven it is at the top of its game in Europe. In the over 50-year history of the world’s largest vocational skills competition, Switzerland has consistently ranked high in the medals table.
In 2009 the Swiss team celebrated a major success in Canada, when they achieved 2nd place in the rankings with a total of 14 medals. Two years prior to that in Japan the squad walked away with a total of 17 medals, placing them again third in the world and number 1 in Europe.
Ueli Mueller, General Secretary of SwissSkills, the foundation supporting vocational training, was delighted the team continues to master the task with flying colours.
“I am very proud of the way the Swiss team performed during the four-day competition,” he told swissinfo.ch.
“All the hard work and long hours preparing for this international event has proven again that Switzerland is a world leader in vocational training."
Over the past week, almost 1,000 young people from across the globe competed for a medal place to be the best in their chosen skill.
The young competitors representing 51 countries spent four days showcasing their talents and expertise in trades and specialisms as diverse as robotics and web design to cookery and landscape gardening.
A total of 38 Swiss candidates, all under 22 years of age and from 35 different vocational professions, competed against the clock and in front of a live audience, while simultaneously testing themselves against demanding international standards.
Competition was fierce. A few hours into day one of the four-day championship, Bernese plasterer Rosina Ebneter, who went on to secure a bronze medal, described how the pressure was already starting to mount.
“Module 1 has to be completed by five o’clock tonight and then it’ll be judged. It’s a lot of work and there is so little time,” she said.
“Working in a packed exhibition centre, with thousands of people watching you work, you have to be able to block out everything around you and focus on the task in hand.”
“Made in Switzerland”
Sunday’s medal ceremony was the culmination of an intense preparation phase for the Swiss team, which had started in January. Through team weekends, mental training courses, media training workshops and team building sessions, the young professionals had been optimally prepared for their big challenge.
Team leader Jacqueline Mader has accompanied these young Swiss professionals to the past eight international competitions. She believes the share of medals in recent years has demonstrated time and again that Switzerland’s training system, which is one of a kind in the world, has stood the test of time.
“The system we have of learning a trade is excellent,” she said.
“Our dual vocational training policy, where young apprentices split their week between school and the workplace means they get an equal share of theoretical knowledge and practical experience. Our young men and women enter the workforce at the highest possible level after their training.”
Means to an end
Mueller explained how the ultimate aim of these international events – held in a different country every two years – is to leave a long-lasting legacy for skills, raising awareness among young people, teachers, parents and others about the benefits of vocational training, apprenticeships and qualifications.
“The competition is a means to an end, not just an end in itself,” he said.
“In recent years, young people have been encouraged to go down the university route. We want to show vocational skills can also lead to excellent career opportunities and salaries. Being a gold-medal winner in WorldSkills should be seen as on a par with a global sporting achievement. We want society to be inspired by that.”
More than 200,000 people attended the event, including British Prime Minister David Cameron, and London’s Mayor Boris Johnson.
When the Swiss team returned to Zurich on Monday, Economics Minister Johann Schneider-Ammann greeted the participants and congratulated them on their extraordinary success.
The SwissSkills foundation strengthens the reputation of vocational training among the general public.
It coordinates the Swiss Championships in 60 professions and gives young professionals the opportunity to participate in international vocational skills championships.
The federal government, cantons, schools and organisations in the working world jointly support the foundation.end of infobox
The WorldSkills Competitions vocational skills world championship takes place every two years in a different host city.
Young professionals under 22 years of age qualify after winning regional and national vocational skills competitions held on five continents.
The championship is organised by WorldSkills International, the sponsoring organisation, in which 53 nations are represented.end of infobox