The noise was deafening as the SwissSkills team was welcomed back to Zurich by friends and family after a very successful stint at the WorldSkills trade skills competition in Russia.
Around 600 people, some with banners of congratulation, had assembled in a sports hall near the city’s airport, for a special reception on Thursday afternoon. There was thunderous applause, roars of support and much ringing of cowbells from the crowd as the delegation - smartly clad in navy blazers and red trousers or skirt - made its way onto the stage.
The 39-member team,external link all aged between 17-22, had been put to the test over four days at WorldSkillsexternal link, a kind of Olympics for trade skills, assessing areas from hairdressing to joinery, to electronics and carpentry. The competition, which wrapped up in Kazan, in western Russia, on Tuesday evening, resulted in 16 medals for Switzerland: five gold, five silver and six bronze. Only China and Korea earned more medals than SwissSkills, the top European team.
Martina Wick, who won a gold in the restaurant service category, received the "best of nation award" for receiving the highest number of points in the Swiss team.
But it was not just the winners who were feted: every member received a certificate of some kind, an acknowledgement of just how much sweat, blood and tears had gone into the competition. There were stories of people coming over adversity: one pâtissier-confectioner’s equipment failed during a crucial moment; she didn’t get a medal but she, with the help of her expert, who had trained her for the competition, was able to overcome her disappointment and keep on going.
The best of nation
swissinfo.ch was able to catch up with some of the medal winners after the main event, among them the best of nation winner Martina Wickexternal link, who works for a hotelexternal link in Appenzell. What was the biggest challenge of the competition, swissinfo.ch wanted to know? “I think it was to work at a consistently high level over the four days. Mentally it was very demanding, always being in top form,” she replied.
Wick was tested in five areas: fine dining including wine service, banquet, casual, coffee and bar service. The 21-year-old originally trained as a chef, so restaurant service is actually her second apprenticeship, a testimony to the flexibility of the Swiss apprenticeship system. What does a restaurant service champion need? “The guest has to feel comfortable and they feel this when they meet nice, charming waiting staff,” Wick outlined. “If a mistake happens, they are less likely to be bothered by it.
IT technician Nicolas Ettlinexternal link, from Geneva, was, at 17 years old, the youngest Swiss participant and the only one who has not yet finished his vocational training (he will get his certificate next week). He won silver in the web technologies category, which involved building websites from scratch.
Ettlin explained that his training was slightly unusual for the SwissSkills team: “I am the only one doing an apprenticeship entirely in an IT training schoolexternal link,” he said, rather than doing the usual dual vocational training system of 1-2 days in a school and the rest of the week in a company, for which Switzerland is known.
What’s more, he’ll be going on to study at the Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL), for which he will need to do a year of preparation (for the University Aptitude Testexternal link (UAT), which allows those with vocational training to study at a regular university).
“It is good to see that in Switzerland when you do an apprenticeship no door is closed,” Ettlin said. It was important for him to get practical experience of computing first – and of course, it allowed him to take part various professional trade competitions. “This was an amazing experience that I could never have with a formal education system,” he added.
The cabinet maker: update
Also winning silver was 19-year-old cabinet maker Samanta Kämpf,external link whom we met in our opening story on what the Swiss team was doing to get ready for WorldSkills in Kazan.
Kämpf, who works at a kitchen companyexternal link, told swissinfo.ch that she still couldn’t quite believe it that all the hard work had paid off. She had 22 hours to make a piece of furniture to plan and the biggest challenge for her was the timing, especially on the two first days.
And what does it take to be a champion cabinet maker? Perseverance and passion for your work, she said, the latter being something which IT apprentice Ettlin also mentioned as being key. “If you are passionate about your work, then it will all work out,” Kämpf said.
The five gold medals went to the following participants: restaurant service specialist Martina Wick (who had to highest score of all Swiss; see video below), baker/confectioner Sonja Durrer, wall and floor tiler Renato Meier, electrician Florian Baumgartner and the landscape gardening team of Mario Enz and Fabian Hodel. The full result list with trainer names can be found hereexternal link.
Around 1,600 participants from 63 nations took part in WorldSkills.end of infobox