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Young talents go for gold in career challenge

A test of skills is taking place in St Gallen

(Keystone)

Seven hundred young people from 37 countries have competed for medals at an unusual world championships in eastern Switzerland.

But no footballs or tennis rackets were required for the St Gallen event, which tested the entrants' skills in various careers.

The career world championships was staged by the World Skills organisation for the 37th time, having begun its life as an effort to boost interest in apprenticeships following the Second World War.

And as this year's entrants reached for their trowels, blowtorches and nail clippers, the Swiss secretary general of World Skills insisted that the games have lost none of their relevance.

"The world championships give all competitors a chance to assess their skill levels against those of people from other countries," Daniel Sommer told swissinfo.

"It's also a chance, though, for their teachers to take a look at the differences between the various performances. The main aim is to learn from all this information."

Sporting concept

Although many will argue that it's the taking part that counts, winning is clearly of high importance too. Just as in a traditional sporting event, the individual champions in each of the 38 professional categories finished the four-day contest with gold medals around their necks.

The championships were a success for the Swiss. They finished first in the nations' ranking, one point ahead of South Korea, while Austria took third place.

The Swiss earned themselves eight gold medals, nine silver and three bronze, as well as nine diplomas.

"I think the youngsters like the sporting concept," says Sommer, "and the feeling of being real winners in their trades. But it's also important to remember that around half of the competitors are also awarded diplomas for the excellence of their work."

During the world championships, the youngsters had to carry out that work under the gaze of spectators - an unusual challenge for the various florists, carpenters and IT programmers.

"It's very difficult, it makes you nervous to have so many people looking at everything you're doing," says Zurich beautician Nadja Comi, one of 42 Swiss who took part in the competition. "But you forget all about it once you start concentrating on your work."

"It's an overwhelming experience," agrees canton Aargau plasterer Remo Bischofberger. "The opening ceremony was also amazing - something I'd never imagined."

Public interest

Six years ago, when the world championships were last staged in St Gallen, the event attracted 150,000 spectators - a figure which the organisers hope to at least match this time around.

It's a level of public interest that some sporting attractions would struggle to equal - and seems all the more staggering when you consider that many of the visitors will literally be watching paint dry.

The reason for the high attendance appears to be a mixture of professional interest, personal involvement and pure curiosity.

"I just enjoy the enthusiasm of the young people," says a local woman. "It's nice to see how dedicated they are to the work. That's my main motivation for coming here."

Traditional trades

As well as providing the competitors themselves with valuable career experience, it's hoped that the world championships can help boost flagging interest in manual jobs.

In general, Switzerland has been suffering from a sharp decline in the number of available apprenticeships, but in traditional crafts such as carpentry and stonemasonry it seems that the opposite is the case.

"In the traditional trades we have had no shortage of apprenticeships to offer," points out Swiss delegation chief Christine Davatz-Höchner. "In fact we have had a shortage of young people interested in taking these offers up.

"It seems nowadays that just about everybody wants to go to university or study information technology. So hopefully this event can act as a really good promotion for our vocational training programmes."

swissinfo, Mark Ledsom in St Gallen

Key facts

The career world championships were first held in 1950 as a contest between youngsters from Spain and Portugal.
Switzerland took part in the first truly international version, hosted by Madrid in 1953.
Competitors must be 22 or younger to take part.

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