World-class skills from Central Finland
Words by Pia Tervoja, Photos by World Skills International
Competitors from Central Finland achieved record results in the WorldSkills 2011 Competition in London. Competitions play an important part in the development of vocational skills and in maintaining high standards of vocational education.
The WorldSkills Competition tests young participants' vocational skills and ability to cope with pressure while being scrutinised by judges and watched by spectators. For many of those taking part, the four-day event is the culmination of almost two years of training.
Competing in the international arena requires expertise in the latest trends, techniques and methods of the particular trade or craft. Esko Junttila of Jyväskylä College, who is Competition Director for the Finnish National Skills Competition, Taitaja2012, says that competitions represent one of the best ways of maintaining high standards in vocational education.
"When a teacher is training a competitor, all the other students learn new skills and competencies as well. For the young people involved in the competitions, taking part - and especially winning - are important stepping stones in their career."
Finnish participants for the WorldSkills Competition are usually found among the young people who take part in the Finnish National Skills Competition. Finalists are automatically asked if they are interested in training, but the competitors themselves can be proactive and seek out training opportunities.
"Training is often given by the competitor's own teacher, but the trainer can also come from a different institute. There is a category manager for every skill category, who is responsible for training and organising camps. Mental preparation also forms an important part of training. Competitors have to be capable of shutting out the spectators and, if necessary, recovering from the times when things go wrong."
The competitions test normal tasks relating to the trade or craft. Trainees practise tasks that are announced in advance, but the competitions always include an element of surprise.
"In the competition itself 30% of the work content is always changed, which makes the task more challenging. In a sewing task, for example, the type of collar or position of the zip shown in the pattern could be changed, in landscaping the type of stone provided to build a wall could be altered," Junttila explains.
Training requires commitment
TeamFinland fielded 46 competitors for the WorldSkills Competition which was held in October 2011 in London. Competitors from Central Finland won two silver and one bronze medal - the best result for any region of the country.
Esko Junttila says that one of the factors behind this success is the teachers' commitment to act as trainers.
"Training is not restricted to working hours - it's often done during evenings or weekends. Each year at Jyväskylä College we've hosted visits by a number of international experts, people who are national category judges, the top teachers in their field."
The first WorldSkills Competition was held in 1950, and in 2005 the competition was organised in Finland.
Before 2000, Finnish participation in the competitions was on a smaller scale. It was only after 2000 that competitions started to be regarded as a central way of developing vocational education. Efforts were started around the same time to raise the profile of the Finnish National Skills Competitions.
"Jyväskylä College has been closely involved in this work," Junttila says.
• Jyväskylä Educational Consortium is organising the Finnish National Skills Competition, Taitaja2012, in Jyväskylä during 24.-26.4.2012. It is being organised in conjunction with Central Finnish businesses and educational institutes, and Skills Finland will act as background organiser. The competition will be the biggest vocational skills event in Finland, with more than 500 college students and 9th grade school students taking part. The event will also feature a large number of peripheral activities, including a training and career fair, and a broad range of seminars.
Further information: www.taitaja2012.fi
Eight WorldSkills medals for Finland
Finland won a total of five silver and three bronze medals at the WorldSkills 2011 Competition in London. The nation was represented by 46 competitors. We asked the medal winners from Central Finland how they had trained for the challenging competition and how the training had influenced the development of their own vocational skills.
1. How did you train for the WorldSkills Competition?
2. Which of your competition tasks do you think you performed especially well?
3. What experiences did you take away from the competition?
4. How has competing in WorldSkills influenced the development of your own skills?
Just two points away from the gold medal
Silver medal, Restaurant Service
1. I trained for more than 1½ years. I did my training at Jyväskylä College, at home and at my place of work, restaurant Pöllöwaari. I also did training periods at two hotels in Helsinki and one in Ireland. The training was very targeted and included a lot of practice, so the tasks became routine. In addition to practising, I also got competition experience through the Finnish National Skills Competition 2011 and the Team UK Selection event in England.
2. All the tasks were challenging, but they all went reasonably well.
3. It was rewarding, tough and memorable, but I enjoyed every minute.
4. The training was intensive and it taught me a lot of new things about the job. For example, we went through problem situations that might come up during the competition. I've come across the same problems in my work, and now I can solve them more easily.
Excellent print quality
Silver medal, Offset Printing
1. I trained at Turku Vocational Institute, where I used to study, and I did training periods at Jyväskylä and Porvoo Colleges. We trained using the same type of equipment that we knew would be used at WorldSkills. We practised to develop speed and make the tasks routine.
2. I was successful in both printing tasks. I had practised them the most and they were my favourite tasks.
3. The amount of training and being able to concentrate on all the tasks were important. I developed my skills by practising with a number of different supervisors and getting advice from them.
4. I was nervous before the competition, but during the actual event I felt as though I was in my own little world. I'd take part again if I could.
First WorldSkills medal for Jämsä College
Bronze medal, Floristry
1. I spent 2-3 days training every week, and I practised after work. I also took part in two training camps.
2. My best piece was the bridal bouquet. It was demanding and tested my nerves, but I knew that I'd practised enough and I managed to do it.
3. It was an incredible experience, totally different from the competitions I'd taken part in before. My training period was short and intensive, but I was satisfied with what I achieved.
4. I learnt a lot in a short time and I gained confidence. I realised that I want to do more studying and learn new things.