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Who is training your customers?

11 September 2013

9231201475_cb2901ea0e_o (2).jpgBy Leah Friberg, education and public affairs manager at Fluke (as seen in Plant Services magazine)

Every now and then you hit on something that makes sense.

In 1946, Spain desperately needed more skilled workers to help drive its economic recovery. That’s when the country’s education leaders had a breakthrough. They realized they needed not just a better vocational system, but better students, too. They also realized that, to get there, they needed to incentivize a broader group of stakeholders: youth, their parents, teachers and prospective employers.

Competition, these leaders felt, was the best lever to drive organic change throughout the entire system of vocational training. They didn’t want to just train more kids, they wanted to raise standards, both in quality of skill and in reputation — what it meant, culturally and professionally, to be a skilled tradesperson.

So, they created an international competition for vocational skills. At first it was an association of countries and then it became a non-governmental organization (NGO), WorldSkills (www.worldskills.org). They formed technical committees to set standards for each of the trades-skills that students could compete in, and then they grew that list of skills from a half-dozen to the 46 different categories hosted today — everything from CNC Milling to Bricklaying, Mobile Robotics, Hairdressing, and Health and Social Care.

Today, more than 65 countries/regions send approximately 1,000 young skilled professionals to the global competition every two years. In between are countless local, regional, national, and super-regional competitions. The global competition opens with all teams parading into a stadium, carrying their national flags Olympics-style, and it closes with an awards ceremony that lifts the roof.

Now, flip from the glossy brochure to the viewpoint of a lean manufacturer such as Fluke. My first impressions of WorldSkills came from businesspeople. It was a good idea, they told me. Certainly we needed to encourage students to go into technical disciplines, and it was a great chance to integrate new technology into training programs. But, they whispered, why did their skill category have to get stuck next to the hairdressers during the competition?

And supporting education “feels good,” they said, but really, what can you prove at the end of the day? What have you, as a manufacturer, tangibly accomplished by supporting a skills competition?

Well, let’s start with this: Fluke was founded just two years after WorldSkills, and it takes skill to know how to use a Fluke test tool. In those 65 years, hundreds of thousands of students have participated in WorldSkills competitions. How much of today’s customer base do we potentially owe to WorldSkills driving excellence in the very markets and customers we sell to?

Fluke became a Global Industry Partner (GIP) of WorldSkills about 10 years ago. We support nine skills areas at the biennial global competitions: Electrical Installation, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning, Electronics, Polymechanics/Automation, Industrial Control, Autobody Repair, Automobile Technology, Aircraft Maintenance, and the Manufacturing Team Challenge. Today there are 11 Global Industry Partners, including Cisco and Dermologica and Saint Gobain — brands you wouldn’t normally put together. But when you sit their education directors down as a group, their strategies align to a fascinating degree. Every GIP will tell you they are not only doing the “right thing” by supporting WorldSkills, but that it makes business sense to do so.

When industry experts mentor skills competitions, guide standards development, and help teams to train, we’re helping schools align to industry needs. We’re helping to create a more highly skilled workforce that’s a better fit for our marketplace. You know that workforce “skills gap” you read about all the time? There are so many contributing factors, from technology and industry changes to retirement demographics to the worldwide recession, but the upshot is that we’re back at Spain in 1946: we don’t have enough people with the right experience and the right skills to do the work that industry needs.

To view the original article in Plant Services click here.