Team UK could be victorious in the Olympics for skills

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The Independent Online

Preparations are well under way for this year's "Olympics" in London. Surely some mistake here? The once-every-four-years sporting extravanganza due to be hosted by the UK will not be taking place until 2012. That is right. But there is another Olympic-style competition, which will be taking place at the Excel centre in London Docklands this October. It's WorldSkills London 2011 – an Olympic-style competition that is arguably just as important to the country's economy as the main event.

This year will see the biggest Skills "Olympics", with around 1000 competitors from 53 different countries taking part. They will be competing in 46 different disciplines ranging from bricklaying to carpentry to beauty therapy to restaurant services. There will be gold, silver and bronze medals just like in the sports Olympics, and the UK's competitors are already in training – just as the sportsmen and women are for the main event next year. There are targets being set by coaches, too. "We've set a target of ten medals – five of which should be gold," said Aidan Jones, executive director of WorldSkills London 2011.

Competitors also have their own mentors to help them to make the most of themselves and their talents in the competition.There will be around 150,000 visitors over the four days of the competition. Many of them will be schoolchildren from Britain, in an effort to persuade them that some of the competitions they are watching could provide them with the key to a secure employment future. "The team are going to be in training for it," said Mr Jones, "but it will become more than just a skills competition – it becomes a careers festival as well."

Certainly, those who have toiled for the UK over the past 15 to 20 years of the competition have found it no hindrance to their future careers – in fact it has been a positive boon. In 2009, when the event last took place in Calgary, Canada, there were three gold medals for British competitors.

Adam Smith, who is employed at the Ritz Hotel in London, won the gold in the cookery section. He has had three promotions since returning from the competition and is now senior sous chef at the world-famous restaurant – third in command out of a staff of 53. It has been financially rewarding for him and he has also had international exposure for his culinary skills.

Richard Sagar, who took gold in the electrical installations sections, has now set up his own company, which is based in London.

The third gold medal winner was Mark Nevin, from Edinburgh in the painting and decorating section. He is now director of a business managing 30 people. A spokeswoman said he had also won business from the Prince of Wales at Dumfries House, a Scottish stately home which the Prince helped to save for the nation.

Quite often, the event takes place without the glare of publicity being thrust upon it. This time the organisers are making great play of fielding their largest team ever, with between 35 and 40 competitors taking part. They will be selected from up to 85 hopefuls chosen as part of the initial squad in November.

Government ministers keep a watchful eye on proceedings. It could also be the one Olympic-style competition where Team UK emerges as the front-runner. The UK is likely to be fielding the biggest team for the event – which, organisers says, knocks the oft-held opinion that we lag way behind the rest of the world. when it comes to developing practical skills.

October is likely to give us the answer to that question.

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