Two MDX experts boost Team UK at hotly competitive WorldSkills 2019 in Kazan

03/09/2019
MDX lecturer Dirk Wildeboer is voted Chief Expert for Chemistry Laboratory Technology event for the next global vocational skills contest finals

Group photo of Team UK outside the Kul Sharif mosque in Kazan Kremlin

There was a strong Middlesex presence at last week’s 45th WorldSkills competition in Kazan, Russia. Two of the 32 experts who intensively coached Team UK contestants and accompanied them to Kazan were MDX lecturers, while the CEO of WorldSkills UK praised the University as a trailblazer for higher education's involvement in the vocational skills arena. 

MDX Bioscience and Biomedical Science lecturer, Dr Dirk Wildeboer

Dr Dirk Wildeboer, Senior Lecturer in Bioscience and Biomedical Science was UK expert and training manager for the Chemical Laboratory Technology event, a new contest at WorldSkills which Middlesex had helped pilot at a UK level. Calum Knott, Senior Applications Engineer at Festo Didactic and a MDX Visiting Lecturer and recent alumnus coached the UK Mechatronics team, Toyota apprentices Jack Dakin and Danny Slater.

Visting Lecturer in Design Engineering and WorldSkills UK expert in Design Engineering, Calum Knott

Overall the UK, which entered 32 of the 56 events, won two gold medals in Beauty Therapy and Aircraft Maintenance, a silver in Car Painting and a bronze in Hairdressing, amassing 22,373 points and ranking 12th among more than 60 competing countries. China topped the table, with 16 gold medals and 40,830 points, Russia was second and Brazil third.

Northern Ireland’s Conor McKevitt, silver medallist in the Car Painting competition

In the lab technician contest, Tonicha Roberts, an apprentice at Eurofins Forensic Services in Teddington, came in fourth place, just a few points outside the medal positions. Alongside Tonicha and 12 other UK participants, Mechatronics contestants Jack and Danny scored highly enough to win Medallions of Excellence, signifying they had achieved a world class standard.

Team UK Mechatronics competitors, Toyota apprentices Danny Slater (left) and Jack Dakin (right)

During the competition, Dirk Wildeboer was elected by colleagues as Chief Expert for the Chemical Laboratory Technology discipline at the next WorldSkills international finals, in Shanghai in 2021. “We had really good competitors and the international collaboration to make it all happen” he said about the event at the closing Team UK reception. “I learned a lot of lessons about running skills competitions and training young people”. Both Tonicha Roberts and the Mechatronics team attended intensive training sessions at MDX in July and August to prepare for Kazan, and MDX staff and technicians contributed to their success.

Tonicha Roberts celebrates finishing the Chemical Laboratory Technology challenge

Tonicha said the competition had been “incredible – like a rollercoaster". Enrolling on an apprenticeship had been her route to a scientific career, she said, and after the constant learning experience of the competition, she plans to "keep developing my skills and embrace science". She added: "WorldSkills opens so many doors, you don’t really know what will open next".

The Albert Vidal Award, given to the best individual performer in the whole event, went to the Chemical Laboratory Technology competition winner, Russia's Anastasiia Kamneva. MDX Biotechnology student Lavanya Hemanth, who competed in WorldSkills UK lab technician trials in April, has been invited to join the UK squad to train for the European WorldSkills finals in Graz next year and for Shanghai 2021. Two further MDX students, Sivakorn Greetadamrongdet and Mert Ozturk, will take part in national finals in the same discipline at WorldSkills UK LIVE in November, to compete for a place in the UK squad.

Aircraft Maintenance Gold medal winner Haydn Jakes on the podium in Kazan Arena 

Haydn Jakes, having deferred his degree and given up his dream to join the RAF to take part in WorldSkills, won Gold in Aircraft Maintenance. "This means the world to me" he said. "I will move heaven and earth to pass on my skills and experiences to others in the system.”

Rebecca West, who won Gold for Beauty Therapy, said: “This will change my life... I have put thousands of hours in to being the best. There are so many people that I want to thank from the bottom of my heart".

WorldSkills UK CEO Dr Neil Bentley-Gockmann OBE, who became a MDX Honorary Doctor this summer, says the University's long-standing relationship with WorldSkills UK "demonstrates a level of ambition for ever higher skills and around how we focus on higher skills".

Dr Neil Bentley-Gockman OBE, CEO of WorldSkills UK, talks to camera in the Painting & Decorating competition area 

Neil suggests there is scope for extensive partnership between UK employers and higher education, over for example how to meet business needs in particular regions, and he hopes to engage further universities in WorldSkills UK's work. Post-Kazan, he is looking to take "a huge amount of learning" from other nations to mainstream best global practice into UK skills education, and to ensure WorldSkills is well leveraged across the education system, extending the movement's opportunities to all young people.

Speaking at the Closing Ceremony in Kazan Arena after President Vladimir Putin, outgoing WorldSkills International President, London-born civil engineer Simon Bartley, told the crowd that "Skills change lives. To all our champions: you came here as the best of the best and leave even better. To our experts: all those who competed depended on your knowledge, years of experience and dedication to reach such heights of excellence".

He added: "I leave uplifted and certain that under the leadership of your new President Jos de Goey, WorldSkills will take even greater steps forward".

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