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Looking at a World of Skills

By Gary HargreavesGary Hargreaves
Vice President, Business Development 
CNC Software, Inc.
(Tolland, CT)

I really enjoy watching the Olympics. Seeing the best athletes our country has to offer go toe-to-toe with rivals from around the world gives me a feeling of pride that is shared with thousands of my fellow Americans. Wouldn’t it be terrific if there existed a venue where every couple of years we could watch our youngest CAD designers and CNC machinists pit their talents against others from the international community for judged awards?

There is! 

One of the premier venues for countries anxious to show the world the skill levels achieved by their best youngsters is the WorldSkills Competition held in a different member country every two years. Begun in Madrid shortly after World War II to bring attention to the need for skilled workers in Spain, the event has grown to attract over 1,000 competitors from more than 50 countries. This year, the WorldSkills Competition will be held in Leipzig, Germany in July, and more than 200,000 are expected to attend. These numbers sound impressive, but one thing that consistently bothers me when I talk to people about WorldSkills is that I will find maybe one person out of a thousand who knows what it is. 

Unlike SkillsUSA, which is limited to students in the United States, WorldSkills is run similar to the Olympics, with member countries competing with each other for the right to hold the event. A selection committee makes the approval four years out from the event to give the host country time to prepare. In 2011, the competition took place in London, and in 2015 it will be held in Sao Paolo, Brazil. From the opening ceremonies to the closing ceremonies to the presentation of the awards, it’s patterned after the Olympics.  Each country has its own skills organization that develops the talent to feed the WorldSkills competition. 

There are 45 different skills judged in the competition and range from such fields as stonemasonry, carpentry, landscape gardening, and cooking, to those in our own manufacturing disciplines of CNC milling, CNC turning, mechanical engineering, and design (CAD).  Again, just as in the Olympics, there are Gold, Silver, and Bronze medals awarded in each skill.  There is a mix of men and women competing in almost all events, all under the age of 24.  

With the milling and lathe work, as with many of the other skills events, entrants have approximately 2 hours to complete their project. They know the machine and control and what parts were done in the previous competitions, so they have an idea as to the type of work they will be handed. It’s up to them to find somebody with that machine and control that they can practice on prior to the event. They have to bring all the tools they expect they will need to complete the task. They’re handed a blueprint and given 15 minutes to confer with an advisor who travels with them.

If a competitor gets confused during his event, or forgets something, he raises his hand and a Mastercam technical person, a machine tool technical person, and the competitor’s own advisor all run over quickly to help because it’s a timed event.  We’ll ask, “What’s the problem?”  If it concerns Mastercam, we’ll stay and the other two leave. We can’t help, but we can answer questions that will lead the competitor in the right direction and allow him to solve the problem on his own.

To an experienced programmer or machinist, this may not sound so difficult, but in the two hours, the competitor must understand the blueprint, add tooling and holders to an empty machine, create the part in Mastercam, add the same tooling in Mastercam’s tool library, and then cut the part accurately. He gets one chance because he has one piece of stock. And that is only the first test. The second test is back to the same clean slate, and he’s given a more complex part with critical dimensions to maintain, again with two hours to complete. The third and final test involves two parts that have to mate correctly and provide an accurate measurement across both parts and, yes, finished in two hours. It is amazing to watch these youngsters perform at warp speed. 

There are a lot of sponsorships for the events, similar to NASCAR. We sponsor the CAD/CAM software, for example. There could be dozens of Mastercam stations, as well as dozens of CNC milling machines and lathes set up for the duration.  Sponsors’ logos and decals are on banners, jackets, and toolboxes, just like at a NASCAR race. There are different levels of sponsorship, all the way up to a “naming” sponsorship where a company’s name is on everything.  Those companies are paying on the order of a quarter of a million dollars to get their name on the huge banners. Mastercam put about 35 seats of Mastercam on the floor at the London WorldSkills. In addition to this sponsorship, we also provided seven people  for tech support and training  as well as cover our hotel, travel and related expenses. All that allowed us to be an official sponsor for the skills that use CAD/CAM. 

I would like to see our own American industry press for the exciting WorldSkills competition to come to these shores to allow our kids’ skills and talents to be showcased with the best the world has to offer. Wouldn’t you? In England, they bussed 100,000 children of all ages in from hours away to walk the event in the hope that something would light a spark in their eyes.  

Think of what that could do for the future of trades in America.  ME

Published Date : 3/21/2013

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