Global Stampede to Calgary

 Turning Point

Imagine 900 young adults—aged 17 to 25—from 51 countries gathering in a single venue to compete for a gold medal in 45 skill categories. Now, imagine more than 150,000 people attending this event to see these kids compete. That gives you only an inkling of the scope of the World Skills Competition that was held in September at Stampede Park in Calgary, Alberta.

What’s perhaps sad about this event is it may be among the biggest international deals few of us have heard of. I was guilty until machine tool builder Mori Seiki (a founding sponsor of the competition) invited me to attend this year’s 40th edition.

I was impressed with the size of this event. The various skills competitions are scattered in buildings around the large Calgary Stampede fairgrounds. It looks and feels much like a large international trade show, which, come to think of it, it is. Except that instead of exhibitor booths, there are skills competitions being carried out.

Sponsors like Mori provide the hardware and software for participants to use in their respective skill category. Mori provided more than 2 dozen machine tools—DuraVertical 5100 machining centers and DuraTurn 2050 turning centers—for use in the CNC machining competitions.

“It is a great honor to be selected twice as an official supplier and sponsor for the World Skills competition,” says Dr. Masahiko Mori, president of Mori Seiki Co. Ltd. “Workforce development is a challenge for manufacturing industries, even as the need for such knowledge grows. The World Skills Competition both promotes and recognizes the capabilities of talented young people from around the globe.”

World Skills International is a not-for-profit association, open to institutions responsible for promoting vocational education and training in their respective countries. Its stated aim is to raise the status and standards of vocational skills and training worldwide. Who among us can quibble with the need for such a goal?

The first competition was held in 1950 in Madrid, Spain. Then as now, the mission was to convince youth, their parents, teachers and prospective employers that vocational training could lead to a secure and successful future.

From a humble start of 24 competitors and two countries in 1950, the competition in Calgary this year was the largest to date. The next competition is scheduled to be in London, England, in 2011. In fact, we were told, because the competition tries to accommodate its member nation’s desire to host the competition, North America won’t be selected again in our lifetime.

Nothing makes an old guy like me feel young than seeing bright, talented, engaged young people taking up a marketable skill and pursuing it to its fullest for both their careers and their countries. These kids were intense about the job they had to do. They moved like a pit crew—no wasted motion and every action with a purpose.

The U.S. team had 16 members, all of whom had earned the right to compete at Calgary by winning local, regional and national contests held by the Skills USA organization (skillsusa.org), which is our national representative to World Skills International. Skills USA holds its competition annually in Kansas City.

We had two competitors in the CNC machining skills contest, one in turning and the other machining. Josef Schwarzer is a student at Romeo Engineering and Technology Center in Washington, Michigan, and is our national champion in CNC turning. Fernando DeLaGarza, a student at the Dehryl A. Dennis PTEC in Boise, Idaho, represented us in CNC milling. Although neither won gold, they got to the “big show” and deserve congratulations. These are two prospects that should be getting calls from some of you.

Indulge me as I provide one last observation of this experience. As we watched the opening ceremonies, there was a parade of nations—very Olympic-like. What struck me was how much larger many of the teams from much smaller countries were than the U.S. On further investigation, I found out that unlike teams from other countries, the U.S. team gets no government support. Our 16 kids were in Calgary by the generosity of private corporate donations. On a world stage like this, I think we can do better. 