WorldSkills: How World-Class Specialists are Trained in Russia
At the international skill competition WorldSkills Abu Dhabi 2017, Russia’s select team has placed first according to its total score with 11 medals and 21 medallions of excellence. Vadim Polyakov, who trained for two years at ITMO’s Center of Competencies, won the gold medal in the category “Refrigeration and Air Conditioning”. Over the years of its operation, the Center has prepared numerous champions of skills competitions – even though only five years ago very few people in Russia knew what the WorldSkills standards are and what skills every modern professional has to possess. Andrey Pivinskiy, member of the WorldSkills Russia expert council, explains how Russia has learned to train champions in just a few years and why WorldSkills is important for universities and the industry.
What is WorldSkills?
WorldSkills is an international non-commercial movement that aims to elevate the prestige value of blue-collar and service professions and develop mastery of skills. The movement began in 1947, in post-war Spain, as a response to the lack of qualified workers; as of now, the organization includes members from 77 countries. The first championships were organized in order to popularize service work and increase its status. Today, these events are an effective way of training qualified workers who can respond to global standards and the needs of new, high-tech productions.
Regional, national, continental and international competitions are held under the WorldSkills banner. Participants show their skills by performing tasks specific to their occupations, among which are: construction, information and communication technologies, creative work and design, industrial manufacturing, service work and public transit.
The world championship is held every two years in various countries. Among its participants are young qualified workers and university and college students under 22. Renowned professionals, specialists, trainers and supervisors serve as jury experts. Participants are selected at regional championships in member countries. They demonstrate their technical abilities, personal and team qualities, and solve tasks designed to resemble real-life experiences. Their results say a lot not only about the teams themselves, but about the level of professional training and quality of service in the participants’ home countries.
Worldskills in Russia
Russia joined the movement in 2012. The first WorldSkills championship was held in Moscow. The idea was well-received by other regions, where local competitions were also held. As Andrey Pivinskiy, member of the WorldSkills Russia expert council, notes, in the beginning this initiative was supported by enthusiasts who wanted to popularize their competencies, exchange experience, train qualified workers and improve the educational system. The first championships weren’t much to talk about, but they gave a start to the movement in Russia and attracted motivated participants eager to develop it further.
“It was then that the movement was supported for the first time by educational organizations and companies. They began to develop their own training centers and send motivated students to our Competency Center “Refrigeration and Air Conditioning” to train them for the future competitions. At the same time, we’d started to outline a whole system for how we should do that. Students trained in their regions and then, for a final selection and to learn more advanced skills, they came here to St. Petersburg for one- or two-month training programs and exams,” – he explains.
One of their first international experiences was the EuroSkills 2014 championship in Lille (France). Back then, the still-inexperienced Russian team failed to show a high performance. Unlike, say, the Korean team that had trained for the championship for over five years, the Russian participants only trained for a couple of months on short-term programs. Later, the training system was rehauled significantly. In addition to hard skills, attention was also paid to the participants’ soft skills, including their communication skills.
“We made some conclusions out of that experience and developed a continuous training program for our national team. We selected people from all over the country, evaluating their hard and soft skills, teaching them theoretical knowledge and working with coaches. We paid a lot of attention to their foreign language skills, as that is crucial to their success at international competitions. It was like we were training for the Olympics. Later, our students become much-coveted professionals in their industries,” – says Pivinskiy.
It was then that, as part of the team’s training for the 2015 championship in São Paulo (Brasil), ITMO University had become a training ground for Russian young pros. At the WorldSkills Specialised Center of Competencies (SCC), specialists in the “Refrigeration and Air Conditioning” category are now trained.
How ITMO trains champions
The Refrigeration and Air Conditioning category is considered one of the most difficult ones, as it requires from its participants not only complex theoretical knowledge, but also sufficient real-life experience. For that reason, the programs at SCC include both theoretical and practical training in all areas of this field as outlined in the WorldSkills standards. Participants are tasked with installing, tuning and operating of refrigeration unites, assembling of freon tubes, installing refrigeration circuit elements, making electrical connections, programming controllers and working with modern coolants and software.
“The Center has become a natural step in the creation of a training system that started in Russia in 2012. As of now, a great number of both students and tutors have gone through the Center of Competencies and are now developing the field of refrigeration technology in their respective educational institutions,” – says Pivinskiy, – “WorldSkills standards bring together all the global trends and industry needs that today’s specialists have to meet. The main goal is to train experts who fulfill the market’s requirements. These standards are a basis for the tasks that test the participants’ skills. They also outline the particulars of how these championships must be held. All this ensures a complex, open and public evaluation process that demonstrates the real needs of the industry and what a given country’s educational system is capable of.”
Over time, industrial partners, too, joined the initiative – major global companies such as Rothenberger and Danfoss, as well as the Russian companies Land, Ostrov, Kreo Group and others, are now sending their own specialists to be trained at the Center. International partners contribute to the cause by providing modern equipment and materials.
Wins in Gothenburg and Abu Dhabi
The system proved its worth when the Russian teams showed great results at the EuroSkills competition in Gothenburg (one of the first Russian medals there was won by a participant in the Refrigeration and Air Conditioning category) and at the WorldSkills Abu Dhabi 2017 competition, where the Russian national team accumulated the most points, winning 11 medals (six gold, four silver and one bronze) and 21 medallions of excellence.
Vadim Polyakov (left)
The world champion in the Refrigeration and Air Conditioning category was Vadim Polyakov, specialist from Tatarstan who trained at the SCC. As Andrey Pivinskiy notes, the champion had spent two years at the center; his success can be attributed to both the specialist’s motivation and also his employer’s willingness to let Vadim attend long-term internships in St. Petersburg.
Specialists trained at the Center of Competencies take first places at various international and regional championships. Alexander Leushin, the Center’s graduate from Krasnodarsky Krai, got first place in a competition in China, while Vladislav Zuyev, from Sverdlovsk Oblast, has shown the top result at a competition in Namibia.
The new professional standard
“Lately, if we count the participants of all the introductory tests and events, the Center has seen a great number of contenders from all over the country. For many, it is a serious contribution to their further development, their career,” – notes Pivinskiy.
Aside from training members of the national team, the Center also offers programs to specialists of industrial companies interested in honing their skills and training programs for teachers from other regions of the country who pass on the skills they acquired in their localities.
In the future, notes the expert, the acquired experience is to be developed and shared on a nationwide scale to create a training system for specialists in industry and higher education. An intercollegiate championship modeled on the WorldSkills standards is already on the way and more Russian universities are becoming involved in the movement. Recently, the first intercollegiate qualifying round in “Laser Technologies” and “Refrigeration and Air Conditioning” categories was held at ITMO University. Its winners will participate in the first intercollegiate championship in Moscow.
As head of WorldSkills Russia Robert Urazov notes, in 2017 approximately 150,000 students of blue-collar and engineering specialties participated in the competition. As of now, 160 Russian companies support the movement. According to Urazov, participation in the project is among the quickest means of social elevation for young specialists and an opportunity to find a job they like with a decent salary.
Andrey Pivinskiy adds that, over the years, more industrial partners are starting to see the benefits of taking part in training sophisticated specialists. After all, a professional trained according to international standards is more likely to help the company avoid a number of potential dangers. This is why WorldSkills Russia has begun the development of a multi-faceted, transparent system that will let employers familiarize themselves with the knowledge and skills of a potential employee.
Participants of WorldSkills Abu Dhabi 2017
“It often so occurs that a serviceperson, an engineer will go out on an assignment, travel some 250 kilometers, make a mistake in their work, go back, spend the fuel and time without completing the task. Yet all we need to do is have them go through all the basic operations during training, to prepare them and let them go through the motions as many times as possible – which is what we do at the Center. We can say with confidence that the amount of interest in such specialists will only grow. As of today, WorldSkills Russia is developing a Skills-Passport – a document that a specialist will receive after having gone through the selection process and taking part in competitions. Potential employers will be able to use it to evaluate a specialist’s level. For example, a company will know that, over time, dealing with someone below the Medallion of Excellence level will cost them more than hiring a qualified professional,” – concludes Andrey Pivinskiy.