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Gold medals point way for skilled workers

By YE ZIZHEN in Beijing, ZHU YOUFANG in Changsha,ZHU YOUFANG and QIU QUANLIN in Guangzhou|China Daily|Updated: November 16, 2022


From top: Ma Hongda, Dong Qing and Zhou Chujie, three of the Chinese winners at the WorldSkills Competition 2022 Special Edition. CHINA DAILY

Success in international event evidence of sound vocational education

A 22-year-old student from Zhejiang province tasted success at a global skills competition staged recently in the French city of Bordeaux.

Ma Hongda became the first Chinese to win the plastering and drywall systems event at the WorldSkills Competition 2022 Special Edition.

The competition is widely viewed as the "Olympic Games" for skills, and its special editions replaced the canceled WorldSkills Shanghai 2022, with 62 events staged in a total of 15 countries and regions from September to this month.

As of Monday, the Chinese team had won 15 gold, three silver and three bronze medals in events that included cabinetmaking and 3D digital gaming art.

Born in 2000 in Wenzhou, Zhejiang, Ma started to learn construction and decoration at Zhejiang Construction Technician College in Hangzhou, the provincial capital, when he was 16.

"My father is a construction worker, and we both think it is a good idea to master a skill. That's why I chose this major," Ma said.

"In 2017, I applied to be a member of the college's special training team for WorldSkills competitions. More than 200 students applied, but only some 30 passed and stayed for training after two rounds of fierce competition."

Ma's outstanding skills and hard work showed he had the talent to take part in the competition.

Xu Zhen, the college's head coach for plastering and drywall system training, said: "Ma is the kind of student that works wholeheartedly to achieve a goal once it is set. He is not only diligent, but can also think and work flexibly and creatively during training, which is essential."

At the 45th WorldSkills Competition in 2019 in Kazan, Russia, Ma witnessed Gao Yuzhou take second place for China.

"I went to Kazan hoping to learn more about the competition," said Ma, who that year ranked third nationally, with Gao in first position.

Ma was thrilled when the results were announced, and said they made him more eager to take part in the competition.

After returning from Kazan, he spent an average of seven hours a day in the college training room, quickly wearing out a pair of protective shoes with 5-centimeter soles. Such shoes typically last for several years.

This year, the competition was due to be held in Shanghai in October, but in May, WorldSkills International and the Shanghai 2022 Executive Bureau said it would be canceled due to the COVID-19 epidemic.

"I felt quite frustrated when I heard this news, as competing in and winning a championship motivated me during the past five years' training," Ma said.

Participants in the competition must be 22 or younger, and can only take part in it once.

In late July, Ma was told to start training again, as the competition had been switched to France.

Staged over four days in Bordeaux, it comprised five sections, in which competitors had to calculate the materials to use on drawings provided, and also draw up a basic structure for their project.

They also had to install cotton soundproofing in the walls and plaster boards, and complete freestyle creative decoration work.

Unexpected situations arose. For example, the size of the plasterboards provided by the organizer was different from those commonly seen in China.

"This was a challenge, which initially made me nervous, but my coach and I came up with solutions after discussions," Ma said.

Due to the humidity in Bordeaux, the birds Ma made as decorations fell from a wall and shattered. He glued them back together and finished the creative molding section just in time.

He painted the wall blue, drew an Eiffel Tower in red, and a large feather and several birds in white — the three colors of the French national flag. The final project was about 2.3 meters square and 2.1 m high.

Footage of Ma doing his plastering has attracted numerous views and discussions on social media platforms, with many people inspired by his world championship triumph.

Xu Zhen, Ma's coach, who has taught at Zhejiang Construction Technician College since 2011, said he has seen the increasing popularity of skilled workers in recent years, as social acceptance of technical school graduates has risen.

Qian Zhenghai, the college's principal, told CCTV: "Vocational education is a good life path to choose, as demand for technical talent is increasing with modernization. Our goal is to improve and nurture talent to meet market demand, and improve the quality of our training and courses."

Ma will remain at the college as a teacher, passing on his knowledge and skills to those interested in construction.

Fashion triumph

During childhood, Dong Qing sat beside her mother's sewing machine in Guangdong province, watching her make clothes. Now, Dong, 23, works with a sewing machine and fabrics herself, and has become a world champion.

Born in Hengyang, Hunan province, Dong graduated from Hunan Arts and Crafts Vocational College in Yiyang, Hunan. She has just won the fashion technology championship at the WorldSkills Competition 2022 Special Edition in Helsinki, Finland.

"Seeing my mother working with her sewing machine influenced my career choice," Dong said.

In 2017, Dong started learning fashion design and clothes making at the Yiyang college.

"That year, I applied to join the training team for the 45th World-Skills competition in 2019. As a freshman, I was selected for the provincial team with several of my seniors," she said.

Training, from design to fabric cutting, from plate making to clothes making, left a deep impression on Dong.

"I failed to join the national team that year, but for the next time, I learned from the experience, the level of dedication, concentration, and the creation needed to win," she said.

Three years later, Dong seized her chance.

To prepare for this year's competition, she joined a special training course in Beijing in August.

"The course was quite tough, and I was on my feet for at least eight hours a day, but I thoroughly enjoyed it," Dong said.

The four-day competition comprised four sections, and the work had to be completed within 18 hours.

Competitors were required to draw patterns and lay out garments in the first three hours, cut fabrics in 90 minutes, and use the rest of the time making clothing themed on an equestrian outfit.

Dong made a black suit with an indigo-blue vest.

In addition to practicing her clothes-making skills, she closely follows the latest trends through magazines and fashion shows.

In her daily life, she opts for sportswear and loose-fitting dresses to match her skinny physique.

As Dong competed in Helsinki, her family members stayed up late for news of the competition.

"When I make clothes for them, they don't worry much about the cut or the design, because we care for and love each other via the clothing," Dong said.

The days and nights Dong spent with her teachers, and the instruction they gave her, made her decide to become a teacher, and she will soon start work at her college.

"I want to share my experience in the WorldSkills competition with my future students and train more of them in the craft of fashion," she said.

It was the third time contestants from the Chinese mainland had won a Worldskills fashion technology gold, with Wen Caiyun triumphing in Kazan in 2019, and Hu Ping in Abu Dhabi in 2017.

Family advice

When Zhou Chujie first attended a vocational and technical school in Shunde district, Foshan, Guangdong, in 2015, he knew little about computer numerical control milling.

This machining process uses computerized controls and rotating multipoint cutting tools to progressively remove material from a workpiece to produce a custom-designed part or product.

"My family thought it was important for me to have skills in my future career, so I decided to major in CNC Milling," Zhou said.

During his studies at Liang Qiuju Vocational and Technical School in Shunde, a traditional major manufacturing base in South China, Zhou began a hectic daily training schedule, joining the CNC Milling competition team in the 2016 summer vacation.

After graduating from the school, he continued his studies at Guangdong Machinery Technician College in 2018. The college is widely regarded as the "cradle of golds" in the WorldSkills Competition.

Hard training paid off, and Zhou, 23, and Wu Hongyu, also from the Guangdong college, won gold medals in the CNC Turning and CNC Milling competitions at the WorldSkills Competition 2022 Special Edition in Leonberg, Germany, helping China win four consecutive championships at the event.

The CNC Turning and CNC Milling competitions ended in Leonberg on Oct 16, attracting contestants from more than 20 countries and regions.

From 2015 to 2019, the Chinese team won gold medals in the CNC Milling event during the WorldSkills Competition, which is held every two years and aims to showcase world-class professional skills.

Zhou said, "The gold medals will enable more people to understand the CNC industry, in particular attracting more young people to learn the technology and improve their level of skill."

He now plans to devote himself to vocational and technical education. "My story might encourage other young people to develop their skills," Zhou said.

According to a guideline on producing highly skilled workers, released early last month by the State Council, China's Cabinet, the nation will establish a more sound and improved system to cultivate highly skilled workers, with their numbers, social status, quality of work and incomes rising by the end of 2025.

Skilled workers are projected to comprise at least 30 percent of the nation's total working population by that year, according to the guideline.

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