Chil­dren be­gin ar­riv­ing in Abu Dhabi for WorldSkills com­pe­ti­tion

The National - News - - NEWS - ANNA ZACHARIAS

When he was a child, Ab­dul­rah­man Al Qah­tani would ask his cousins what they would be when they were older. The an­swers were al­ways the same. Engi­neer. Doc­tor. Man­ager. Busi­ness­man.

Mr Al Qah­tani wanted to do 3D de­sign and mo­tion de­sign.

His fa­ther was unim­pressed. “He told me, ‘Ok it is your choice. But if you do and no­body em­ploys you, I won’t em­ploy you ei­ther’.”

Mr Al Qah­tani chose to keep his fam­ily happy and ma­jored in fi­nance.

But after he com­pletes his de­gree next se­mes­ter, he will work as web de­signer.

“The funny thing is, three years later, my fa­ther now knows the value of this sec­tor and 3D de­sign and he asks me, ‘why didn’t you chose to go into that ma­jor’?”

Mr Al Qah­tani is one of 1,259 par­tic­i­pants at WorldSkills Abu Dhabi 2017, which be­gins to­mor­row. In the 44th event, young pro­fes­sion­als will com­pete in 51 skills in­clud­ing stone­ma­sonry, cab­i­net-mak­ing, bak­ing and brick­lay­ing.

Yes­ter­day, com­peti­tors vis­ited pri­vate and public schools across Abu Dhabi. Each of the 58 com­pet­ing coun­tries was paired with a dif­fer­ent school, where pupils stud­ied the cul­ture and his­tory of the school they hosted.

One School One Coun­try is a WorldSkill tra­di­tion to pro­mote cul­tural ex­change, but in mul­ti­cul­tural Abu Dhabi par­tic­i­pants car­ried an­other mes­sage: vo­ca­tional train­ing mat­ters.

This may be self-ev­i­dent. After all, what coun­try can run with­out its me­chan­ics, car­pen­ters, cooks and com­puter pro­gram­mers? Yet in the Gulf, these types of jobs are typ­i­cally done by over­seas labour.

The Saudi team was greeted at the Bri­tish School Al Khubairat with a re­cep­tion hall packed with pupils. One per­formed on the cello, an­other the clar­inet.

The Saudi guests ex­plained how vo­ca­tional train­ing is es­sen­tial to eco­nomic and so­cial de­vel­op­ment in the Gulf.

“We need this in our coun­try be­cause all these vo­ca­tions are done by peo­ple from over­seas,” said Afra Al­lay­ati, 38, a team leader for Saudi’s WorldSkills team and vice dean at the Tech­ni­cal Col­lege for Girls in Jed­dah.

“Now the gov­ern­ment wants to de­velop the coun­try and its in­de­pen­dence. Peo­ple un­der­stand it’s very im­por­tant to work and be­come knowl­edge­able in these ar­eas,” she said.

“It’s also the need of the coun­try. We need elec­tri­cians, we need com­puter engi­neers, we need tai­lors. Think about your coun­try and think about how you can give back from your stud­ies.”

Gov­ern­ment sup­port for vo­ca­tional learn­ing has slowly started to change so­cial at­ti­tudes, said the Saudi team.

“In the Gulf re­gion, be­fore it wouldn’t be as ac­cept­able to ma­jor in graphic de­sign or web de­sign as ma­jor­ing in busi­ness ad­min­is­tra­tion or engi­neer­ing,” said Mr Al Qah­tani, who will rep­re­sent Saudi Ara­bia in graphic de­sign tech­nol­ogy. “Now, since the Saudi gov­ern­ment started e-gov­ern­ment where ev­ery­thing is fo­cused on the web, hold­ing com­pa­nies have fo­cused on this sec­tor.”

His team­mate Khalid Ab­dulka­rim agreed.

“There is a big change hap­pen­ing right now, peo­ple start to ac­tu­ally do things they didn’t use be­fore,” said the

21-year-old, who will com­pete in aircraft main­te­nance. “They start to study these fields and it’s im­prov­ing now.”

A grow­ing num­ber of schools are of­fer­ing vo­ca­tional train­ing.

Al Ba­teen Academy, which was vis­ited by 36 mem­bers of the Swiss team, is in the plan­ning and de­vel­op­ment stage of a vo­ca­tional cur­ricu­lum for 2018.

“You have to look at the Abu Dhabi eco­nomic vi­sion for 2030 and the com­pe­ten­cies and the val­ues that they want learn­ers across the UAE to pos­sess,” said the school prin­ci­pal, David Hutson.

“Uni­ver­si­ties and em­ploy­ers do not just sim­ply want grades and knowl­edge, they want stu­dents to be able to ap­ply their un­der­stand­ing and their skills to real sit­u­a­tions. It’s try­ing to de­velop an econ­omy and learn­ers with a deep knowl­edge and un­der­stand­ing of their sub­ject who have the skills that em­ploy­ers seek.”

Bri­tish School Al Khubairat is in the sec­ond year of its vo­ca­tional train­ing pro­gramme.

“The world needs a va­ri­ety of skills,” said its head­mas­ter, Mark Lep­pard.

“Abu Dhabi is push­ing vo­ca­tional ed­u­ca­tion tremen­dously and the UAE is push­ing it. You have to have a bal­ance.

“My ad­vice to par­ents when chil­dren are choos­ing their GCSEs or high school ex­ams and A-lev­els is for the chil­dren to be able to follow their pas­sion and that way you will gen­uinely get them lov­ing what they do.”

The 44th WorldSkills be­gins on Satur­day, Oc­to­ber 14. Com­pe­ti­tions run at Abu Dhabi Na­tional Ex­hi­bi­tion Cen­tre from Oc­to­ber 15 to 18 and are open to the public

The mes­sage for the event at Abu Dhabi is that vo­ca­tional skills are a huge as­set to the na­tion

Ab­du­laziz Mo­ham­mad Al­hedaithi, in­ter­preter of the Saudi team, brought his coun­try’s mes­sage to Abu Dhabi Pawan Singh / The Na­tional

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