Abu Dhabi to host world’s largest vocational skills contest

The competition is expected to attract about 100,000 visitors and will take place in 2017, hosting contests in fields such as landscaping.

ABU DHABI // The emirate will soon be the first city in the Middle East to host the world’s largest vocational skills competition, WorldSkills.

The competition is expected to attract about 100,000 visitors to Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre over four days in October next year. It will showcase the skills of 1,200 entrants under the age 24 from about 60 countries, who will compete in areas such as landscaping and cooking.

“It’s basically the skills Olympics,” said Aidan Jones, chief executive of WorldSkills Abu Dhabi 2017.

“Every two years, countries gather with their teams of young people and compete to be the best carpenter, the best florist, the best car mechanic and they get gold, silver and bronze – it’s very much like the Olympics.”

WorldSkills began 66 years ago in Spain to promote vocational training through activities such as competitions and community projects.

In the UAE, a study in 2014 showed that between 1 and 3 per cent of students in the UAE were pursuing vocational education. Worldwide, about 10 per cent of students, on average, were enrolled in a trade programme. In some countries, such as Germany and Japan, as many as 40 to 50 per cent of students pursue a technical education.

Mr Jones said he hoped WorldSkills would help to expose students to the vocational education options that are available to them and help change any negative perceptions about pursuing a career in the trades.

“We create an environment where visitors can try [the various skills] themselves and we also convey information, advice and guidance,” Mr Jones said.

Some young people are more suited and will be more successful on “a path which may not be a university path”, he said.

“The message is to keep an open mind and to be absolutely assured that there isn’t a single path that is best for all young people,” Mr Jones said.

The competition will help to boost students’ awareness about vocational learning, said Sulaf Saleh Al-Zu’bi, chief executive of Injaz UAE, an organisation that promotes youth education and training.