The Laila Al Mahri of today is confident, outspoken, independent – all qualities she gained competing in the WorldSkills challenge.
“It changed my life,” the 23-year-old said.
Ms Al Mahri was in nursing school at the Fatima College of Health Sciences in Abu Dhabi when she was persuaded to enter the EmiratesSkills competition, a national version of the international tournament taking place in Abu Dhabi this week.
Her performance in the health and social care skills challenge earned her first place in the UAE, and a chance to represent her country at the WorldSkills Sao Paulo in 2015. It was there that Ms Al Mahri encountered – and overcame – one of her biggest challenges.
The young Emirati woman was tasked with caring for a male stroke patient – or, an actor playing one in the skills test – who needed her help moving from the bed to the chair.
“Because of our culture, we cannot touch the male,” said Ms Al Mahri. But as an aspiring nurse, the young woman was determined to handle the challenge skillfully and fulfil her professional duty while being respectful of her culture. She said she applied a special technique and used medical aids to successfully move the patient without harm or injury.
“We must take care of the patient,” said Ms Al Mahri. Her effort earned her two medals – best of nation and the excellence medal. The trial also helped her realise the intrinsic reward that comes with doing a job well, she said.
“It changed my personality,” said Ms Al Mahri. “I became more confident and it also boost my skills because I was participating in health and social care career skills, so it boost my skills and also I gained a lot of knowledge.”
The competition also helped open her family’s eyes to the benefits of a nursing career.
“They were very proud of me. They also encouraged me to continue my studies and to go beyond what I am now,” she said. Just this week, Ms Al Mahri began her professional career working as a nurse trainee at the Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi. She is hoping her experience – and the WorldSkills Abu Dhabi competition in general – will help expose her peers to the infinite opportunities available to them.
“I think if someone loves what he does, he will do his best in his career,” said Ms Al Mahri. “For me, nursing is a great career.”
On the first day of competition Sunday, the WorldSkills Abu Dhabi attracted thousands of pupils from across the emirate who wandered the halls and watched their peers from around the world demonstrate their technical expertise in one of 51 different challenges.
The young visitors also have the opportunity to speak with representatives from an assortment of different companies and organisations who can help answer questions about the requirements for different vocations and skills.
“We want to show them how interesting it is to operate a machine and the technology behind it, and the different ways to produce a product,” said Jorn Poss, an application engineer for the German firm DMG MORI, which supplies computerised equipment to cut tools and parts. “You can do a lot of things with this, and a lot of jobs.”
Ashley Lutter, a teacher at Gems World Academy, led a group of wide-eyed second-graders across the exhibition space. They had just finished watching the welding competition and, for some children, it was their first time seeing welders up-close.
“It was something that they had never heard of, so just the exposure of something new that they don’t necessarily see in their day to day life is valuable,” said Ms Lutter.
“It keeps the options open for them, they realise that there are a lot of opportunities, if it’s something that they wish to pursue.”
David Hoey, CEO of WorldSkills International, said that this exposure is what helps “change paradigms.”
“There are thousands and thousands of Emirati kids – probably in that age, 13 to 17 – walking around and hopefully their eyes are being opened to what is available in terms of sectors to go into,” said Mr Hoey.
“I have seen in the UAE a mass improvement and increase in the understanding of what all these skills do to the economy and we’re seeing a lot of people – and especially Emiratis – taking up what would not normally be a career for an Emirati.”