I was lucky enough to attend the WorldSkills event in London in 2011 with a group of Environmental Science students who were competing in a fledgling, demonstration competition based around formulating a costed, sustainable energy solution for a small island. As they walked through the arena to the competition area my students got a sense that they were part of something big. The event really was huge: The ability and skill level of the competitors was evident across the disciplines. One competition that caught my attention was the manufacturing team challenge. Small teams were designing and building an electric vehicle. It was a bit like a sustainable, low octane version of the American TV programs like ‘Great Biker Build Off’ or ‘American Chopper’. The young people were clearly displaying skills that had been learned and practiced over time, I watched for a while and left feeling hopeful: The level of innovation on display from the next generation of designers, engineers and manufacturers was inspiring.
Many of the skills on display were linked to sustainability. For example in the UK there is some demand for skilled welders to construct structures for offshore wind electricity generation, CNC machining whch can be used to precision engineer moving parts for turbines and robotics which I’m sure will have applications in the service and installation of newer sustainable solutions such as geothermal.
In Korea I will be talking with delegates from all over the world about the possibility of including an Environmental Science Competition as part of future WorldSkills Events. This would reflect the very real need for skills development in Science education globally. Students should leave education not only with a body of knowledge but with the skills needed to add to that body of knowledge. This is particularly important in Environmental Science education where there is a need for the Environmental Scientists of the future to develop skills to come up with solutions that are beyond the realm of current thinking.The students at WorldSkills London knew they were part of something big. An Environmental Science Competition would mean that WorldSkills were part of something bigger: The development of skills that will be used to shape the future of our planet.