Paul Doran, WorldSkills UK Training Manager and Lecturer at Southern Regional College, explains how the pandemic has led the organisation to adapt its training, including the introduction of a virtual test which will see UK tiling apprentices go head-to-head with others from across the globe.

The impact of COVID-19 has not only played havoc with sporting fixtures around the world, but the WorldSkills organising committee has also been forced to postpone the next ‘Skills Olympics’ competition. Usually held every two years, these competitions see trainees compete in over 60 skills, from floristry to bricklaying.

The next event will now take place in Shanghai in October 2022. This delay has meant back to the drawing board for our training preparations, but we have responded by launching a ‘world first’ in wall and floor tiling.

We are a hosting a virtual pressure test that will see the UK, for the first time, replicate a competition simultaneously in eight countries – not an easy feat when you take into consideration time differences across the globe.

Switzerland, South Korea, Australia, Brazil, Sweden, Denmark, Russia and the Netherlands have all been invited to participate in the Virtual Pressure Test. This will allow my apprentices, Morgan Swift, who trains at City of Glasgow College, and Dylan Calvert, who trains at Southern Regional College in Northern Ireland, the opportunity to benchmark their skills against apprentices who have already proved they are the best in their own country. All the apprentices taking part will be hoping to demonstrate that they have the skills to secure the one place available to represent their country at WorldSkills Shanghai.

The standard will be high with Brazil, Russia and Switzerland all medalling at WorldSkills Kazan in 2019. But it is this innovation that underpins the ethos of WorldSkills – the global hub of skills excellence, with an international network that is second to none in the world of technical and vocational education and training.

I will also be hosting a ‘Best Practice’ exchange with the WorldSkills Experts, who will share the most recent training trends in wall and floor tiling in their countries.

By leveraging international polices in skills development and moving our WorldSkills training online, WorldSkills UK is able to open up its development programmes to equip trainers in the UK with the knowledge to embed world-class standards into their own training programmes, helping more young people and their employers succeed. We have witnessed the transformation of skills systems in China, Russia, South Korea and Brazil as they have used their membership of WorldSkills to mainstream global industry standards and we must do the same here in the UK.

During the three days of pressure testing, in which my apprentices will compete side by side in COVID-safe conditions at the City of Glasgow College, we will replicate the international WorldSkills Competition format by using

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the test project from Kazan. Parts of this test will be live streamed, with colleges and training providers throughout the UK being able to watch not only how my apprentices complete the project but all the apprentices in each of the competing countries.

The apprentices will be tested on skills including their ability to interpret and execute drawings, replicating intricate patterns, cutting and producing complex tile work. They will also be judged on their work organisation, health and safety, communication skills, management of materials, problem-solving abilities and innovation. All these are essential not just for competition but also for the workplace.

We have had great support from the industry, with Nicobond, part of the Nicolls & Clarke Group, BAL Adhesives, The Tile Association and the Worshipful Company of Tylers and Bricklayers all supporting our virtual training.

WorldSkills Shanghai will be a global celebration of the very best skills in wall and floor tiling. However, we cannot afford to ignore the insight we can all gain in the lead up to the event to help shape our training programmes. By setting a new level of ambition, with our sights on excellence as the standard new apprentices should expect from their training, we can be confident of attracting the very best young talent to work in our industry.

To watch highlights of the Virtual International Pressure Test and Best Practice Exchange in Wall and Floor Tiling, please email

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