Five past WorldSkills champions from around the globe shared their most pressing challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic and made suggestions on the way young people can become central to the rebuilding effort and skills-based economic recovery in all sectors.
Part of the WorldSkills Conference Talks series, the Skills for a Resilient Youth webinar was held July 15, coinciding with the UN designated World Youth Skills Day.
Anna Prokopenia, former representative for Europe, WorldSkills Champions Trust, Russia, is currently studying to become a food engineer in France and her primary challenge has been disrupted education.
“The hands-on learning and the practical approach is really important for our trade…and the global pandemic and quarantine has lead to the unavoidable drop of quality of my education,” she said. “I cannot ignore the fact that not only students were suffering from this situation but also teachers who had to really quickly adapt themselves to this problem.”
In terms of an action plan, she said motivation is the key to success and suggested ways to incorporate it into the existing educational system such as highlighting role models. She said during the quarantine she has been able to take advantage of some free online courses led by famous chefs.
“These role models can be champions and lead the way to innovative ideas and inspire students to become active players in their career path,” she noted. “Online education has given us this opportunity because it’s not so simple to do in life but with this new reality we can do it much easier. We need to stop thinking about the challenges of digital learning and start to think about how we can harvest its advantages.”
Daniel Christophersen, representative for Europe, WorldSkills Champions Trust, Germany, said he has fared reasonably well during the pandemic thanks, in part, to transferable skills that he has gained in IT.
“Technology has taken over our lives and to be adaptable, these transferrable skills are absolutely necessary,” he noted. “To be successful in our industry it’s really important to learn transferrable skills like communication time management, problem solving and didactic learning.”
Young people with these skills are especially important for society in times of crisis, he added.
“There is a lot of work for all of us to create this environment and many factors are important… financial support for families so that young people have a real chance to choose their own way, to choose what they are good at and to choose what they like and not only look at how can I make money quickly,” he noted.
Chirag Goel, former representative for Asia, WorldSkills Champions Trust, India, said as an international student studying technology in the U.S., one of his biggest concerns is how unprepared the world was for the pandemic.
“It’s almost like we are just paused and waiting for the pandemic to get over for us to take the next step, but I don’t even know what ‘after the pandemic’ means,” said Goel. “Are we expecting an expiry date or is this the new normal where we have to take the hybrid approach of some remote learning, some in-person and what is the innovation to adapt for it? I surely don’t enjoy the hour-long video recordings as I did an hour-long lecture in a classroom.
“With screen fatigue it’s easy to lose focus and concentration. Taking the lectures and putting them online is not going to be enough.”
There is a growing need for innovation to increase accessibility and one of the ways to do this is through technology, he added.
“It’s important to note that technology creates magic but it’s not a magic wand,” Goel stated.
“Before we begin centering most of our solutions around technology it is important to evaluate the shortcomings.
“You can put a course on the internet and open for everyone to view but it does not provide the folks without internet the same level of access. We should not be holding peoples’ education hostage to their ability to afford technology or even limited to the infrastructure available within their country. So, while we speak about education for all, unless we also intend to add technology for all, we cannot make them interdependent.”
Amelia Addis, representative for Asean and Oceania, WorldSkills Champions Trust, New Zealand, is an entrepreneur in the wedding and event space. She and her partner also run an automotive shop.
“Usually how we move and grow our business is taking on challenges and turning them into opportunities,” said Addis. “However, this pandemic is unlike any other challenge that I have faced as a business owner and instead of leaving me feeling positive it’s left me feeling really doubtful and no longer confident to innovate and adapt to the challenging situation.”
If businesses want to be able to thrive in this next normal they need to lose this doubt and regain confidence and young people have a key role to play, she said.
“Young skills people have the ability to help us innovate and rebuild for the future but how can we expect that to happen when they are full of doubt like myself,” said Addis. “I think the first step is for us to acknowledge that doubt is normal.
“Without acknowledging your own doubt you can’t really begin to develop personal strategies to get through.”
A support network is more important than ever before, especially for young people.
“Doubt isn’t the end of the journey, it’s an opportunity for growth. It’s a chance for us to connect to each other, reach out to our support networks, improve our skills and really connect with our own goals and dreams,” said Addis.