Test of skill

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Just how do you co-ordinate the moves of 1,000 participants and 150,000 visitors? Aidan Jones, chief executive, WorldSkills London 2011, discusses the upcoming skills event and competition that will see so many people descend upon London’s ExCeL from October 5-8…

The aim of WorldSkills London 2011 is to…

WorldSkills London 2011 is the greatest skills competition, careers and jobs event on the planet. But our ambition goes well beyond the event itself there has never been a more important time for our young people to get the help and support they need on their future career and job opportunities we want WorldSkills London 2011 to be the catalyst for increased awareness and take up of vocational skills and careers in the UK and across the world.

We will do this by offering our planned 150,000 visitors the chance to see 1,000 people from 58 countries/regions compete in 46 skill competitions. Alongside this, they have the opportunity to try their hand and have a go at the skills on offer, see displays by 100 showcase colleges, meet employers offering a range of new jobs and future careers, get help and advice and visit the many employers and international countries in the Make it Happen exhibition and Global Skills Village.

After hosting WorldSkills in 2005, vocational education in Finland saw an eight per cent increase and we want WorldSkills London 2011 to have an even bigger impact.

Why is the event only held every two years?

The event is held every two years to allow enough time for members to select and train competitors and for WorldSkills International and the host country/region to prepare to put on such a huge event. There is also quite a lengthy bid and selection process for any country/region to be selected to host the event.

In terms of scope and scale, how big is the event?

WorldSkills London 2011 will be the largest event ever held at ExCeL. The scale of the event is enormous; it will be taking over the entire 90,000 square metres of exhibition space and it’s the equivalent of 10 Wembley Stadium pitches. At WorldSkills Calgary 2009: The event used 43 kilometres of computer cable – more than enough to stretch

the route of the London Marathon. Competitors consumed: 4,000 pieces of chicken, 2,000 litres – or 3,500 pints – of milk and 600 loaves of bread. Manpower utilised included 83 workshop supervisors and workshop supervisor assistants, working 12 hour days for 21 days, all adding up to 20,916 worker hours – the equivalent of 872 days.

The event requires serious logistical planning… how is this being dealt with and what challenges do you face?

Some 250,000 items will be provided for the 46 skill competitions. Individual items range from CNC turning machines, to hairdryers and even massive Heidelberg printers. Twenty-one London hotels will house competitors and judges throughout the duration of the competition and up to 5,000 lunches will be served per day. With any event on this scale there are inevitably challenges, but we have a good portfolio of world class sponsors such as Honda, Cisco, Snap On and Samsung, which have a wealth of experience in their respective fields, complemented with a strong event team made up of people who have experience at the Commonwealth Games, The Olympic Games and other major UK and international events.

Who is your target audience and how do you promote the event to them?

Our core target group is 14-19 year-olds. However, the event is relevant to everyone: Young people, parents, teacher, carers, influencers, industry and even adults looking for a career change. With our core target audience being 14-19 year-olds we focused on school and college groups and have over 1,700 groups registered to attend.

The most effective channel for this group has been telesales and direct marketing. For Saturday visitor recruitment, we are targeting those within two hours of the venue.

How is the event funded?

WorldSkills London 2011 is funded jointly by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and industry partners. We are a not-for-profit organisation. The European Social Fund is providing technical assistance funds to support a programme of activity to assist young people from disadvantaged areas to attend the event, support the volunteer and exhibitor programme and fund event “wrap around” activities. The competition would not be possible without our more than 150 sponsors, which have not only provided sponsorship money but also goods in kind, with the donation of equipment and machinery.

In terms of numbers, how many visitors/ delegates are you hoping to attract?

We aim to attract 150,000 visitors and delegates. Currently we have over 111,000 visitors registered to attend – our visitors will come from across the UK as well as over 58 countries and regions. Visitors can register online for complimentary tickets.

What suppliers are you using and how have you chosen them?

A variety of very experienced suppliers are working alongside our sponsors. These include Melville, Blitz, Aztec and Logicalis plus a wide range of logistical support managed through CEVA Showfreight.

With less than one month to go, what lessons have you learned? And how are the plans going?

As part of our event preparations we have made a deliberate attempt to learn from the immense history and good practice from many other skills competitions and events held across Europe and the rest of the member countries and regions that are members of WorldSkills International. This insight included a study tour plus a specific visit from the City of Calgary, which hosted the competition in 2009. We are on the home stretch and in the “finishing touches” phase before we go live and into full event mode. Our entire event team, our sponsors and suppliers are working flat out to bring the many event aspects together. We’re on track and our marketing campaign over the next few weeks will continue to build excitement and awareness across the capital and regional areas.

This is the largest event to take place at ExCeL before London 2012… is WorldSkills being used as a test event?

Being an international event with 150,000 visitors and delegates from across the globe, there are many parallels to London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. An example of working in collaboration is through the assembly of a pontoon bridge, the same structure to be used during the Olympics to aid access to ExCeL. This is an essential component to WorldSkills London 2011 to support the management of transport and visitors to and from the venue.