Chance Of A Lifetime

An international competition highlights the importance of skills training—and the need for broader support of our efforts here in the United States. 


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This video shows highlights from the CNC machining contests along with scenes from the 2009 WorldSkills Competition in Calgary, Alberta.

Competing in the WorldSkills Competition (WSC) is literally the chance of a lifetime. Even attending this event as an observer may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The 2009 edition of this bienial event took place early September 2009 in Calgary, Alberta. This international competition is not likely to return to North America "in our lifetimes," as one event director explained. So I am glad I was able to attend as a guest of Mori Seiki. This machine tool builder provided more than two dozen machine tools for the CNC machining contests.

At the WSC, students in occupational trades compete with their peers from other countries. This year, 51 countries participated. The trades in which students compete range from cooking, hairdressing and plumbing, to welding, mechatronics, CNC turning and CNC milling. More than 1,000 students took part in the competition.

The U.S. "WorldTeam" consisted of 16 individuals, all in their teens or early twenties who have earned the right to be a member by winning local, district and national contests under the SkillsUSA program (www.skillsusa.org), the official organization representing the United States.

Only 20 students from around the world were eligible to compete in each of the CNC Turning and CNC Milling categories. Josef Schwarzer, a student at Romeo Engineering and Technology Center in Washington, Michigan, was entered in CNC Turning. Fernando DeLaGarza, a student at the Dehryl A. Dennis PTEC in Boise, Idaho, was entered in CNC Milling. Students in these competitions were given a blueprint of a complex turned or milled part and were required to produce the part to spec in a limited time period.

One benefit for student competitors is hands-on experience with up-to-date CNC equipment. In this case, Mori Seiki DuraVertical 5100 vertical machining centers and DuraTurn 2050 lathes were used in the CNC machining categories. All contestants received advanced training on these machines (a process facilitated by Mori Seiki’s online Education On Demand system), so the skills and knowledge derived from this experience will readily carry over into valuable career assets.

Of course, workforce development is a challenge in manufacturing worldwide. That is one of the main reasons why Mori Seiki was eager to be a key supplier to this international event. When selected to be an official sponsor, Dr. Masahiko Mori, president of Mori Seiki Co. Ltd is quoted as saying, "Events like these promote the capabilities of young people and offer them the opportunity to benefit from the latest technology."

Watching the WorldTeam machining contestants was gratifying. Both students showed the intense concentration and "hustle" expected at this level of competition. Although neither won a medal, the outcome was still a validation of their choice to pursue a career in manufacturing. The event also highlighted the need to make such training a higher national priority. Unlike teams from all other countries, the U.S. team gets no support from the federal government—the team is dependent on private corporate funding to pay for training, travel costs and other expenses.