I recently returned from Seoul, Korea, where I participated in a WorldSkills Forum, addressing an audience with representatives from Columbia, France, the United Kingdom, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and, of course, Korea. I spent a full day at the Global Institute for Transferring Skills (GIFTS) on October 4 and worked with HRD Korea – Korea’s government human resources agency – and presented an overview of the SkillsUSA program. A discussion ensued about how our different organizations might cooperate and assist one another on a global platform. The GIFTS Center is a beautiful five-story facility that contains a museum displaying the history of skills training and the “Master Hands Artisans” of Korea. And, it contains a museum section that documents Korea’s WorldSkills participation since 1966. Competitors and medalists are held in high esteem in Korea, and they are honored in the museum.
The GIFTS Center is used for training the Skills Korea World Team. The facility is equipped with nearly 100 sleeping rooms, a cafeteria, gym and indoor garden – and multiple training labs with the latest in technology and equipment – for training competitors as well as exposing youth to technical skills. The GIFTS Center and Korean World Team is fully funded and supported by the Korean government.
The following day, the delegation went to Gangwon Province for the 48th Korean National Skills Competition. The four-day competition involved 48 skill areas. There were 1,884 total competitors. The competition is moved to a different province each year.
The competition was intense and aligned closely with the WorldSkills schedule and standards. There were lots of differences between the Korean competition and the SkillsUSA Championships. All competitions were trade/skill related – there were no leadership contests -every competitor received a cash reward, and winners receive substantial cash prizes with full government support. But, there were also similarities to our contests. The contest floor looked a lot like our Championships and, of course, the joy of seeing young people with passion demonstrating their skills is universal.
On my fourth and final day in Korea, the other nations’ representatives and I were given a “cultural tour.” It was amazing to see the ancient gates to the city alongside the giant high rise buildings which are now a trademark of Seoul and to tour the King’s palace from the 12th century. Our final leg of the tour was a gondola ride to the Seoul Tower atop a mountain overlooking the city. Seoul stretches in all directions, as far as the eye can see.
Attending the forum was a great learning experience – both personally and professionally. I owe a big thank you to HRD Korea for its hospitality – and for covering the cost of all expenses from my arrival to my departure.