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Skills to Change the World —“Craftsmanship Insights” and “Skills for U”

Sharleen Su /photo bySkills for U /tr. byPhil Newell
 
Taiwanese society has long put academic education on a pedestal, while undervaluing voca­tional skills. This bias is not only evident in the education system, it also appears in all corners of the job market. But in truth people with professional skills are the foundation and central pillar of society. From baking to plumbing to electrical installation to welding, each profession requires its own special skills. Only with these skills can businesses flourish, and only with them can Taiwan make stable progress.
 
(photo by Chuang Kung-ju)
(photo by Chuang Kung-ju)
 
At the 2019 WorldSkills Competition held in Kazan, Russia, at the end of August, the Taiwanese team won five gold medals, five silvers, five bronzes, and 23 medal­lions of excellence, ranking fourth in the competition by total medal points.
A video of the awards ceremony posted on the Facebook page “Craftsmanship Insights” shows ­Cheng Tzu-yang, winner of a bronze medal in polymechanics and automation, punching the air and shouting for joy when his name is announced; Hung Yu-hsiang, bronze medalist in patisserie and confectionery, says excitedly, “I want to cry—I trained until I nearly collapsed!”; Yan Xiang-yu, silver medalist in autobody repair, clenches his fist and says wryly, “I sooo wanted to beat mainland China!”; and Hsieh Hsieh-yi, who took a gold medal in bakery, when asked if there is anything he particularly wants to do, looks straight into the camera and says candidly, “I want to go back to Taiwan and eat some braised pork on rice!”
 
Huang Wei-xiang leads team members from international skills competitions into a primary school where they teach students to make wooden stools, showing that vocational skills can change society.
Huang Wei-xiang leads team members from international skills competitions into a primary school where they teach students to make wooden stools, showing that vocational skills can change society.
 
The pride of Taiwan
 
This down-to-earth video, full of youthful energy, showed the names and awards of prizewinners one after another, highlighting the glory they had won for Taiwan. The comments section below the video included messages such as: “This made me cry! You are the pride of Taiwan.” “Thank you all for putting Taiwan in the world spotlight!”
The driving force behind the making of this video was Huang Wei-xiang, founder of Craftsmanship Insights and CEO of the not-for-profit organization “Skills for U.”
To report on this year’s WorldSkills Competition, Huang raised funds online to bring his film team to faraway Kazan. Not only did they go online daily to describe the latest developments in real time, they continually fed videos and images back to Taiwan to provide content for use by the mainstream media, successfully drawing public attention to the topic of occupa­tional skills.
 
National skills team members deftly transformed an idle space by the parking lot of Wanli’s Dapeng Elementary School into a shipping-container classroom.
National skills team members deftly transformed an idle space by the parking lot of Wanli’s Dapeng Elementary School into a shipping-container classroom.
 
A marginalized field
 
Huang filmed several videos in Kazan, inspiring a lot of discussion on the Internet. Yet young people who pursue vocational education have long been ignored by society. Two years ago, Huang went by himself to Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates, to report on the 2017 WorldSkills Competition. But when he walked into the international press room, he discovered that he was the only reporter from Taiwan there.
“The WorldSkills Competition, held every two years, is the Olympics of the international occupational skills community!” Yet there were no reporters from Taiwan at such a major event.
WorldSkills has the highest profile of any contest in the world of vocational skills. Having started in Spain in 1950, it currently boasts over 82 member countries from around the world. “Taiwan began competing in 1970, so in fact we’re longstanding members,” says Huang.
When a national team competitor is overlooked in Taiwan, this means that a whole group of people behind that competitor have also been overlooked. “It’s a little like the notion of an industrial value chain.” It really is a pity if the accomplishments that youngsters pursuing vocational education have worked so hard to achieve go unnoticed.
 
Team Taiwan brought home five gold medals, five silvers, five bronzes, and 23 medallions of excellence from the 2019 WorldSkills Competition held in Kazan, Russia.
Team Taiwan brought home five gold medals, five silvers, five bronzes, and 23 medallions of excellence from the 2019 WorldSkills Competition held in Kazan, Russia.
 
Craftsmanship Insights—a voice for skills
 
Huang founded the Craftsmanship Insights website five years ago in hopes of giving voice to the peripheral world of occupational skills through reports. “When I started out five years ago, everyone thought I was crazy.”
While going from a rookie beat reporter unfamiliar with government agencies to a senior journalist who under­stands policies and is familiar with the occupational skills community, Huang has often used his stories to advocate for change. He successfully promoted the passage of amendments to Taiwan’s legislation on compulsory military service, so that members of national teams competing in international contests are exempt from service. He has also explored the issue of measures to support outstanding vocational students in going on to study at technical universities, exposed the overuse of Class B Technician Certificates as a route into higher education, and examined ways to improve the recruitment system for vocational education. Huang has been appointed to the Executive Yuan’s Youth Advisory Council, and officials at the Ministry of Education often consult him on matters related to vocational education.
In August 2019, Huang brought his five-member video team to Kazan seven days before the WorldSkills Competition began. To ensure a continuing flow of first-hand news, during the competition the team worked through the nights to edit footage and add subtitles so that their reports would arrive at major media outlets first thing in the morning. By accompanying and observing the competitors throughout their stay, Huang and his team not only were able to capture many touching scenes for the reports they filed during the event itself, but after returning home they continued to put out behind-the-scenes stories from the competition, dissecting in depth the challenges and hardships the contestants experienced. Accompanied by fascinating online commentaries, these reports presented reality directly to their audience.
 
Hung Yu-hsiang (left) turned in a great performance at the “skills Olympics,” winning a bronze in patisserie and confectionery. Yang Ting-yu (right) brought home Taiwan’s first ever gold  medal in car painting, and was voted top competitor in the national team.
Hung Yu-hsiang (left) turned in a great performance at the “skills Olympics,” winning a bronze in patisserie and confectionery. Yang Ting-yu (right) brought home Taiwan’s first ever gold  medal in car painting, and was voted top competitor in the national team.
 
Through his reporting and writing, Huang Wei-xiang has transformed society’s ideas about vocational skills, helping people in skilled trades to feel a sense of pride. (photo by Chuang Kung-ju)
Through his reporting and writing, Huang Wei-xiang has transformed society’s ideas about vocational skills, helping people in skilled trades to feel a sense of pride. (photo by Chuang Kung-ju)
 
Dialogue with society through skills
 
“I feel that reports of this kind should not only raise the visibility of gold medal winners. I hope they will also encourage young people who have chosen vocational education and people in all kinds of craft professions to devote themselves to the field of occupational skills.”
In January 2018, Huang and some partners formed the not-for-profit group “Skills for U.” They want to promote the concept of “using occupational skills to engage in dialogue with society,” in hopes of enabling people with different skill sets to develop novel solutions in response to different social issues.
At the end of 2018, Huang and eight competitors from international skills contests transformed an idle space beside the parking lot of Da­peng Elementary School in New Taipei City’s ­Wanli District into a beautiful shipping-container classroom, creating an arts space for the children. “By applying occupational skills, we can get involved with different social issues and solve various social problems, while enabling young people in vocational education to connect with social issues as they learn.”
“People with vocational skills are not only valued industrial workers, they are also an important source of talent for promoting social harmony and sustainability.” How long this road will be is still uncertain, but Huang Wei-xiang is sure he will continue to walk down it.
 
Liao Yi-ting, who took gold in graphic design technology, is pictured here with with her co-medalists.
Liao Yi-ting, who took gold in graphic design technology, is pictured here with with her co-medalists.
Retrieve from Taiwan Panorama
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