Jonathan reports on World Skills International

jonathan mcfall
Jonathan McFall

I recently competed in the WorldSkills International Competition in Leipzig, Germany. It was a great experience and I feel very privileged to have had the opportunity to be able to represent New Zealand in my trade. The competition was full-on and very intense. I had tried to prepare for the pressure I expected, but it was nothing like being there.

On the first day it felt weird to finally be sitting in the skill area on familiarisation day waiting for our first briefing. All I can remember thinking was “Wow, I’m actually here, just about to finally compete”. The next day was the first day of competition and we were straight into it. We started off with the circuit design and modification module, which was quite involved. I just used the skills that I had learnt from back home and managed to come away with a better result than I had expected. Next we got straight into building the main project. It was full-on as I rocketed around trying to keep the pace up as I knew I would need to build it faster than I ever had before with a whole lot of people watching me. Soon I got in a rhythm and zoned out from what was going on around me, concentrating solely on what I had to complete. End of the first day and to finally have it underway was a relief in one way, but the pressure was on as all I could think about was what I had to do next, what was still in front of me. I worked out that I was slightly behind at the end of the first day and contemplated what I had to do to make it up.

Day two of competition was just as full on as things intensified and everyone began to get in their groove. I just concentrated on what I had to do and what I needed to achieve by the end of the day. Each day presented its new challenges and the odd mistake, but I had to keep pushing on no matter what was happening. We also had a fault-finding module today and I managed to find all five of the faults. By the end of the second day I had managed to gain some time and was back on track. The high calibre of competitors and skill became evident thoughout the competition as everyone was keeping up with the pace.

Day three and my project was starting to come together. I could see the end in sight but there was still a lot of work that needed to be done before I could relax. The pace had picked up again and I had no time to stop. I had to keep moving if I was to have any chance of finishing – there wasn’t any time to think just time to do. As the end of day three approached, it dawned on me that I wasn’t going to get it finished, but with an hour and a half to go, I moved as fast as I ever could, trying to ensure that I got the project finished and able to be livened. I just managed to finish the project, ready to be tested with a couple of minutes left on the clock. In the last few minutes I ran around trying to pick up as many marks as possible on things like the labeling. Then the call was given, STOP. Yay, what a relief, I had finished my project.

Day four was for the programming module. I began the day by getting my board tested and livened so I could begin programming. When we got to the livening stage, we turned it on which was fine, but when the safety relay was reset it tripped the RCD, killing all the power to my panel. I wasn’t allowed to proceed for safety reasons if a fault existed in the activation of the safety circuit. So I had to find the fault, fast, as time was ticking down on the programming module. The more time I spent on the fault the less time that I would have to programme, severely decreasing the likelihood of getting function. I spent 2 hours out of the 4 we had trying to find the fault, I was pulling my hair out by the end of it as all the training I had put in was slowly going down the drain. In the end I located a faulty filter connected to feed the drives. As soon as it was removed, the circuit worked and I was able to begin programming. Thankfully, due to the issue being a faulty part, I was granted all my time back that I had lost fault finding. I was glad that it wasn’t my fault.

Looking at the function description for the PLC and HMI was a bit of a shock. It was completely different to the test project and probably had about a 15% addition as well. I thought, well I’ll start from the start and just go for it, doing as much as I could. In the end I managed to completely finish the HMI and manual function of the program, but just ran out of time to complete the automatic sequence. It was simply too much for me to do in such a short space of time. At the end of it I knew that I had put all I could into it and had to be happy with the result of doing my absolute best and going right till the end. I came away as the 14th best in Industrial Control in the World, with a score of 492, not bad.

Overall the competition experience was amazing. It is a memory that I will have forever and will look back on in years to come. I have learnt so much from the experience, and have already begun to use the knowledge I have gained in my day to day job and will continue to build on it for many years to come. This experience has had a great positive impact on my future career and will definitely help me to develop my skills as I grow in my trade. It was great to be able to see other industries in New Zealand getting behind our young people and enabling them to compete. As a result we went away with a great team and came back with New Zealand’s second-best performance overall at the international competition. This would not have been made possible without the support of etco* and other New Zealand industries and companies. Without the help and support for training, expertise, tooling, materials and funding I would not have been able to achieve the result that I did. I would like to sincerely thank etco* for being part of this opportunity and hope you continue to support the training and vocational skills of young people to be showcased to the world.

– Jonathan McFall