Ben from Trafford College was selected for Squad UK after winning a Silver Medal in Patisserie and Confectionery at the National Finals in 2019. He describes the valuable skills he’s gained from competing and what his favourite part of the experience has been so far.
Ben Metcalfe knew that even though he performed well academically, that practical hands-on learning was the better option for him. “I found that whilst I was quite an academic student and got pretty high grades throughout school I was very easily distracted in written subjects, whereas I loved anything practical. So, while I could have gone onto A Levels but I really wasn’t interested in anything academic.”
Patisserie was an early interest for Ben. “I was inspired by my great grandad who was a pastry chef, I grew up eating things he had made. I was also inspired by the chefs on the Professional Bake Off TV programme because I saw the high standards and what was possible within patisserie and I was hooked. I’d wanted to be a pastry chef for a couple of years before I found that Trafford college ran the course I wanted to do and I’ve studied there for two years, and am going back for a final year in September.”
Ben hadn’t heard about WorldSkills UK Competitions before his tutor asked him and a fellow student if they wanted to take part. He first competed in June 2019 and went on to the National Finals at WorldSkills UK LIVE at the NEC Birmingham in November the same year which attracted thousands of spectators, winning a coveted Silver Medal.
The benefits of taking part go beyond simply competing. “My favourite part has been the people I have met, new friends and chefs who I wouldn’t have met if I hadn’t competed, and the knowledge linked to that is invaluable.
“I’ve learned a lot about what is possible if you push yourself and focus, I’ve learnt so much in terms of technical skills but also generally things that help in everyday life like time management to make the most of your day.”
It is these employability skills which alongside technical skills are so valued by employers.
Learning from his peers and highly-skilled professionals through WorldSkills UK has helped Ben enormously. “My favourite part has definitely been going down to London and meeting new people like our training managers and performance coaches because their knowledge is invaluable and you wouldn’t get that anywhere else.”
Competing has not been without some tense moments and these are often a test of competitors’ resilience. “The biggest challenge for me by far was on the second day of competing one of our tasks was to make a showpiece made entirely of sugar. I had just finished mine and was waiting for the service window to take my piece up for judging. In reaching for a pan from under my workbench I knocked the corner of the bench that my showpiece was on and it fell and completely smashed. I couldn’t really believe it had just happened but I had to just say to myself it’s happened now, nothing you can do, clean it up and carry on and finish the rest of the tasks for that day. I even surprised myself a little that I was in the mindset of just carry on, but I think it was the thought of I couldn’t quit, I just had to carry on and serve the rest of the tasks which would still get me points and I wouldn’t gain anything from quitting.”