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Squad UK
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Gold medal winner at 2019 National Finals
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York College

James from York College and York Minster is a proud member of the Squad UK Stonemasonry team. He explains how our international training programme has improved both the quality of his work and his mindset.

WorldSkills UK Competitions were part of family life for James Digger. “When I was twelve, I went to the 2011 WorldSkills National Finals where my father was involved with the bricklaying competition, so I not only found out about the event, I was able to go and experience it first-hand. I came away wanting to become a stonemason and went through the rest of my time at school with my heart set on learning masonry.”

James worked his way through the National Qualifiers making it to the National Finals in 2019 held as part of WorldSkills UK LIVE at the NEC Birmingham in front of thousands of spectators where he won a highly coveted Gold Medal. There are many facets to competing and everyone has their particular preferences, says James, “I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the development of a competitive mindset through the WorldSkills Squad UK huddles and meetings with the performance coaches.”

The skill set and mindset training that Squad UK members undergo is unique to WorldSkills UK and renowned in getting competitors to be their best selves. “I feel like I’ve not only become a better competitor, but also a better person as it has opened my mind to seeing the world with a fresh perspective. It’s helped me to become more motivated, manage my time more efficiently, improve my health and utilise my failures and mistakes in order to improve.” This motivation and employability skills like positivity, willingness to take on a challenge and resilience are what employers look for in new recruits alongside their technical skills.”

Competing is tough and James had his ups and downs. “After my first competition, I felt as though I had produced some of the worst work of my entire career and I was extremely disappointed. Luckily, It took me weeks to feel enthusiastic about competing in the National Finals. A colleague who is a previous medal winner in WorldSkills Sao Paulo in Brazil, taught me how to use the experience to improve my training and better prepare myself for the National Finals. As a result, I was able to focus and thoroughly enjoy the competition, producing work that I was proud of and resulting in a Gold Medal.”

Entering WorldSkills UK Competitions gets a strong recommendation from James for aspiring professionals. “Don’t think, just do it! Take everything in and enjoy the journey.”

James was delighted to be selected for Squad UK and the chance to compete at EuroSkills, or WorldSkills against the top young stonemasons in the world from over sixty countries.

“The feeling is amazing! It is such an exciting opportunity and I am so pleased to be able to learn and train at a WorldSkills UK standard, which will hopefully allow me to prove myself internationally.”

“I love the confidence it has given me. Thanks to my one-to-one sessions with my training manager, I feel as though I’ve been able to improve in so many ways and also identify my biggest weaknesses. This has allowed me to work on improving myself and understanding what I can bring to my trade, which has in turn given me the confidence to present my ideas and help others in areas that I feel are my strengths.

“I’ve spent that last nine years picturing myself competing for the UK at an international competition in my dream skill, and to now have the opportunity…. I honestly can’t explain what it would mean to me.”

“Not only have I improved at the physical aspects of stonemasonry, I now have a better understanding of technical drawings, time management and target-setting for both masonry and general life. I have more confidence voicing my opinions and identifying my weaknesses. I have learned ways to utilise mistakes as well as appreciate my strengths.

“I feel that my mindset has completely changed, I feel much happier and far more motivated. I never anticipated feeling so much better in all aspects of my life when I began training.”

One barrier to development that has impacted on James is the COVID-19 pandemic. “It’s been difficult as I haven’t been able to go to work and train in the same way as before. However, it has given me an opportunity for some work experience at another firm. This has allowed me to train with vital tools that I was only getting the minimal use out of at my own workplace.”

James feels that all young people starting to think about their training and career routes need to be able to see what different trades are like. “I think the WorldSkills LIVE event needs to be shown to children at a younger age and across the entirety of the UK. I was lucky enough to find out about it whilst I was young but my school had never heard of the event. At colleges it is far more recognised, but by then it’s almost too late, children have already decided to choose technical education.”

John David Head of Works at York Minster and James’s Line Manager feels that both James and the work he does on-site has improved. “He’s learned to adapt very quickly in what is a highly-skilled trade. He’s become more sure of himself and his ability to handle tools. Much of the work we do is extremely delicate so there’s a balance between skill and the need to be efficient. We don’t often use power tools on-site but when we do, it’s great to have those skills in house. It’s all about manual skills working with the mind. James has developed his ability for forethought and forward planning so he can avoid mistakes down the line. He’s a unique person who thrives on challenges and is a respected craftsman, a real asset.”

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