Professor Mehmet Karamanoglu is Head of Department for Design Engineering and Mathematics at Middlesex University. He champions WorldSkills UK Competitions to give students the skills they need to succeed in an ever-changing digital world.
Why did you choose to get involved in skills competition activity?
We have been involved with Festo GB as a partner since 1996. Festo sponsors the Mechatronics and Automation competitions at WorldSkills UK, and we used this partnership to develop the current academic curriculum at Undergraduate Level at Middlesex University.
What practical things did you do to embed skills competition activity into the curriculum?
Our entire degree engineering curriculum uses problem-based learning and teaching approaches. We have embedded several competitions into our curriculum in all year groups, so all our students are able to participate. By actively taking part in the competitions, we also keep the curriculum up to date, which also increases the employability of our students.
How did you ensure equality of opportunity when selecting participants for your competitions?
Our students’ participation in WorldSkills UK competitions is entirely voluntary. As a head of department, I talk about the competitions and their benefits to all new students in my Welcome talk as well as in my regular student communications and classes. Students have two different ways in getting involved: either as a competitor or by hosting a ‘What is…’ activities at WorldSkills UK LIVE, demonstrating key skills and how they fit into the world of work. We do actively encourage all our students to take part and many do. This year we have 16 students taking part in 5 competitions. Some students who have taken part in competitions at national and international level then do get involved in helping me to deliver them too. I have three of them with me this year. There are other competitions which we take part in and these are compulsory for all.
I am also keen to involve competitors from different educational backgrounds as well as industry to bring a blend of skills and competencies to the competition.
What have been the main challenges you encountered in relation to organising and delivering skills competition activity?
I have encountered two main challenges for few years now:
Convincing employers that skills competitions are excellent vehicle to drive up skill levels and standards, and convincing them to give their employees the time to get involved.
The main issue facing colleges and universities used to be lack of equipment but now there is the right equipment but not necessarily the staff to champion these.
How have you overcome these challenges?
Using those colleges and industry partners that are actively taking part as case studies and bringing key decision makers to WorldSkills UK LIVE. Getting young people to the event raises aspiration but at the end of the day it will be the training provider or the employer that will provide the support needed to ensure the young person gets involved.
How has your organisation benefited from participating in skills competition activity?
For our students, over the past decade or so, we have enabled so many young people to develop confidence in themselves and about their subject, as well as the ability to talk to the wider public. This had incredible impact on their communication skills as well as their employability. Those who take part in competitions raised their technical skills to exceptional standard. When they graduate they don’t have just a degree but also practical as well as soft skills which are great assets for their careers.
Getting involved in such activities has done wonders in developing a total team approach in how we work across disciplines.