|Benjamin Irwin (Australia)|
Manufacturing Team Challenge
Nobody ever goes into a competition unprepared, but some seem to have their childhood and youth dedicated to it. Surrounded by machines and machinists, Ben grew up with mechanical engineering at the tip of his fingers. There is little wonder, then, that he took home Gold at the WorldSkills Competition in Seoul, 2001. We catch up with him to find out his winning formula, where he has been since WorldSkills, and why he has returned as a facilitator for the 2006 WorldSkills Youth Forum.
How did you become interested in manufacturing and what made you join WorldSkills?
I've always had a healthy interest in tinkering around with machines. I would say that it runs in the family. My Dad was an aircraft maintenance technician and my brother is a second-year shop fitter. As for me, I've always been used to pulling apart engines or changing gearboxes on my motor-cross bikes, such that it's become second nature to me.
My interest in metal and woodwork in school eventually led me to enroll in Technical and Further Education (TAFE) New South Wales, Australia. I was close to completing my trade course when my teacher suggested that I compete in the Skills Competition in Melbourne. That eventually led to the competition in Korea and it was one part of my life that I totally enjoyed.
Was it difficult to study and train for the competition at the same time?
It wasn't too bad. Back then, I was also working for Bennett Precision Tooling and the hours were quite long. Fortunately, my supervisors were very supportive and gave me time to train for the competition. Work was actually a great help in the training process. I was working on a number of different projects, ranging from making plastic injection moulds to computer designing and drafting. My work was very interesting and varied, but staying focused was the challenge. Doing well at work was important in pleasing our customers, but it also prepared me for the tight deadlines we experienced in Seoul.
So you would say that the experience at WorldSkills was a good reflection of real working life?
Definitely. For a start, the Manufacturing Team Challenge event was a positive step in moving away from what we usually think of competitions, which is one person pitting his or her abilities against another. In the real workplace, you don't usually work entirely on your own, especially not for my trade.
In Seoul, my team had to do a lot of brainstorming before we could put together the wheelchair project assigned to us. I enjoyed the opportunities that we had at building teamwork. Personally, I enjoy leading a group and the experience gave me a taste of what it's like to be a project manager or foreman.
It has been a while since your team won the Gold medal at the WorldSkills Competition in Seoul. How has the experience helped you get where you are today?
It's interesting to see my future prospects at this time. After the competition, I continued with my studies at TAFE New South Wales and completed my Diploma in Mechanical Engineering. I went on to take up a supervisory role as a Foreman and then decided I wanted to focus totally on designing. Nowadays, I'm designing things I only ever dreamt of!
It's difficult to say exactly where WorldSkills had a direct effect on my progress as a toolmaker, but the competition definitely gave me the confidence to believe in myself and put myself out there. I've had no reason to leave Bennett Precision Tooling, but I truly believe finding a job would not be difficult due to the experience we gained at WorldSkills. That extra piece of confidence would definitely make any employer give us a second look and put us ahead of others.
I really want other young skilled talents to benefit from WorldSkills as much as I have. I guess that's why I decided to join as a facilitator for the WorldSkills Youth Forum. So far, it has been an enriching experience meeting other former participants and preparing for our meeting during the WorldSkills General Assembly in May 2006. Through the Youth Forum, we hope to enhance the WorldSkills experience for future participants.
Follow Up with Ben Irwin, 2007
1. What was your motivation in participating in the MTC competition?
Travelling, learning new skills, meeting new people, putting myself under pressure.
2. What was the biggest thing you learned from MTC?
Keep your eyes on the prize; don’t let little things bring you down.
3. Would you recommend the MTC and WorldSkills competitions to others? What would you tell them about it?
Definitely, there is so many positives I cant fit them all in, however the main reason would be for the awesome experience of the whole process and the personal benefits in the future i.e. new friends, increased global contact, greater confidence, greater experience.
4. What experiences have you had since the competition?
I have assisted world skills with the Youth Forum which was a real character building experience. Work is constantly throwing new things at me and I am about to head OS to work.
5. What are you doing in your job at the moment?
I am with the same company I have been with for 8 years. I have gone from an apprentice to a supervisor, designer, co-ordinator, and draftsman. All of these duties carry a huge amount of responsibility.
6. Do you have any advice for this year’s competitors?
Focus on the gold, forget what your competitors are doing, nothing is as it seems. Set yourself goals and achieve them.
7. Is there anything else you want to tell me about the competition?
There is nothing to lose in the competition, everyone is a winner and the benefits are greater then a one week competition.
8. What did MTC really mean for you?
Working hard as a team, using a vast range of skills, simulating day-to-day business.
9. How would you describe MTC in one or two words?