WorldSkills competition

Competition changed lives of participants

Ms Shuner Villanueva Leong conducting a class on nail art technology at ITE College East. In 2011, Ms Leong, then an ITE student, represented Singapore at the WorldSkills competition in London in the beauty therapy category. She became the first ITE
Ms Shuner Villanueva Leong conducting a class on nail art technology at ITE College East. In 2011, Ms Leong, then an ITE student, represented Singapore at the WorldSkills competition in London in the beauty therapy category. She became the first ITE graduate to win a gold medal in the category.ST PHOTO: JONATHAN CHOO

A former student from the Normal (Technical) stream in secondary school, Ms Shuner Villanueva Leong used to doubt herself and was not sure about her prospects.

"I used to tell myself that I can't go very far in life because I am an N(T) student and that all I could do was finish my course and go out to work," said the 27-year-old.

But in 2011, when Ms Leong was a student at the Institute of Technical Education (ITE), she represented Singapore at the WorldSkills competition in London in the beauty therapy category.

To her surprise, she became the first ITE graduate to win a gold medal in the category. She was one of four gold medallists from Singapore at the competition, where the Republic emerged sixth in a field of 51 countries.

"I never expected to win because the standard of the competition is very high. Many of the European and American candidates had a lot more working experience than me," she said.

After completing a diploma course in beauty therapy at Box Hill Institute in Melbourne, Australia, in 2014, she returned to the ITE here to teach. "I tell my students that even if they are N(T) students, they can still go places."

Other past WorldSkills contestants said their experiences at the international competition have been similarly transformative.

For 24-year-old ITE culinary arts graduate Koh Han Jie, the exposure he got in the competition in 2013 sparked an interest in French cooking.

"The winner was from France that year, and I became interested in the techniques and skills used in French cooking. They were very elaborate and steeped in history and tradition," said Mr Koh, now a chef de partie (station chef) at fine-dining restaurant Les Amis, where he handles the meat station.

Nanyang Polytechnic graduate Lo Min Ming, 33, who competed in the IT software applications category in 2005, said the experience has helped him in his day-to-day work at file-sharing company Dropbox, where he is an engineering manager.

"The lessons one can learn from WorldSkills are not just the technical knowledge... (It) has armed me with soft skills, such as mental strength, to handle stress and time-sensitive problems."

Yuen Sin

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 14, 2017, with the headline 'Competition changed lives of participants'. Print Edition | Subscribe