WorldSkills competition

Fresh challenges at 'Skills Olympics'

Digital game art student Ng Jun Xuan will have just 22 hours over four days to finish a character based on criteria issued at the start of the WorldSkills competition in Abu Dhabi.
Digital game art student Ng Jun Xuan will have just 22 hours over four days to finish a character based on criteria issued at the start of the WorldSkills competition in Abu Dhabi.PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

S'pore duo - among 21-strong contingent - will prove their mettle in new categories

A prestigious world championship, known to some as the Olympics of Skills, is looking ahead to the future, having added two categories to its arena.

At the upcoming WorldSkills competition in October, participants will showcase their expertise in freight forwarding and 3D digital game art, on top of more old-school vocational skills such as cooking or carpentry.

Representing Singapore in the new digital category is Mr Ng Jun Xuan, 20, a third-year digital game art and design student at Nanyang Polytechnic, who beat 13 other competitors at an internal selection last year.

For him, the uncertainty of joining the competition in a new skill area heightens the challenge. "The criteria are unclear, so you don't know what topic might come out - it could be anything," he said.

He will be part of a contingent of 21 students from the polytechnics and the Institute of Technical Education who will travel to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates to compete in 19 areas at WorldSkills. Singapore has taken part in the contest since 1995.

They will pit their skills against more than 1,300 competitors from 60 countries. The new categories - known as demonstration skills - are fields most likely to be in demand in the future economy.

Since being selected, Mr Ng has been training hard for the competition, where he will go up against eight other candidates.

At the competition, he will need to design, create and animate 3D game characters and objects.

He will have just 22 hours over about four days to complete a character based on criteria issued only at the start of the contest. He might have to come up with a concept for a character who has to inhabit a specific type of environment or perform a specific type of role. In the Singapore contest, the topic was "space explorer".

"The environment will affect how the character is designed to move and walk, for example," said Mr Ng, who thought of a concept for a character wearing a space suit made of rubber and metal.

He had not expected to get this far in the competition, which has opened new vistas for him.

Last month, he travelled to Newcastle in Australia, where he took part in a competition that simulated the WorldSkills format. Competing against two other candidates, from China and Australia, he came in as first runner-up.

It was the first time he had taken a plane ride, and the first time he had visited a country during the winter season.

"When I was first shortlisted (in Singapore), I just wanted to gain experience and see if my standards were up to those of students from other schools," he recalled.

Also in the Singapore contingent this year is 20-year-old Olivia Low, who recently graduated from Temasek Polytechnic with a diploma in logistics and operations management.

At WorldSkills, she will compete in the freight forwarding category, where she will have only about three days to complete a simulated task based on a similar challenge faced by a worker in the logistics industry in the real world. There will be four competitors in this category.

They might need to use real-world resources such as existing flight schedules or services offered by various transport firms so they can plan the most cost- and time-efficient way of transporting certain goods, and present their solutions to the judges.

In the last WorldSkills competition, held in 2015, Singapore took home 17 awards, its largest haul, but did not clinch any golds. Ms Low and Mr Ng do not know how their skills will stack up against those of their competitors, but they are determined to give it their best shot come October.

"I really struggled with the uncertainty (of this being a new category) - I wonder if I'm ready or not," said Ms Low. "But on the flip side, everyone else is facing the same situation."

Mr Ng, who completed a three-month internship with games developer Koei Tecmo last month and has been working with his lecturers to complete new scenarios for game characters every week, said he had improved vastly because of the additional skills training he received this year.

"I'm looking forward to seeing each country's representative, who will be the best of the best, and having the chance to learn from and interact with them."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 14, 2017, with the headline 'Fresh challenges at 'Skills Olympics''. Print Edition | Subscribe