Think and train like an elite athlete. That’s what you need to do to prepare for the national, European and world championships in welding, says Jörgen Persson, the welding coach of the Swedish National Skills Team.
The WorldSkills competition is the ultra marathon of welding. For a maximum of 18 hours over the course of two and a half days, the young competitors weld seven objects using MIG, MAG, TIG and other welding techniques. Jörgen Persson, welding coach of the Swedish National Skills Team, knows all the tricks of the trade to be a winner. “Welding is a way of life – you live with it 24/7,” he says. “If you want to win the gold medal, you have to stay focused. One small mistake and you’ll easily drop five positions, since the competition of the top contestants is fierce.”
For the past 17 years Persson has taught welding techniques at Ekebackeskolan in Osby, in the south of Sweden. At the school students can earn an International Welder Specialist diploma. Persson currently coaches Joakim Carlsson, 20, who won the Swedish Skills Competition in May 2016. Carlsson has taken a month-long leave from work without pay to prepare for EuroSkills, the European championship in Gothenburg that runs from 30 November to 4 December. Some 500 people from 27 countries compete in 35 professions, from florist to welder. “I practice welding for eight hours a day, and during the last couple of weeks before the competition I’ll put in even more hours,” Carlsson says. “Right now I’m working on the different competition rounds to try to keep it within the 18-hour limit.”
A dizzying array of techniques
The competitors need to master all different welding techniques, manage to weld in sheet metal, aluminium and stainless steel, and make fillet welds and butt welds in different angles and in metal of 2 to 16 mm in thickness. One object is a simulated pressure vessel that will be filled with water and tested at 69 bar. “You have to finish on time, but often the right quality can’t be obtained in a short time, and time is only one of many criteria,” Persson explains. “The pressure vessel must be tight, and the X-ray test of the objects must show top-class welding as well as the circuit test. Then we make a visual assessment of the finish.” Persson acts as one of the referees in the competition. Experts from all competing countries are divided into groups that assess the different steps.
Apart from being knowledgeable in the theory of welding including material, calculations, welding designations and standards, Persson stresses the need to train and think like an athlete. Being in good physical shape is necessary, as is having a good diet, he says. “A competition round could last for four hours, so you really need to be in shape, eat and drink well, so that you don’t falter when fatigue sets in,” he says.
The mental preparations are also vital. All members of the National Skills Team have met at two training camps to get ready for the competition. “We have lectures with major sports stars on how to succeed and the importance of will power,” Persson says.
Going for the gold
Despite his youth, Carlsson has been welding for four and a half years and says he is not nervous about competing in EuroSkills. “I’m aiming for the gold,” he says. He likes his new job as welder at Ekström & Son in Kristianstad. The company specializes in manufacturing heat exchangers and pressure vessels, which means that Carlsson welds in stainless steel most of the time. “I learn a lot, so I’ll probably stay there for a couple of years,” he says. “But my dream is to move to Norway to be a welder at an oil rig.”
To Persson, who has coached the Swedish team since 2008, the WorldSkills competition is pure inspiration. “It’s fun,” he says. “When I get home I’ll share my experiences with my colleagues,” he says. “There’s always something we can improve in our teaching. We must bear in mind that everything can be done in a different way.”
5 tips on how to prepare for WorldSkills
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