Meeting tight deadlines - Interview WorldSkills Participant
Interview with Tizian Ulber, Mechanician Operator, Hamilton Bonaduz AG, and SwissSkills Champion 2014 and WorldSkills Participant 2015 in São Paulo
It’s hard to believe that this young man has just finished his training as a polytechnician. Right from the start – from his friendly greeting and the initial tour of the production facilities at the Swiss medical equipment manufacturer Hamilton Bonaduz AG – Tizian Ulber comes across as extraordinarily calm and cool, and yet highly focused at the same time. The more he talks about his experiences at the Skills championships, the more we are inclined to believe that this is no coincidence.
CNC4you: Tizian, how do trainees make it to the vocational skills world championships?
I applied to Hamilton to be a trainee polytechnician, which involves CNC technologies, turning and milling. Hamilton is renowned in Switzerland for the quality of its training programs, and part of its corporate philosophy is to regularly send trainees to the SwissSkills championships. I thought it was a great idea, not least because I’m the kind of person who enjoys a good competition.
CNC4you: SwissSkills are, on the whole, highly regarded by Swiss companies. What do the elimination rounds involve?
Yes, the competition is highly regarded and popular among companies and trainees in Switzerland. In 2015, almost 7,000 trainees took part across the various professions. Among the CNC professions, this included around 60 trainees for cutting operations. The first round begins within the companies. All participants are given practical tasks, produce workpieces, and send them to the jury of CNC experts to be judged. The best 24 are invited to sit a theory exam. The best eight of these then get to take part in the SwissSkills championships. This event itself was fantastic: the best trainees in a range of different professions – from hairdressers to construction apprentices to polytechnicians – competing in one place, with the whole of Switzerland watching. It was a great experience
CNC4you: …. in which you became the 2014 Swiss Champion.
Yes, a fantastic success. My trainer and I were both over the moon. What’s more, the more than 40 SwissSkills champions from the various competitions qualified for WorldSkills. Together, we more or less constituted the Swiss national team for WorldSkills 2015 in São Paulo. We were of course very enthusiastic about Brazil. What I didn’t fully realize at the time, though, was that this was just the beginning.
CNC4you: What do you mean by that?
The Swiss national team received an entirely different level of support. The whole team took part in a total of five preparatory weekends, for example, during which we were given an overview of the competitions as well as the situation in the country. We received training on how to deal with the media, and also attended mental training sessions where we learned how to concentrate in highly stressful situations and work in a solution-oriented manner. It was so good I even went to extra training sessions.
CNC4you: And how did the company support you?
The company is where the real professional preparation happens, and Hamilton is exemplary in this respect. At Hamilton, everyone from the CEO to the production manager to the staff at the training workshop has been behind these competitions for many years. After it emerged which machine and control system would be used for the competitions in Brazil, Hamilton bought one so that I could train: a Romi D800 with Sinumerik 828D. What you should also know here is that Hamilton hadn’t worked with Sinumerik before. Nevertheless, thanks to Siemens, I obtained SinuTrain licenses so that I could practice before the machine was even installed, and Mr. Küng from Siemens Switzerland gave me tremendous support throughout, answering all of my questions. There were also courses and points of contact at tool manufacturers as well as for MasterCAM. In Brazil, I had my own toolbox with me.
CNC4you: … and in Brazil?
The only way to describe it is like an Olympic Games. There was an opening ceremony where all the national teams appeared before more than 10,000 spectators. It was really cool. The Swiss national team and officials stayed in a hotel, and contact with the other teams made for a fantastic atmosphere. What was also great about São Paulo was that all the competitions took place at one central location, which made the experience highly concentrated.
CNC4you: Were there differences between the countries?
Yes, sometimes enormous ones. Alongside Japan and the emerging nations in Asia, Switzerland is one of the WorldSkills heavyweights. Many countries have a lot less representatives. And on top of that, they also view the competitions in entirely different ways. For many participants it’s a great event and just being there is enough. For many Asian teams, though, particularly those in the technical professions, it’s a matter of national pride to see as many world champions crowned at the competitions as possible. So as you can imagine, the participants from these teams are under a great deal of pressure to perform. Of course, we wanted to do well too, but you can’t really compare these things.
CNC4you: So what was the competition like? You came a very respectable 7th overall. Which tasks did you have to complete?
WorldSkills places great importance on practical experience. As they would at work, participants get a 2D drawing which they have to input into a program and then produce a workpiece on this basis – all within strict time limits. But in this case, the whole thing takes place within a competitive setting, with more than 20 machines running in parallel, and at each machine the participant tries to produce a fault-free workpiece within six to seven hours. It’s not easy concentrating under such conditions. More than half of the participants don’t even make it in the allotted time. And the workpiece itself is extremely complex, riddled with challenges that pose far more difficulties than the ones you’d normally face in real-world manufacturing.
CNC4you: Looking back, what did you take away from these competitions?
I gained a lot, both professionally and personally. The training I received here was really good. But aside from the competition itself, you benefit from additional training as well as direct contact with a range of experts in the CNC field. You work in a relatively protected environment when training, but the Skills championships are quite definitely a competition, and one which is probably as valuable as 10 years’ worth of professional experience. The things I’ve learned have a noticeable impact on the whole team here, and that’s a great feeling. And it goes without saying that traveling to Brazil with a group of young people as a national team is pretty cool. I can only recommend it
CNC4you: What qualities do you need? Do you have to be a certain type of person to be able to take part in the competitions?
That depends on what you want to achieve there. I’m a competitive person so I put a lot of time into preparing, even working in my free time. Only with a high level of personal dedication and the support of both your training company and national organization do you really have a chance at one of the top spots in this tough competition. But I think that everyone who takes part – including in the national competitions – benefits in some way or other. It’s a great experience from which you grow personally and professionally. Whether at the preliminaries, SwissSkills or WorldSkills, the experiences and images leave a lasting impression, and that’s something nobody can take away from you. I’m certainly rooting for the trainees at Hamilton who will be taking part this year!