Championing the trades

WorldSkills Australia celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2012, after three decades of championing the development of thousands of Australia’s young skilled tradespeople through regional, national and international skill competitions. However, WorldSkills Australia (WSA) may never have got off the ground without the audacious vision of Tjerk Dusseldorp.

Tjerk first saw the Skill Olympics in 1981 in the US, when it operated under the banner of the International Vocational Training Organisation (IVTO) with 15 member countries, mostly from Europe. Australia was not a member; Tjerk was on a fact-finding mission for the Evatt Foundation at the time. Impressed by what he saw, and aware of the low status for trade skills in Australia, Tjerk threw a cocktail party for IVTO delegates and boldly announced that his country wanted to host the Youth Skill Olympics in 1988, Australia’s bicentennial year.

WorldSkills comes to Australia

Upon returning to Sydney, Tjerk embarked on a frenetic mission. He set up an office in 1982, canvassed commercial sponsors, seconded Richard Jenkins from the NSW Department of Employment and Training and hired Kerrie Stevens, who later became the Forum’s general manager. The remit was huge. From a base of nothing, Australia’s freshly launched WorldSkills organisation rushed to hold regional competitions across the country, culminating in a national competition to select Australia’s first team for Austria’s Youth Skill Olympics in 1983. The team made it. No medals were brought home; only lessons about the very high standards and the need for better planning and preparation. WorldSkills’ early days were reliant upon an army of volunteers to run regional and then national competitions. Kerrie Stevens remembers TAFE teachers coming out in droves to support it – “they were a strong proud group” – preparing young tradespeople to compete, and designing marking scales and project designs for each category, and finding the sponsors to support the individual competitions.

Presenting: Australia’s Youth Skills Olympics