Through his decades of work with WorldSkills and the Forum, Tjerk has been a tireless champion of youth and skills development in Australia and internationally. He was elected President of WorldSkills International in 1999 and for 12 years led tremendous growth of WorldSkills to reach 53 member nations, including India and China.
During his presidency he also initiated “Skills Across the World” which saw multi-national teams of young WorldSkillers deployed in African communities to build schools and improve their sanitation facilities. This initiative was to be a forerunner of the creation of the international WorldSkills Foundation .
Tjerk stepped down as WorldSkills President at the conclusion of the 41st WorldSkills Competition in London in November 2011, which drew a record 200,000 people to its four-day event. To mark his contribution, HRH Princess Anne presented Tjerk with a City & Guilds Honorary Fellowship Award for his service to international skills development.
The creation of the WorldSkills Foundation in 2011, was Tjerk’s legacy to the WorldSkills movement, with its aim to extend the reach and impact of WorldSkills beyond the competition.
In 2009 Tjerk was awarded a Doctor of Social Science (Honoris Causa) by RMIT University, Australia’s leading dual sector institution. Tjerk was honoured and considered the honorary doctorate from RMIT particularly special because: “I’ve spent my working life advocating for a parity of esteem between vocational and general education.”
In his acceptance speech, Tjerk saw the doctorate as: “recognition for the effectiveness of the work of the talented multidisciplinary teams I’ve led over the past 20 years at the Dusseldorp Skills Forum, and for somewhat longer at WorldSkills, developing innovative solutions to entrenched problems and barriers”.
On the eve of the Forum’s 25th anniversary, Tjerk reflected on the inspiration behind his leadership:
“True to the Forum’s origins, our conviction remains that young Australians, equipped with the skills and knowledge needed to tackle tomorrow’s work opportunities, are our greatest resource to meet the larger challenges facing our society in the early part of the 21st century. Helping to liberate that potential is the reason we exist.”