South Africa’s brightest young engineering minds showcased their skills at WorldSkills International, the largest skills competition in the world, which was held recently in São Paulo, Brazil.

Festo South Africa, which previously sponsored the South African leg of the event, mentored Team SA in the fields of mechatronics, mobile robotics and aquatronics.

According to Chris Oliver, senior sales engineer and mobile robotics expert, this year’s WorldSkills competition was the most dynamic yet. “It’s been a huge success,” he says. “From the level of skill on offer to the camaraderie between countries, it brought something we’ve never had before. We noted a big improvement in our teams’ performances as our experts get more competition experience.”

Oliver believes that one of the biggest positives to come out of WorldSkills will be the promotion of the newest technologies and disciplines among training institutions: “It’s not that South Africa doesn’t have adequate training systems and programs, we just haven’t kept up with the latest developments. By engaging with experts and students from other countries, we can see what we’re missing and improve our curricula accordingly.”

One such example is the promotion of aquatronics, an emerging discipline focused on water treatment and management. Team SA showcased the skill with the objective that it is accredited at the next competition in Abu Dhabi in 2017.

“We feel it should and will become a fully-fledged skill,” says Oliver. “With water shortages and mismanaged water plants as common as they are, water is becoming an important factor in South Africa and around the world. Festo has invested a lot of resources in building up this important skill.”

Oliver says that competitions such as WorldSkills have a major part to play in driving young people to pursue new skills: “In South Africa, many youngsters don’t even know what the fields of Mechatronics or Mobile Robotics are. If you introduce competitions like these at a junior level, you can quickly see the kids who have a passion for it. They are the ones who will eventually become leaders in their fields.”

The competition is already yielding rewards for these future leaders. After impressing in the field of mobile robotics, competitor Su-Mari Jansen Van Vuuren will be joining Festo for the rest of the year.

“It’s all about giving back,” says Oliver. “That’s something these competitors learn very quickly. You don’t just go and compete internationally and that’s it. You bring back experience and pass on the knowledge you’ve gained.”