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Haydn Glides to Gold in Kazan

By plane it takes roughly 7 hours to fly from London Gatwick to Kazan, Russia’s sixth most populous city. For former Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group apprentice Haydn Jakes, the journey may have taken longer but the prospect of returning home with a World Skills Award Gold Medal definitely made the elongated adventure worthwhile.

Officially recognised as the world’s best aircraft maintenance engineer at the 45th World Skill Awards in Kazan, Haydn Jakes was inspired by aviation from an early age. “My Mum used to be cabin crew with an airline called Gulf Air,” says Haydn. “I was really interested in flying and in aeroplanes. She got some old manuals down from the loft and I started reading those and that’s where it all started. I got to know a lot more about aircraft from watching documentaries on tv and then got a flight simulator on my laptop. That’s where it all took off.”

After relocating with his family to Spain for a few years, Haydn moved back to Cambridge at 16 and started a BTEC Level 3 Engineering course at Cambridge Regional College. From there, he was thrilled to be accepted on the apprenticeship programme at Marshall Aersopace. “Marshall’s have a reputation in the aircraft maintenance industry for providing really good apprenticeships,” says Haydn. “One of the reasons for that is the type of work that they do. Airlines obviously carry out routine maintenance on their aircrafts but Marshall’s actually do modifications and heavy repair. So I was involved in flight deck upgrades, modifications to the aircraft, replacements, really heavy structural specialised stuff. I always say that was the one thing that gave me the edge at team selection and the nationals was that I had a well rounded experience.”

Haydn’s introduction to the biennial World Skills competition, dubbed ‘the Skills Olympics’, came via Marshall. “I was actually put forward for the regionals by my training manager. I went through to the national heats and at the national finals I got silver,” says Haydn. “It wasn’t until I actually started competing in the national finals that I really wanted that medal. It was really nice to have that silver but I felt like I could have done better. To then get selected into Squad UK, that was my chance to put that right, to actually go to that next level. So that was when I set my sights on gold.”

His journey from WorldSkills UK (the Semta sponsored national level of the competition) to the international level in Kazan, Russia took in a programme of intense training, including a mock competition in Brazil. “I was really nervous in the weeks going into Kazan. I was training full time and I’d given up quite a lot to go there so there was a lot of self-induced pressure. I think we over trained, we trained quite hard so I would find the competition easier,” says Haydn. “Our motto was: train hard, race easy. That was exactly what it was like at competition. We’d over trained and then when I got there it was a lot easier to do. I was quite nervous leading up to it but once we started I was alright.”

When asked about his advice for others interested in competing in the competition, Haydn discusses the intensity of the international contest and offers some advice on how best to cope with the unfamiliar territory: “People tend to work themselves up and get quite nervous. There’s loads of pressure while you’re there: people looking over the barriers at you, you’re now being tested against other people so obviously you want to do well. If you can go into it with the mindset of: ‘I get paid to do this anyway, this is my job’, then that’s probably going to be the biggest help.”

As far as the end result of each competition at WorldSkills goes, points tallying is kept secret right up until the final announcement. “My competition was over 4 days. There were 5 different modules / test projects that we had to do. We all had different timetables so I didn’t know how well I’d done until it was announced that I’d got the gold medal. I had a really good feeling all week. It wasn’t that I found it easy, it was just that I was enjoying it almost. It was a really weird sensation. I just thought ‘I’m going to go there and give it my best, and at the end of the day, that’s all I can do’.”

Skill levels are optimum and pressure is peak, as you would expect for a competition of this calibre. “I won the gold medal by 1%. We all knew it was going to be close,” Haydn discloses. “The consensus was if you have a really clean competition and you don’t really make any mistakes then you’re going to be in the top few. Fortunately, that’s how my competition went.”

So what does the future hold for Haydn post his triumphant return from Kazan? “Now that I’ve won the gold medal I think I definitely want to stay in engineering but I’m also looking to do outreach activities on the side. I’d quite like to go out and inspire the next people to go through. In fact, I’ve been asked to help train the Welsh competitors for the national finals.”

There’s no doubting the achievements of Haydn, an inspirational young man who not only works hard to progress in his career but also makes time to inspire the next generation of engineering apprentices. He is well aware of the benefits that training programmes avail and is thankful for his time at Marshall completing his Aircraft Maintenance apprenticeship with EAL: “Semta obviously help out quite a lot at the nationals, and EAL were my NVQ providers for my apprenticeship so I’m really grateful to both Semta and EAL for getting me through and getting me the qualification that I needed in order to be able to compete.”

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