Richard Sagar grabbed gold for the UK in electrical installation at the recent WorldSkills event in Canada.We caught up with the champion on his return

When Richard Sagar took part in the four-day WorldSkills competition in Canada in September, it was the start of an emotional roller coaster of excitement, intimidation and self-doubt. But the 2008 SkillElectric champion needn’t have worried. Standing atop the Olympic-style podium in front of 7,000 spectators, he was awarded the gold medal for electrical installations. Richard hopes others are lucky enough to enjoy the same opportunities.

Four years ago, a chance conversation with a friend led Richard Sagar to consider a career as an electrician. He joined Eden Electrics as a labourer before embarking on an apprenticeship with the company and an SVQ Level 3 in electrical installations at Dumfries & Galloway College.

Then, this September, aged just 22, he was crowned best electrician in the world in Calgary, Canada at WorldSkills. the largest skills-based competition in the world. He beat off opposition from 31 countries to win gold.

The biennial WorldSkills Competition is a unique event. Over four tough days, 900 young people from across the world test themselves against rigorous international standards with the ultimate prize of winning gold, silver or bronze for their country.

Richard, from Langholm in Dumfriesshire, was one of 26 young talented individuals representing Team UK in the competition. His road to Calgary began when he won Class Apprentice of the Year in his second year at Dumfries & Galloway College. This win entitled him to compete in the West Scotland regional heat, then the Scottish finals.

The finals were Richard’s first experience of a big event and he found it nerve-wracking. Richard came joint first, and he and his co-winners were entered into SummitSkills’ SkillElectric final in Birmingham in October 2008. It was at this event that the magnitude of the challenge that lay ahead finally hit home.

“There were whispers about a possible trip to Canada,” said Richard. “At the end of the three-day competition, when they announced me as the winner, I couldn’t believe it. My boss was thrilled. The five highest-scoring finalists were invited to compete for a place in Team UK for WorldSkills. That was my first encounter with WorldSkills and, from that moment,my life changed.”

An intense training programme began in January 2009 and, in June, the final 26 contestants were selected. In the two-month run-up to Calgary, Richard was at work for just two weeks. During this time, the team went to Australia and Ireland to compete against their WorldSkills teams in friendly competitions to see what the standard was like. According to Richard, it was nothing compared with the intensity of WorldSkills itself.

“After the first day, we realised the medals would be hard to come by,” said Richard.“The Asian nations were unbelievable, their work was clean and tidy, and they were so fast. I thought it would be physically impossible to match their high standards.

“I felt unworthy on a few occasions, but the team leaders took me aside and gave me the encouragement I needed. At the closing ceremony, when they announced me as the ultimate winner, I sat in disbelief. It was only because everyone started jumping and screaming that I realised I had actually won gold. It was an incredible feeling, one I’ll never forget.”

Back home working in Scotland, Richard is finding life quiet without WorldSkills and is looking for his next challenge, but he admits that being awarded best electrician in the world will be hard to beat.

Reflecting on the last challenging couple of years, Richard said:“Winning SkillElectric and WorldSkills has changed me as a person. I’m definitely more confident than I used to be, and competing against the world’s finest electricians has allowed me to perfect my own skills.

“I’m really lucky that Eden Electrics spotted the potential in me to nominate me for the competition and I hope others in the industry are fortunate enough to be given the same opportunity.”

Going for gold

The skills competitions, organised by SummitSkills, include SkillElectric as part of the Skill M&E suite of competitions. They have been designed to promote standards
and skills across the sector.

For individuals, taking part encourages them to develop competence into excellence and aspire to higher levels of achievement, and it can be highly self-rewarding.

For companies, the competitions present an opportunity to enhance their reputation as a business and an employer, as well as improving the skills of their staff, who will
drive those companies’ future success and profitability.

SummitSkills returned to Interbuild in October to host the 2009 SkillElectric and SkillPlumb finals, and as you read this the 2009 UK champions will have been crowned. They will then have the opportunity to compete for places in Team UK, which will go on to WorldSkills in 2011 – which this time is being held in London.

For further information about SummitSkills’ Skill M&E competitions, call 01908 303960 or visit www.skillM&