SAO PAULO, Brazil - Singapore won its largest haul of 17 awards at a global competition of vocational skills this year, up from 14 each in 2011 and 2013.
But for the first time since it started taking part in the contest in 1995, it failed to clinch any gold medals.
Brazil and South Korea, with about 25 medals each, were among the top winners this year.
Singapore fielded 22 young people from the polytechnics and the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) this year at the 43rd edition of the biennial WorldSkills contest, dubbed the "Olympics of Skills".
The team bagged three medals - a silver and two bronze. The silver was won by Nanyang Polytechnic third-year information technology student Daniel Lee, 22, for IT network systems administration. Ms Josephine Quek, 20, a Temasek Polytechnic graduate, and Ms Lim Ling, 21, in her second year at Nanyang Polytechnic, took the bronze medals in the visual merchandising and window dressing, and health and social care categories, respectively.
The Singapore contingent also picked up 14 medallions of excellence, which are given to those with 500 or more points out of 600, but do not have a medal.
These results mean that Singapore's competitors had achieved high scores in most of the 20 trades that the team took part in. It also made improvements in four areas where it had not done as well previously - electronics, visual merchandising, mechatronics and Web design.
But it missed out on gold this year. In 2013, Singapore had a haul of three gold medals, two silver ones and nine medallions of excellence. Its gold medals were for IT network systems administration, beauty therapy, and health and social care.
ITE chief executive Bruce Poh said that Singapore had performed well at a competition which he described as "very tough". More countries joined the contest this year and those that participated previously also sent more competitors.
The event, organised by non-profit group WorldSkills International, drew a record 1,200 young people from 59 countries who took part in tests of 50 skills this year.
Mr Poh noted that every country is putting in more effort and training its competitors as more use the WorldSkills contest as a platform to promote vocational skills.
When Mr Lee went on stage on Sunday night, he felt a mix of emotions. He had hoped to defend Singapore's champion title in the category, which it had won seven times previously since 2001. But the four days during the past week, in which he was tested on his abilities to set up network systems and configure routers and switches, were tough and South Korea eventually took home the top prize.
"I didn't expect to win because I made some small mistakes on the first day," said Mr Lee, whose father runs a renovation company and whose mother is a housewife.
"I'm a little disappointed that I did not win a gold for Singapore, but I did my best and I'm glad that I had this learning experience. It trained me in time management and to be more accurate."
Ms Quek was happy to be among the top three in the world in her field. "Design is quite subjective so I wasn't sure if I could win. It was also challenging to work with unfamiliar heavy-duty materials," said the daughter of an engineering manager and a housewife. Ms Lim, the daughter of a manager in an air-conditioning company and a housewife, said she was both "happy and sad" about her bronze medal in health and social care. Singapore had won the gold in this category for four years, but this year lost to Norway and South Tyrol, Italy.
She added: "I wanted to continue the gold streak but I'm happy that I got at least a medal. I have learnt many ways of nursing care and taking care of different patients."
The three medallists will also be given cash prizes from the Workforce Development Agency, which is sponsoring record sums this year to show its support for vocational education. Mr Lee will receive $10,000, up from $5,000 previously for a silver medallist. Ms Quek and Ms Lim will each get $5,000, up from $3,000 previously for bronze. Those who received medallions of excellence will get $1,000. Previously, there was no cash prize.
Mr Lee, who hopes to pursue a degree in IT in Singapore, said: "I hope to save most of the money for my university studies."
This article was first published on Aug 18, 2015.
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