Vocational education offers a wealth of benefits to students, and a biennial world competition is giving its contestants a chance to go for the gold while highlighting the importance of their unsung careers.

From welders, to bakers, to bricklaying masters, over 1,200 men and women aged 22 and under competed at the largest skills competition in the world—WorldSkills—in Abu Dhabi last month, as reported by The Wall Street Journal.

In a desert convention center, contestants from 59 countries and regions—a mix of vocational students and jobholders—vied for the gold in simultaneous competitions to test their skills in 51 job categories over four days.

These vocational games were the brainchild of a Spanish youth-group leader in the late 1940s. The first was in 1950 between Spain and Portugal. Today, the biennial event is organized by the private international WorldSkills committee and funded by governments, corporate sponsors and host countries. The 2015 championships were in São Paulo, Brazil. In 2019, the host will be Kazan, Russia.

The group’s stated mission: “Advocate the need, value, and results of skilled work and professional training for young people so that industries, regions, and countries will thrive in the global economy.”

Winners get medals—gold, silver, bronze—and bragging rights. Some countries reward their winners with cash or scholarships for further training. Nearly all contestants get an edge in their professions, say contestants and country representatives.

Bragging rights and medals aside, these competitors are winning in other ways, as well. A piece by my colleague Katherine Kersten—“Gold in a Two-Year Degree”—reveals the future earning potential a vocational education can offer. In Minnesota, there are many high-demand, high-paying career paths that don’t require a four-year-degree and lead to a successful and productive life.

Now they just need to be discovered by more young, skilled professionals.

The Center’s “Great Jobs Without a Four-Year Degree” projectis committed to revealing the relevance and value of vocational education as a post-secondary option. Young people and parents need to know about the broad spectrum of career choices that are worth their weight in gold without the heavy burden of debt.

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