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8 August 2023

Meet Mihle Mvelakubi, WorldSkills Champions Trust representative for Africa

From South Africa’s Eastern Cape, Mihle Mvelakubi competed in Bricklaying at WorldSkills Abu Dhabi 2017.

Originally from a small town called Flagstaff in South Africa’s Eastern Cape, Mihle Mvelakubi moved to Cape Town with his parents when he was in grade seven.

Unfamiliar with the local language, Afrikaans, Mihle struggled at school and had to repeat a year. He was considered a slow learner and advised to join the School of Skills to avoid facing challenges in mainstream school.

Mihle spent four years learning bricklaying.

“The focus was working with hands rather than pure academics, although the curriculum also included maths, languages, and other mainstream subjects,” he says.

Eager for more, upon finishing the course he was determined to join a VET college and pursue levels 2, 3, and 4 in building and civil engineering. However, he was met with disdain and discouraged to enrol by the administration on the basis that previous students coming from the School of Skills had been unsuccessful.

“I had to beg, I had to cry because I wanted to further my studies. Eventually, they allowed me to get in but they made it a point to express their disbelief towards me,” says Mihle. “And it was difficult. In the first term of the school year, I failed. That made me question myself, but also it made me remember what I wanted, so I worked harder and studied, and made it to the top three of my class in the following exams.”

At this stage, he was introduced to WorldSkills. His teacher, Mr Fatah, was looking for Competitors and saw Mihle’s potential. Among the freshmen at college – having been fully trained at the School of Skills – Mihle was the only one that was already a good bricklayer.

“He told me I could represent the country at the international level. He said, ‘Let’s try this and see where it takes us.’ And he said that he was sure I would win. So, I researched it and realized I wanted to be part of this. And I stayed positive and competed,” says Mihle.

Mr Fatah trained him for the competition at the college level. Mihle moved forward from the provincial, to the regional, to the national competition. By the time he reached the nationals, he had already built a reputation. His peers were afraid of the “Competitor from Cape Town”.

He won at the nationals and was selected to represent South Africa at WorldSkills Abu Dhabi 2017. Now, he is a WorldSkills Champions Trust representative for Africa for the term 2023–24, where he hopes to contribute to improving popular perceptions of skills.

Despite being looked down upon, he says the School of Skills led him to WorldSkills and made him the person he is today.

“I really wish that the School of Skills was not taken for granted. People think that because I went to the School of Skills, I don’t know much, but that is a wrong perception. I am in fact getting stronger and stronger every day because of it,” he says.

He also hopes for systemic changes that can ease the transfer of students from the School of Skills into VET colleges, and to incorporate mechanisms or education pathways for students to better cope with the gaps between levels.

Currently, Mihle is a trainer at a VET college and has his own bricklaying business.

Meet more of the WorldSkills Champions Trust