The People of Hitachi: A Young Engineer’s Challenge at the WorldSkills Competition

Feb. 8, 2023 Daishi Kawabata
Watch the video about Hayato Shiozawa’s story

The WorldSkills Competition is an international even in which young people from around the world with skills related to manufacturing compete to see who has the best skills.

In October 2022, Hayato Shiozawa of Hitachi competed in the event of “CNC Turning” competition. After three days of fierce competition as Japan's representative, how was the result? Read on to find out about Hayato's journey to the competition.

What is “CNC Turning”?

Opening ceremony of the previous WorldSkills Competition (Kazan, Russia, 2019)

The WorldSkills Competition, which is held biennially, was scheduled to be held in Shanghai, China, September 2022, but was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a replacement, the competition was held as a Special Edition in 15 countries from September to November of the same year.

Approximately 1,000 competitors from more than 50 countries and regions participated, featuring technical and skills competitions in 62 events. Of these, the competition for “CNC Turning” was held in Leonberg, Germany. Hayato Shiozawa of Hitachi Industrial Products, Ltd. represented Japan in this competition.

A metal cylinder (left) is machined to produce complicated shapes (right) (Photo: Kosei Nozaki)

In the CNC Turning competition, metalworking is performed using a special machine. The competitors input a program based on a blueprint, attach a metallic cylinder and a blade onto the machine, and process it within the time limit. “A lump of steel is carved into a complex shape, and it's a lot of fun to see that process,” said Hayato.

The time limit is 4 hours and 15 minutes, and as metal is machined with the precision of 1/100 of a millimeter, a high level of skill and speed in selecting the best tools and creating the best programs are required to produce highly precise products.

Honing skills under the guidance of Mr. Ishida

Hayato during the interview (Photo: Kosei Nozaki)

Hayato decided to enter this competition because of an experience that he had when he was in his last year of high school. While attending Hitachi Industry Skills Academy, a school for young engineers, Hayato was selected to participate in the Japan qualifiers for the WorldSkills Competition in recognition of his high level of proficiency in CNC turning.

He has trained for the competition at the Technical Training School, located inside Hitachi’s factory. It was here that he met his instructor, Shuho Ishida. This was the start of a master-student relationship that would continue for the next five years.

“As soon as he started training, I realized that he had the dexterity and ability to overcome challenges through hard work, and I felt that he was no average competitor," says Mr. Ishida.

After graduating from high school, Hayato joined Hitachi. Since then, he has been training under Ishida’s tutelage to hone his lathe skills with the goal of winning a medal at the WorldSkills Competition. It was officially his job to improve his skills in preparation for the competition.

For Hitachi, participation in the WorldSkills Competition is directly linked to the development of excellent engineers, which leads to the improvement and transferal of skills throughout the entire workplace, so a full backup system was put in place for Hayato's training.

Immersed in metalworking every waking minute

Hayato operating a special machine for CNC Turning (Photo: Kosei Nozaki)

A day of Hayato’s training begins with a 5:00 a.m. wake-up.

He arrives at work at 6:30 am. After stretching to loosen up, he inspects and preps the machines, and then training begins at 7:45 am. Before the international competition, he started making mock test projects at 9:00 a.m. He has a total of 4 hours and 15 minutes, with lunch interspersed, to complete his test project, which mirrors the schedule of the actual competition.

At the end of the time limit, he stops working and reports on the day's results and mistakes to another senior colleague, Haruki Abe, 31, who was a gold medalist at the 2011 London competition.

Haruki Abe, WorldSkills Expert

In response to Hayato's report, Mr. Abe first gives him some advice in a "Zen-like" manner, which Hayato says helped him to naturally develop his ability to think:

“Mr. Abe's advice does not contain direct answers, but rather he gives hints to help me think about the answers on my own.”

In the CNC Turning competition, competitors must think and make decisions by themselves until the end, which is a battle against themselves. To win the competition, they need to have a flexible mindset that allows them to overcome difficulties without giving up or consulting anyone. Mr. Abe encouraged Hayato to acquire this ability.

“I asked Hayato to report on his failures in training, and think about what he was missing. I tried my best to give him hints so that he could come up with the answers on his own. In the 4 hours and 15 minutes of competition, you can't rely on anyone. That’s why he needs to learn to find and solve problems on his own," said Mr. Abe.

Instructor’s messages offered comfort during hard times

Hayato recorded his mistakes and learnings in his training diaries (Photo: Kosei Nozaki)

Training ends around 8:00 pm after tidying up. Once Hayato returns to his apartment where he lives alone, he eats and bathes, and then he writes in his "training diary" to review the day's training. He has filled up 36 notebooks over the past five years in which he has written his reflections on training and advice from his instructors, complete with illustrations.

At the end of the day, if Hayato has time before he goes to bed at 23:00, he writes a program on his computer. These are truly his "training-immersed" days, from the time he wakes up until the time he goes to bed.

“After work, I think about training, and I actually train at home as well. I think I have devoted most of my time to the competition,” said Hayato.

Hayato recalls those days of training with a smile: “They were hard days,” he says, and he confided that he wanted to quit the competition in the past.

“It became hard for me to do what I was being taught, and I said to my instructor, ‘I want to quit.’”

It was the words of his instructor, Mr. Ishida, that dissuaded Hayato from quitting. Mr. Ishida said, "I’ve continuously told competitors that I believe in them even in hard times. I try to tell them ‘Let’s continue to work together.’” These words restored Hayato's motivation, and he wrote down these words and read them again when he was struggling to inspire himself.

A team approach to international competition

Shuho Ishida, who guided Hayato for five years (Photo: Kosei Nozaki)

Mr. Ishida describes his guidance of Hayato as follows:

“Hayato always said that he wanted to win the WorldSkills Competition. I knew that Hayato was not just a thinker but rather a doer, so I sometimes had to be stern with my guidance of him, but he didn’t give up and followed me.”

Hayato learned from Mr. Ishida the difficulty of climbing the pinnacle of the competition, and from Mr. Abe a flexible way of thinking to overcome difficult challenges. The results of these efforts are beginning to bear fruit.

At the 2018 national competition, Hayato placed 2nd place despite competing for the first time. The following year, he made a number of mistakes and fell to 7th place, but at the qualifier for the international competition in 2020, he won the championship and earned a spot on the Japanese national team.

This was truly the result of a teamwork with his two instructors.

The only competitor who completed every tasks

Hayato competing in the competition in Leonberg

The WorldSkills Competition lasted for three days, with one test project per day, and the medals were awarded on the basis of the total score of the three test projects.

“Our rivals were Thailand and Vietnam. We had practice competitions with representatives from both countries beforehand, but we didn’t win once. And I think the potential winner was definitely China," said Mr. Abe.

“I have been in charge of training Hayato since he joined the company, so I have a special feeling toward him. I want him to achieve good results, since he has trained so hard to win,” remarked Mr. Ishida.

Despite the worries of his instructors, Hayato was the only one who was able to complete all of the given tasks within the allotted time during the three days of the competition, demonstrating his fine form.

“I was happy with my performance throughout the three days, which I think was 1.3 to 1.4 times better than that of my usual training. But even though I finished within the time limit, I still made some mistakes, like damaging one of the blades on the second day. To be honest, I thought that my results would not be enough to get a medal. On the day of the medal ceremony, I was so nervous that I vomited in the restroom at the venue," said Hayato.

Tears of joy from a long-sought medal

Hayato receiving the silver medal

The medal ceremony was held two days after the completion. While praying with the days of intense training in his mind, Hayato watched the screen displaying the results together with the other competitors.

When the time came for the announcement, the bronze medal was announced as “No one.” Immediately after that, the name “Silver; Hayato Shiozawa” appeared on the screen. Hayato clearly remembers the moment he was awarded the silver medal.

“I stood up without thinking and raised my fists in triumph. I couldn't stop crying. I trained so hard, so I was really happy to win a medal.”

The two instructors also look back with deep emotion as they reflect on the guidance that they provided.

“I was so proud for him. His speed and performance were as good as the Chinese competitor. His results were better than in training, and I think his performance and results were wonderful,” said Mr. Abe.

“I think Hayato's personality, or rather his character, has become well-rounded. I was blessed to have a very good experience (as an instructor) over the past five years,” commented Mr. Ishida.

The silver medal that Hayato won (Photo: Kosei Nozaki)

This year's WorldSkills Competition was the culmination of his career as a competitor, and Hayato intends to retire from competing after this competition.

“My first goal is to work on the front line at the factory and to become an employee who can continue to produce high-precision products without making mistakes. And eventually I would like to become an instructor and train competitors to win gold at international competitions, which I was not able to do,” said Hayato.

Hayato has taken over the reins from Mr. Ishida and Mr. Abe to train excellent engineers, as he is slowly making his way toward this new goal.

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