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The WorldSkills UK way can help mainstream excellence for more young people

Dr Neil Bentley-Gockmann OBE, Chief Executive, WorldSkills UK

Friday, 05 Jul 2019

Team UK kicked off the final month of preparation for this summer’s Skills Olympics in Russia with a reception at the House of Commons. What really struck me was the sheer breadth of support that exists for our young high-flyers: family, friends, colleges, employers, governments and MPs and Peers turned out in numbers to get behind our quest for gold in Russia. As Apprenticeships and Skills Minister, Anne Milton said, there is a real unifying force to WorldSkills which crosses the political divide. It’s one of the few issues on which MPs from all sides of Parliament can happily stand shoulder-to-shoulder on. And I think this is reflected in the great support we have: Shadow Skills Minister, Gordon Marsden sponsored our reception, Lib Dems leader, Sir Vince Cable was in attendance together with Conservative, Labour and SNP MPs. We are very grateful for the support we continue to receive, and it makes a real difference to Team UK to know just how much everyone is behind them.

Integral to Team UK’s success are our incredible training managers, the dedicated professionals who are the brains behind the young women and men who are working so hard to reach their potential this summer. I’ve often said that our training managers are the unsung heroes of what we do. And the latest research out of our new WorldSkills UK Productivity Lab has confirmed that. In Good People in a Flawed System, the University of Oxford’s Dr Susan James Relly discusses the steps that are needed to embed the expertise of our training managers into skills systems. If we want world-class outcomes from our apprenticeships and technical skills training then we have to learn from those who live world-class every day of their professional lives. As this report makes clear, too much of the focus in skills development is currently around what you might describe as ‘passing the test’: doing enough to ensure a level of competency, whereas the horizons of our training managers stretch much further, well into achieving excellence and where a world-class system needs to be. So, if we want to get there, we are going to need to mainstream better the WorldSkills UK way – the training and assessment methods that lie behind Team UK success. This is all achievable and I am convinced that our report provides the basis for starting this new approach.

Another recent report, this time produced by the CBI, helped highlight why the WorldSkills UK way is a very good starting point to address many of the issues around young people and technical training. The CBI’s ‘work readiness’ report highlighted how close to half of employers do not currently feel that young people are ready for the world of work and want more of a focus on skills such as teamwork, mental resolve and character alongside specific qualifications. This call from employers speaks precisely to the methodology that has been so successful in establishing a Team UK that is a proven top 10 performer in WorldSkills international competitions. The young women and men from across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland who are competing in Russia next month are not only highly technically skilled in their particular disciplines; the unique mindset training they receive equips them to deal with the full range of challenges they will face as competitors in a highly pressurised global event. And it’s this experience which will equip them so well for their future careers. What we’re working on in our Productivity Lab programme are ways to bring this to a much wider audience of young people.

The other point to take away from the CBI’s work is that, as well as our education system needing to produce young people that are work-ready, business to needs to ensure that through its policies and practices it is ready for the next generation of talent entering the workplace. At WorldSkills UK we have developed a five-point plan to help business do just that. Called being ‘young people ready’ our plan is validated time and again by the young people on our programmes, this gives business the confidence to know that it works and can help them recruit the talent that can drive the high-performing workforce of the future. Being young people ready means having the right policies in place with respect to apprenticeships, mental health, mentoring, mindset and diversity. Working with us at WorldSkills UK can help employers ensure their offer is young people ready and will help young people and their employers succeed.

Our work to drive excellence – the WorldSkills UK way – is being increasingly recognised and acknowledged for its benefits on the next generation, its potential to transform skills outcomes and help workplaces be more productive. By mainstreaming our methods of success, we can ensure every young person experiences the world-class technical education that they deserve and business requires for our country’s success in the future.

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