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Thoughts from Kazan - Mark Dawe

Friday, 20 Sep 2019

Since my return from Kazan, Russia I have been asked a few times to write something about the experience I had at the biennial WorldSkills event. I think they see me oozing with excitement and enthusiasm when I talk about the incredible experience and the absolute privilege to be able to watch young people from around the world compete and demonstrate such an amazing array of skills to such an incredible level – but I am starting at a base of not being able to paint a straight line on a wall! Every event I have attended, the most moving moment is seeing those focused determined highly resilient competitors just collapse in tears in their trainer’s arms (normally crying as well) at the end of days of competition. Such an amazing mix of emotions. I could, and have, gone on about all the incredible sights and achievements – but there are already pages of these to read.

This is the Olympics of skills, which our government is so passionate about, and our best young people were out there carrying the flag for the UK. It is incredible how the team achieved the success they did, and it is a credit to the staff and trainers that we are where we are, but we could achieve so much more with more support. When it comes to embedding WorldSkills into our skills system, the long term sustainability and success of WorldSkills UK, the organisation supporting our young people here, is vital.  

I get asked to talk to different countries all the time about our experiences in the UK and our apprenticeship system, but the government should use our success and reputation in WorldSkills to make that point. Exporting our expertise in education is important. And we need support to drive the export of that expertise and leverage our competing at the equivalent of the Olympics and European games. 

I get funding is tight but the bang per buck is incredible. We are never going to compete with the Russians, the Chinese, The Koreans – hot housing the competitors for years with mouth-watering rewards for success.  But there are a group of nations that are driving excellence in their skills systems and their WorldSkills ambitions and success are fuelled by their skills systems – and their skills systems are driven to excellence through embedding WorldSkills standards.

So what could WorldSkills UK do for us if it had more support – here’s a little summary:

Standards: Some of our competitors, on their first day, know they won’t medal. Why? Because they see the level and training of those they are competing against and that those levels are higher than they could hope to achieve. If we don’t embed these world standards in our UK system as a starting point, we will never compete – not just in the WorldSkills competitions but in these industries. Could WorldSkills be embedded in IFATE, could every T-Level or apprenticeship standard start by considering what the world expects? These standards are all freely available, we have access to the knowledge and expertise and yet we aren’t using it.

Assessment: What are these competitions if they aren’t about assessing the competitors at the skills they demonstrate for each industry. So let’s make the most of that experience.

Teaching expertise: So much of WorldSkills UK’s success relies on the experts and trainers with very little funding. It is only their goodwill, dedication and commitment that keeps the UK at the level it is. These experts have an amazing insight into what creates the most skilled world leading champions – their experience and knowledge should be shared across the sector, let them be at the core of our staff development, let them help create world leading resources, let them help with the standards and assessment. We need to invest in these individuals and nurture them and let them share their expertise deep into their sector and across sectors

Competition breeds success: Ofsted have already recognised that skills competitions lead to greater success, not just for the competitors, but for the whole cohort. Providing more competitions for individual providers to use with their apprentices and students, supporting providers and employers to enter more into the regional and national competitions and to invest in our international training, will lead to an improvement in our whole skills system and give us more and more to celebrate. It is the metaskills that competitions breed (the name I have heard at the WorldSkills 2019 conference to describe the wrongly named soft skills) – working under pressure, team work, problem solving, grit and resilience, dealing with failure, celebrating success – shall I go on?

WorldSkills UK LIVE:  I have not known anyone of any age or any background not be affected by their visit to this event (previously The Skills Show) and witnessing the competitions that take place there. In particular the young people who are suddenly exposed to skills and jobs they had never even heard of – this blows away Gatsby’s four exposures – 60 skills being demonstrated, have a go areas, people to talk to, competitors to talk to –  such an amazing showcase available under one roof. So why on earth aren’t the government investing the relatively small amount in running regional skills shows so all young people have equal access to this incredible exposure to the world of work. This is the best careers advice they could ever get – and it drives the engagement in competitions as well.

You may have spotted I get quite passionate about this – years of frustration bubble over – but there is so much potential, what education institution hasn’t used some form of “realise your potential”. So come on government – realise the potential. Put WorldSkills at the heart of the vocational system and we will stay at the heart of the world stage.

See you in Shanghai!

Mark Dawe
Chief Executive of AELP

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