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Brexit and a global future for our young people

Wednesday, 28 Jun 2017

Dr Neil Bentley, Chief Executive, WorldSkills UK

The British Council’s survey of perceptions of the UK post-Brexit contains some really interesting findings. It asked young people across the world what they thought of us before the EU referendum and then asked the same questions once the dust had settled on the result. In general, Brexit has not drastically altered the way we are seen. However, we can’t get away from the fact that Brexit is a contentious subject domestically, particularly amongst young people, who were more likely to have voted to remain. So whilst for the rest of the world it’s a case of business as usual, we are left with some pressing questions.

The most immediate of these for me is how young people are feeling about Brexit as they will live longest with the settlement. Here the survey provides pause for thought. Young people in Britain think the rest of the world views us less favourably as a result of last June’s referendum. Forty-two per cent say that Brexit has had a negative impact on the UK’s attractiveness, compared to the 21 per cent who believe it’s had a positive impact. In actual fact, young people internationally think more positively of the UK post-Brexit, with 32 per cent sharing this view and a further 36 per cent saying it makes no difference. There’s a big perception/reality disconnect here which needs addressing.

That's why WorldSkills UK fully supports the report’s recommendation for young Britons being supported to develop what it calls ‘global awareness’. The Government has made a lot of the concept of Global Britain as the blueprint for our approach post-Brexit and WorldSkills UK is uniquely placed to take a full part in this. We belong to a network of over 75 nations internationally as members of WorldSkills – thinking globally is what we do. Whilst WorldSkills members speak many different languages, our values and vision are shared: the belief that skills can empower young people and change their lives.

At WorldSkills UK we offer our young people the gateway to a global future. Every young person who enters one of our skills competitions has the same chance, the chance to represent their nation and take part in the best international exchange programme there is – Team UK. Team UK trains and competes internationally every year – last December it was Sweden, this October they’ll be in the UAE. In recent years they’ve been to Brazil, Canada and Japan. In two years Russia is the destination. I think you get the picture. This kind of exposure to different cultures, different ways of doing things is an immense learning opportunity. Not only are Team UK competing in different countries, they’re competing against all our major competitors – France, Germany, China, India, the US – at the same time. This is what Global Britain means. Speaking to, learning from, and yes, competing against, the rest of the world. This is how our young people can be equipped to make the most of Brexit.       

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