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Simply the best: celebrating the skills professionals

With Team UK’s success at EuroSkills Budapest fresh in the memory of everyone who followed our new generation of high-flyers, I wanted to reflect on the elements that made up our winning performance. Because this was a story about team work and how our competitors are backed by expert training managers and colleges – our professionals, with the ambition and know-how to deliver world-class outcomes.

The success of the 22 members of Team UK, who were competing each day against the best the rest of Europe had to offer, showing the level of skill, resilience and determination in the most challenging of arenas, is testimony not only to their hard work, but also the support, training and advice they receive. While the competitors are in the spotlight, behind them is a group of professionals who are just as important to the success of Team UK: our expert training managers. These are the dedicated, highly-skilled professionals from across the further education sector who give so much of their time and expertise to help deliver the medal winning performances in which we all take such pride. Quite simply, there would be no Team UK without our network of experts – they are the beating heart of WorldSkills UK.

Holly-Mae Cotterell’s gold medal in Budapest was the second consecutive gold for our beauty therapy expert, Jenna Bailey – she also helped strike gold in WorldSkills Abu Dhabi last year. Jenna herself is a former Team UK member and is living proof of the legacy of our work. Given the standard we are competing at both at EuroSkills and WorldSkills, the level of know-how required by an expert to deliver first place finishes consistently in the way Jenna has done cannot be understated. Equally, Ross Megahy’s bronze medal in Mechanical Engineering CAD in Budapest represented a back-to-back world-class performance for our mechanical engineering expert Barry Skea of New College Lanarkshire. Last year in Abu Dhabi, Barry trained Betsy Crosbie who won a medallion of excellence where she was one of only two young women out of 20 competitors.

Our team of experts does not seek the limelight and they’re not motivated by personal glory: they work with us because they are passionate about seeing young people achieving their full potential through technical skills. Their cumulative knowledge is what allows us to compete at the international level and is a reflection of the best of the FE system. So to Jenna, Barry and each and every one of our WorldSkills UK experts: congratulations on yet another top-drawer set of results and thank you!

Of course, the bedrock of Team UK success is the UK college system. It’s from here where we draw not only the majority of our competitors, but also many of our experts who either work in colleges or who have previously studied there. Without the support of New College Lanarkshire, City of Glasgow College, Southern Regional College, Coleg Cambria, NESCOT, Chichester College, Bath College, Dudley College and all the other great FE colleges with which we work, we wouldn’t be able to step foot on the plane to these incredible international tests of skills.

This was reinforced to me by the findings of a survey we have recently conducted into FE colleges’ involvement in our competitions: 99% of the colleges who took part value taking part in our competitions because they raise standards, while over 70% of responses cited extending technical skills, enriching the learning experience, raising aspirations and increasing motivation. Nearly 90% of survey respondents cite competitions as contributing to careers advice programmes, helping inspire next generation of young people to succeed through technical careers and apprenticeships.

Our survey highlights also that there is great opportunity for embedding skills competitions into teaching and assessment. We get this -  which is why we are currently working on an exciting new programme to achieve this. Under a new concept - the WorldSkills UK Productivity Lab - we want to develop a greater understanding of how our international success at work-class levels works and how it can be embedded into the UK’s skills systems. We are undertaking research into the work of our experts and international best practice and will share the findings with colleges, training providers and employers to help deliver higher standards of training to boost productivity.

 For me, all this goes to the heart of the skills system and the professionals in it, with their ambition to push UK skills to the highest levels of world-class quality. We need to do more to celebrate and invest in the success of these professionals who are already world-class - and already work in the skills system -  while encouraging others to follow in their footsteps. With even more professionals at this level, we can raise standards in training across the UK to ever higher levels, benefitting more young people and employers right across the UK – and putting our colleges and training provider partners at the heart of the mission to equip the UK economy with the skills for a prosperous future.