This is a rich year for anyone who enjoys the best of international competition. The Cricket World Cup comes to England and Wales this May; the world’s best athletes head to Qatar in September; and November will see the culmination of Rugby’s World Cup. In between these exciting and action-packed events will be a truly global celebration of young talent that we believe is the number one international competition of the year: the Skills Olympics taking place in Kazan, Russia. Teams of young women and men from every corner of the world will be coming together to determine which nation’s technical skills meet the world-class benchmark; and the UK is going to be at the very heart of the action.

This week, at sites across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, we are beginning the road to Kazan. Young apprentices and students – the best of British – will be giving their all for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to secure a place as part of Team UK to represent their country on the biggest skills stage of them all. We are incredibly proud that this week’s team selection is truly a UK-wide event and when Team UK lands in Russia, they will be one ‘super team’ made up of the best of young English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish talent. In many ways the success of Team UK over recent years and our ability to continually achieve a top 10 placing in the medals table benchmark and deliver world-class performances, is a result of the unique WorldSkills UK family of four nations model. And it’s this model that, working with governments, colleges, training providers, employers and our wider stakeholders, we want to develop further in the years ahead.

A good reason for strengthening our activities across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is of course more than the celebration of the international success we have enjoyed when it comes to skills competitions medals. We are all about developing young people’s confidence to succeed in work and life. Anyone who has met our amazing alumni – former competitors we call our Skills Champions – will know the passion and leadership that they display in abundance. It will be on show again during this week as they contribute to the programme of inspirational activities happening alongside our Team UK selection events. I really believe the more our Skills Champions are able to get involved, with for instance the delivery of careers advice, the better governments’ policy outcomes will be across the UK.

Furthermore, our work also has a contribution to make when it comes to the debate on productivity. We know that in the UK our productivity levels are lower than what they could be. It takes us, on average, five days to produce what is produced within four in each of France, Germany and the US. If England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are to be economically competitive in the years ahead, current levels of productivity aren’t going to cut it. World-class skills levels can help boost productivity. One of our former competitors used his training from WorldSkills UK to shave 20 minutes off a two-hour production cycle for his employers – demonstrating productivity improvements in a nutshell. That’s why we will soon be launching a very exciting new project: the WorldSkills UK Productivity Lab. The Lab will be the place to come to for the very latest thinking geared towards sharper productivity, from international skills insights. In May, with our partners the think tanks RSA and FETL and with Oxford University, we will be sharing the first stages of our thinking. And there will be more to come later in the year; ultimately we believe the Productivity Lab programme could help us embed global skills best practice for the benefit of the wider skills systems and the whole UK economy, increasing the impact of our work to benefit more and more young people.

So while we have at WorldSkills UK big designs on the future, for this week let’s celebrate all the incredible activity that’s taking place across the UK as part of Apprenticeship Week. For some young people, this is going to be the week where they find the opportunity that lays the foundation stone for a career that provides many years of fulfilling employment. For another group of young people registering for WorldSkills UK national competitions, it will be the week that they look back on in two years’ time as the starting point for their journey to the 2021 Skills Olympics in Shanghai. For those young people taking part in Team UK selection for this August’s Skills Olympics in Kazan, it will be the week that could transform their careers and their lives. So good luck to everyone taking their first steps towards success this week.

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