The CBI/Pearson annual education and skills report 2019 was released at the end of last month. Now into its second decade, it remains a vital bellwether on the issues occupying the minds of the nation’s employers in all sectors of the economy. It incorporates the views of well over 200 businesses and trade associations, and the results make essential reading for anyone in the world of education and skills.

The strapline for this year’s report is ‘Education and learning for the modern world’.  For me this points to two priorities; firstly the need to prepare young people for jobs that reflect how the economy is changing and secondly the need to build a world-class skills system that enables the UK to compete on the global stage whatever our future trading relationships look like.

The best preparation we can give young people as the economy changes and new technologies come on stream is the ability to adapt. The CBI’s survey confirms that this is precisely what employers are looking for: knowledge and qualifications are important, but the majority of employers continue to value wider character, behaviours and attributes when recruiting young people. Nearly two-thirds of respondents stated that ‘lack of work readiness, skills and behaviours’ are the main drivers of skill gaps in their organisation.

WorldSkills UK focuses on both mindset and skillset. At our recent annual event WorldSkills UK LIVE, the UK’s biggest career show, we welcomed over 70,000 people to the NEC in Birmingham to learn about careers, skills and technical education with a special focus on mental strength. There was a huge amount of energy in the NEC for those 3 days and we hope our young visitors at the very start of their career journey picked up an important message from our exhibitors and speakers that having the right mindset is as important as gaining the right technical skills for their future success.

At the same time nearly 600 people competed in our national skills competition finals. They were all incredibly focused on performing to the highest standards to win that gold medal, with the chance of being selected to train with WorldSkills UK to compete in the next skills Olympics taking place in Shanghai in 2021. What our competitors get from this experience is not just an opportunity to excel in their chosen skills, but the mindset to succeed, to be resilient and pick themselves up if something doesn’t quite go to plan, and not to be phased when the unexpected happens.      

We know that it’s this combination of excellent technical skills and having the right mindset that sets our competitors apart from the rest of the field when they enter the world of work. But for too long it’s only been our competitors that have benefitted from this know-how. That’s why over the past 12 months we have set up a Productivity Lab to develop ways to raise standards in technical education across the board, not just for those few who are chosen to compete.

This leads to the second priority, the need to build a world-class skills system in the UK so that we can improve our productivity and remain internationally competitive. I believe WorldSkills UK can help improve standards in a numbers of ways: by sharing our skills expertise built up over decades of international competition experience, by sharing our international learnings from being part of a network that brings together skills experts from 82 countries and by using the international competition system as a ready-made international benchmarking system.

The CBI’s survey celebrates the UK’s world-class institutions, recognising that universities and colleges are at the heart of local communities and economies, yet the overwhelming emphasis is on the importance of universities and graduates. By contrast WorldSkills UK is thinking big on skills as whole. We want to help build a skills system we can all be proud of over the next ten years, working with employers, governments, schools, colleges and universities to raise standards, increase productivity and help all young people succeed. Let’s work together to make it happen. 

Please keep in touch with the WorldSkills UK Productivity Lab to hear more news on this and other initiatives in the new year

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