In three weeks’ time we will be back at the home of skills competitions in the UK, Birmingham’s NEC, for our national finals. The team here at WorldSkills UK is working round-the-clock to ensure that this year’s event, the first under our new banner WorldSkills UK LIVE, will be the best yet. I have no doubt that across the 65 competitions, including nine competitions for young people with learning disabilities, we will see clearly the breadth of talent that young people possess. And these finals represent the culmination of a lot of hard work from a vibrant network of partners taking place throughout the year in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. So, I want to reflect a little on what goes in to the amazing event we will see next month and celebrate the work of all those who contribute to its success.

Last week, Team UK became stars of national TV with Collette, Danny, Jack and Chris featuring on ITV’s On Assignment. It is well deserved profile for our young high flyers and hopefully it encourages younger viewers to think ‘that could be me’. The journey from aspiring apprentice or student to national or international skills star is not an easy one, but it is a journey that’s open to all and it’s one that over 3,000 young people begin every year. And this journey is made possible through the dedicated work of WorldSkills UK’s 23-strong group of Competition Organising Partners (COPs), a diverse range of organisations committed to enabling young people to succeed through skills, including CITB, IMI, Northumberland College, BPEC (British Plumbing Employer Council) and Semta. Working with colleges and training providers, our COPs stage the local and regional events from which we draw the finalists we will see at LIVE. This local activity is so important as it is recognising, rewarding and encouraging so many young people to give it their best shot. The power of skills competitions to change young people’s lives is not just about the gold medal won nationally or internationally, it’s about a young person who makes it through to a regional heat when they never thought they would, giving a confidence boost that makes a real difference to their future study and work mindset. In research we conducted earlier in the year with Edge Foundation, participant after participant agreed that taking part in regional and national skills competitions gave them the transferable skills that employers say they need – working under pressure (90%), time management (86%), resilience (84%), confidence (83%) – setting them up for further success.

And for those who make it to the national finals, they will see that this is a UK-wide event in name and practice. In fact, our grassroots network in the devolved nations is leading the way with colleges, training providers and employers registering more competitors per head of population and winning more medals on the same basis than England. The top three training providers in last year’s finals were Scottish and Northern Irish colleges. This year, Wales has registered more competitors than ever. Our UK-wide footprint means that 95% of FE colleges are involved in some kind of competition activity and we are seeing more and more independent training providers engaging in our work. I know that many colleges and training provider partners taking part in the national finals next month use the competition as a quality benchmark. Seeing how well apprentices and students are able to perform in front of over 70,000 spectators over three days of competition is the ultimate pressure test. It gives a unique insight into a range of behaviours that aren’t possible to gauge in the classroom environment. You only know how good you can be when you test yourself against the very best: and this is what we will see on show at LIVE.

So while Team UK, LIVE and our national finals get a lot of much-deserved attention, we must never lose sight of the extraordinary grassroots operation that gives access to opportunity and success for thousands of young people every year. Our COPs and the dedicated professionals in the skills sector who deliver our activities throughout the year across the UK are all stars in their own right and I would like to thank them for their dedication. We owe so much to all our partners, not just for the practical work they put into staging our events, but for the fact that in doing so they are making a much wider and direct contribution to our mission to change the national conversation on skills, improve the quality of training and ultimately help more and more young people go further, faster in their careers.

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