Today everyone at WorldSkills UK would like to say a huge ‘well done’ to students across the UK who are picking up and have picked up their exam results!  It’s been years of hard work, many hours of revision and no small amount of anticipation leading up to the big day. Following the confirmation of their results, some will be staying in their school while others will be moving onto a new school or FE college. Whatever route is chosen, new horizons abound. There is so much that a 16-year-old can do. In education terms their journey is really only just about to begin. And that’s the message I would like you all to help us share with 16-year-olds: the future matters far more than the past; and it’s their choice what direction that future takes.

The traditional route of going onto university after taking exams in school, is for me an outdated view of education, and it seems that young people agree.  Recent research by the Sutton Trust shows that the numbers of young people who think that going to university is important is at its lowest levels in a decade. In 2009 the number of young people who thought it was ‘very likely’ they would go to university stood at 41%; today it is just 32%. This marks a clear shift in thinking from young people.

And we’re seeing real moves towards this becoming the norm. In England, the advent of T-levels and the new focus on apprenticeships is changing the terms of the debate about which route is the best to take. Across Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, we’re seeing a much sharper focus on the benefits of technical training and apprenticeships. Right now, however, we do need to keep making this case, as technical routes and apprenticeships aren’t yet given equal billing with their academic counterparts.

Right now, throughout the UK, a team of 22 young women and men are gearing up to compete at the European championships for skills. It’s taking place in Budapest, Hungary in a month’s time. A few years ago, these young people were in the same place as the students we are seeing on our TV screens today: opening their exam results and preparing for the next phase in their lives. The journey they chose to take has led them to this moment: on the verge of representing their country against 27 other European nations.

All the skills our economy needs in the years ahead are in this team: mechanical engineers, web designers, cyber security administrators, restaurant service managers, welders, joiners and electricians. Once this competition is over, the road to a new one begins: the ‘Skills Olympics’ in Russia next year. For those aged 16 today, Russia is going to come too soon. However, Team UK for WorldSkills Shanghai in 2021 has vacancies, and places are up for grabs. So today, I’m asking you all to support me in putting a call out to everyone who’s opening their exam results: your country needs you!

For those thinking about careers in IT, engineering, construction or services, not only are they going to be pursuing apprenticeships and college courses that will lead to prosperous, fulfilling careers, they could be taking the first step to getting a seat on the plane to Shanghai that departs from London in September 2021.To get on that plane they’ll need to show they’re the best in the country at what they do. They’ll need to enter the exciting world of skills competitions and test themselves against their peers. This means they will have to compete against other young people in their region. If they are successful there and they’ll make their way through to our National Finals held at the biggest skills and careers event in the country: WorldSkills UK LIVE, which takes place every November at the NEC in Birmingham in front of over 75,000 spectators. Win out on the national level and they’re in the Squad for Shanghai. Prove that they’re the best in this elite grouping and a coveted place in Team UK is theirs. Team UK represents the pinnacle of prestige for apprenticeships and technical education. Our team members in recent years have kept the UK in the top 10 worldwide ranking for skills.

It’s up to this new generation of 16-year-olds to keep us there – and I reckon they are up for the challenge. So, if I’m right, we at WorldSkills UK would like to hear from every young person who thinks they have what it takes to represent the nation. A world of possibilities are open from today, but there is no more exciting and rewarding future than the one offered by a place in Team UK. WorldSkills UK looks forward to writing the next chapter in the lives of our talented young people. 

Find out more about getting involved in WorldSkills UK Competitions.

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