It was very encouraging to see International Trade Secretary, Liam Fox, put apprentices front and centre in the economically crucial work his department is leading on ‘Apprentices will be vital in international trade policy’. After Brexit, our economic success as a nation will be dependent on our ability to close major trade deals and our demonstration of the excellent basis for doing business throughout England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – and this always comes back to the skills of our people. As the Secretary of State notes: ‘As I meet my counterparts across the world to promote the UK as a global investment destination, and to help British businesses unlock new trading opportunities, it’s our creative, talented, and highly skilled workforce which is always the selling point that gets deals over the line’.
To sell effectively your core attributes have to be strong. The post-Brexit marketplace will see the scale of competition sharpen from the already competitive starting point we find ourselves in today. We will need to close deals not just in Europe but throughout Asia, the Middle East and North and South American too. So we had better be prepared – and that is why it’s of the utmost importance to have a highly skilled young workforce.
For me, Team UK, the young women and men who represent our home nations in international skills competitions, are the embodiment not only of the kinds of traits and characteristics that we should aspire for in a young workforce, but for the Government’s ambitions for Global Britain too. In each of the most recent two ‘skills olympics’ held in Brazil and the UAE, the very places we will increasingly need to trade more with in the years ahead, Team UK have achieved top 10 placings. This means that they are setting world-class standards and demonstrating that an investment in Britain is an investment in a country with capabilities equal to anywhere in the world. In his article, the International Trade Secretary highlighted two attributes that he believes are essential in our young workforce: adaptability and resilience. I agree – and that is why both are hard-wired into the DNA of Team UK. Our bespoke high performance training for Team UK and then the competitions themselves test these attributes to their limits.
By focusing more on the insights gained from international competition experience, we can work better with businesses to help them understand how to perform at a world-class level through their skills and their people. We can support businesses by working with governments, FE colleges and training providers to embed the learnings from Team UK competing against their global counterparts into technical education systems, so that all our young people can gain the skills necessary for our future success as an international trading nation.
Future focus is something we pride ourselves on at WorldSkills UK: skills needs change and the skills that have been relevant for the past 10 years won’t necessarily be the ones we need into the 2020s. So it was with an eye on the future that I travelled to Shanghai a few weeks ago to meet with peers from across the world in preparation for the first major international skills celebration of the 2020s: WorldSkills Shanghai 2021.
In the WorldSkills global benchmark, China is number one because at the most recent event in Abu Dhabi, they walked away with 15 gold medals to top the medal table across a raft of advanced skills that power their economy. During my time in China, talking with representatives from nations across the world about the opportunities presented by Shanghai 2021, I was convinced that we need to work more closely with the Chinese to develop skills around areas of mutual economic interest in relation to trade and investment, such as financial services, digital manufacturing and green tech. We also need to learn about how they produce their world-class skills. By grasping this opportunity, WordSkills Shanghai 2021 could not only be an important milestone in our international trade relationship, but a golden opportunity to demonstrate, in the economic heart of a country so crucial to our future success, the high quality of British skills and the attractiveness of investing to create jobs across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.