I was recently with Team UK at their training bootcamp at the excellent Reaseheath College. The 22 apprentices and students who are going out to Budapest to compete at EuroSkills in September are all being put through their paces in preparation for the challenge of their lifetimes – competing against 27 other nations, representing their country on the elite European stage and hoping to bring back medals. It was fantastic to see from close quarters the will to win and natural camaraderie that exists within the Team. Different skills, different personalities and from different parts of the country – all four UK home nations are represented – but with one unifying spirit.
This was salutary at a time when division seems to be all around us – from knife-edge votes in Parliament to the ongoing debate about Brexit. It’s at times like these when something that brings us all together should be celebrated! Team UK really does that. Every year at WorldSkills UK, we invite elected representatives to meet Team UK members and the response is never anything other than positive. We have worked closely with all the main parties and our Team members get such a boost from having the strong backing of their MPs as they go out to compete against the best from across the continent.
The UK Apprenticeships and Skills Minister, Anne Milton, said watching last year’s Team UK compete in Abu Dhabi ranked amongst the top 10 of experiences she’s had in nearly 15 years in parliament. The Education Select Committee Chair, Robert Halfon, has praised Team UK for ‘doing more to change the culture about skills and apprenticeships than almost anything else that I can see’. Labour’s shadow skills minister, Gordon Marsden, has always been an enthusiastic and passionate supporter of our competitions and we are working with Gordon on the build-up to Budapest. Westminster’s third party, the SNP, have a strong interest in the Team’s success given our near-20% Scottish contingent; and we have been delighted to introduce our Budapest team to SNP MPs like Neil Gray, who gave his constituent (Team UK’s mechanical engineering competitor, Ross Megahy) a tour of Parliament recently. Skills competitions have official recognition in Wales as part of the Welsh Government’s apprenticeships policy, and Skills Minister Eluned Morgan has given Team UK Wales her fullest support. Our Northern Irish competitors have been regular visitors to Stormont in recent years with gold medallists being the pride of DUP and Sinn Fein representatives alike. So while political parties might have different perspectives on the best way forward for the country, the economy and the future direction of education and skills policy, all parties are equally committed in their support for Team UK.
Competing at EuroSkills Budapest is first and foremost about championing a team of young people striving to do their best on the European stage and creating role models for the next generation to follow in their footsteps. It is about something else too: showing that England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland can be truly world-class when they work together. Wherever we come from or whatever we believe, we can rally behind Team UK and unite in celebration of the talents and achievements of these incredible young people.