This is it. We are into the home straight. In just two weeks’ time 34 of our most talented apprentices, young women and men from England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland will be flying out to the UAE for the world’s biggest and best celebration of skills: WorldSkills Abu Dhabi 2017, the ‘Skills Olympics’.
All 34 of our competitors are the best in the UK at what they do, from 3D games design to mechatronics, cooking to cyber security and plumbing to aircraft maintenance. Their technical prowess is not in question – but when it comes to world-class competition, it’s all about marginal gains, finding that extra one per cent that can make the difference. That’s why, over this past weekend, Team UK have been together at Loughborough University – the home of high performance in British sport – for an action packed programme of preparation. The competitors and their expert training managers went through mindset pressure testing used in elite sports to ensure they are mentally fit for the competition. It was fantastic to see and I left Loughborough knowing that our team is ready.
That’s because mindset is going to be the key determinant of Team UK’s success. In elite sport, it has long been apparent that technical excellence is a prerequisite but not a sufficient precursor to success. World-beating performances are a combination of technical skills, physiological well-being and, crucially, mindset. That’s why Team UK spent a good chunk of their time in Loughborough receiving tailored coaching on the keys to successful thinking.
When they get the green light to start competing in Abu Dhabi, they will be in an environment like none they have faced: thousands of spectators, rivals from across the world, the unique pressure that comes with a once-in-a-lifetime competition. Keeping calm, focused and concentrated will be paramount. Losing that focus for just one second could put years of preparation in jeopardy. If the stakes sound impossibly high it’s because they are – but I know the team is trained, confident and ready!
Of course, WorldSkills is about more than a competition. It is about bringing together over 75 nations from across the globe to celebrate our diversity, learn from each other and build long lasting partnerships. For the UK on the international stage, it’s our moment to show that British, home-grown skills are world-leading and that the UK is a top class destination for foreign investment in jobs.
In her recent speech in Florence, which set out her vision for the UK post-Brexit, the Prime Minister described a ‘global, free-trading nation, able to chart our own way in the world’. There is no stronger realisation of this than our young people competing in the technical skills that will help us to be that nation. Recent research by the British Council and Demos shows that two-thirds of young people are international in their outlook and over half would like the opportunity to work abroad. This is the global generation: not defined by borders, eager to learn and share, conversant and connected.
What the British Council research also shows is the relative paucity of experiences like those Team UK will have: almost a quarter of our young people say that they have been unable to experience any kind of international engagement. It’s clear that our young people have the mindset and outlook to build the nation the Prime Minister wants to see – there’s an onus on all of us to give more young people the opportunities to realise this.
That’s why we will continue to champion global fluency in our work with young people helping give young people the skills set and the mindset to succeed in a fast changing world.