I was recently with Team UK at their training bootcamp at the excellent Reaseheath College. The 34 apprentices who are going out to Abu Dhabi to compete in the ‘Skills Olympics’ this October are all being put through their paces in preparation for the challenge of their lifetimes – competing with 75 other countries, representing their country on the global 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 a hung parliament to the ongoing debate about our future outside the EU. While this is of course an entirely natural function of democracy, 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 in the rest of the world.
When he was UK Apprenticeships and Skills Minister, Robert Halfon praised Team UK for ‘doing more to change the culture about skills and apprenticeships than almost anything else that I can see’. We’re really looking forward to introducing Robert’s successor, Anne Milton, to the Team. 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 Abu Dhabi. Westminster’s third party, the SNP, have a strong interest in Team’s success given our strong Scottish contingent and we were delighted that Martin Docherty MP sponsored last year’s send-off reception in the House of Commons when Team UK went to compete in the European finals in Sweden. Skills competitions have official recognition in Wales as part of the Welsh Government’s apprenticeships policy and Skills Minister Julie James has put her full support behind our Welsh competitors and indeed the whole of Team UK. 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 WorldSkills Abu Dhabi is first and foremost about championing a team of young people striving to do their best on a global stage and creating role models for the next generation to follow at home. 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.