Yesterday was a day of celebration. Team UK was in Parliament for its send-off reception before the team heads out to Budapest later this month for EuroSkills, Europe’s biggest skills contest, in which our team will face stiff competition from 27 other nations. On Parliament’s first day back after the summer break, we had both Apprenticeships and Skills Minister, Anne Milton and the shadow skills minister, Gordon Marsden leading the line of political supporters for our 22-strong team of young women and men. We had representatives from each of the main parties – Conservatives, Labour, SNP and DUP – demonstrating once again the broad coalition of support that Team UK enjoys. Whatever the parties’ differences in the Chamber of the House of Commons, on its Terrace yesterday, overlooking the River Thames for our reception, there was unanimity: Team UK is being backed to bring home gold from Budapest!
It’s a real boost to know that there is such high level political support for what this team is trying to achieve. The reason for that support is very simple: the power of skills competitions to change lives and make a positive difference is well understood by anyone who has had the privilege to see Team UK in action. Anne said that being at the Abu Dhabi ‘Skills Olympics’ last year was ‘the most mindblowing experience’ of her life. Gordon rightly highlighted how EuroSkills is a unique opportunity for young people in this country to ‘engage, compete and connect with others right across Europe’. In the context of Brexit, that opportunity has never been more valuable than it is for this Team UK who fly out to Budapest in just three weeks’ time.
The UK’s vote to leave the European Union two years ago has put the need for home-grown skills under sharper focus than it has been at any point in our recent history – and this focus has been a positive development. Governments across the UK are all working to boost the quantity and quality of their apprentices, and the apprenticeship levy is helping give the financial muscle required to drive forward this agenda. It’s also a very necessary development. Since the Brexit vote, the numbers of workers from the rest of the EU has been falling and we are likely to see this trend continue in the coming years. Therefore, the need to nurture and develop more home-grown skills to meet growing employer needs is paramount and members of Team UK, as a new generation of high flyers, are the lead ambassadors for the England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland in this respect.
When I looked across at our young women and men yesterday in Parliament lining up for their team photo I saw a group of inspirational young people who are ready to excel. They really are the best of British, not just in the sense that they represent all four corners of the UK, but also through their shared ambition and sense of unity. Every single member of the team came yesterday not because they felt an obligation to be there, but because they wanted to be there – one of our team even making the journey from Greece! I saw a sense of spirit and readiness that will serve them all terrifically well for the experience of EuroSkills which awaits.
I think too often in this country, many are too quick to question our young people’s resolve and ability to grasp an opportunity and make it their own. This is often crystallised when we hear some businesses bemoaning young people’s supposed ‘skills gaps’. Instead, I think we would often do better to turn this approach on its head and ask whether employers are Young People Ready: are they ready for the bright ideas and sharp thinking that an apprentice can bring to their workplace. Are they ready to welcome the diversity of young people and the benefits that diversity can bring.
I think young people in this country are ready. Team UK is the epitome of what this means and I know that when the first minute of competition begins in Budapest the team has what it takes to show what they can do – and do the UK proud!