Seeing is believing when it comes to international skills competitions and EuroSkills Gdansk 2023 was the first time Team UK had competed in Europe’s premier skills tournament for 5 years.

From the UK perspective there was much to celebrate. After going head-to-head with 600 other skilled young professionals from 32 countries across 43 different skills, Team UK bagged nine medals including in areas experiencing rapid growth and technological change such as Digital Construction and Mechatronics.

Minister for Skills, Apprenticeships and Higher Education, Robert Halfon pointed to this performance as proof of the UK’s world-class skills system, and praised the importance of international skills competitions in providing “an unparalleled opportunity for gifted young people to hone their skills and climb the ladder of opportunity towards a better and brighter future”.

Benchmarking UK skills against other countries is a key part of making sure the UK can remain in line with cutting edge industry needs and continually improve how we develop skills.  International skills competitions allow us to learn from the best in the way skills are taught and spread this practice across classrooms and workshops nationwide. In this way WorldSkills UK is helping to build a more productive and highly skilled UK workforce needed for high quality jobs of the future. We’re also helping maintain the UK’s competitiveness for inward investment, with access to technical skills more important to global firms that ever before.

Our Centre of Excellence programme, run in partnership with NCFE, and Learning Lab are the vehicles we use to bridge the divide between domestic and world-leading standards in apprenticeship and technical education delivery, backing educators to support more young people move from competence to excellence in their skills for life and work. The insights we gather from international skills competitions also provide direction for future partnership agreements with fellow WorldSkills member nations excelling in areas where we are seeking to improve.

WorldSkills UK’s Training Managers were able to share a few of these insights with me on the ground at EuroSkills, and I have included key takeaways from the competitions below.  

CNC Milling

  • 5 Axis Machining is becoming the norm and increasing precision, with countries like Germany and Austria taking the lead in adopting cutting edge equipment into training. To keep pace, the UK firms and skills providers need to invest in this technology and equip young people with the skills required to harness it.

Mechanical Engineering Design – CAD

  • New Autodesk 360 Fusion software is complementing 3D scanning, modelling and printing capabilities, which are in increased demand owing to the rise in rapid (additive) manufacturing. With demand for skills changing quickly and other countries like Portugal performing strongly, we’ve committed to a number of actions to boost the UK’s capabilities in advanced manufacturing outlined in our recent research.

Web development

  • Increasing access to Level 4 & 5 skills will be key to the UK’s continued competitiveness and ability to better build frameworks and environments where web development tools can be used. Hungary is rapidly improving in this area.

ICT Specialist

  • Software engineer and network administrator roles are becoming increasingly integrated and people are required to have increased knowledge of cloud solutions across CISCO, Microsoft and Linux. Whilst the UK is incorporating this well in higher levels, more can be done to incorporate this into pre and post-16 curriculum to lay the foundations.

Digital Construction

  • The UK has led the way in creating the global standard for Digital Construction and bringing the discipline into both further and higher education settings as a technical route. This has helped attract foreign investment and boosted the global competitiveness of UK firms, as well as built a diverse pipeline of talent.

By winning the gold-medal in Digital Construction, the UK was able to demonstrate what best practice looks like. WorldSkills UK’s training manager Michael McGuire used his international expertise in digital construction to author the current Level 4 & 5 courses used by the Scottish Qualifications Authority, ensuring that curriculum in this area is tied to the highest international standards.  The competition is also supported by firms such as Autodesk, Balfour Beatty and BakerHicks who partner with WorldSkills UK to identify talent, drive up training standards and recruit the very best young professionals.

It is not surprising therefore that other nations are using these events as an opportunity to learn from the UK, just as we seek to gather lessons from our European and global counterparts. Policy-makers who gathered in Gdansk reflected on the importance of technical skills to wrestling with mega-trends such as climate change and technological transformation, and the importance for all countries to increase standards and participation.

International skills competitions play an important role in the visibility and attractiveness of technical and vocational education pathways and showcase what young people of all nations can achieve. The members of Team UK are already fantastic role models for young people taking their first steps in technical education, showing that there are no limits to where you can go.

As we reflect on EuroSkills Gdansk 2023 and begin preparations for WorldSkills Lyon 2024, we will continue to use our international insights and training methods to help more young people fulfil their potential, giving both UK and international businesses the high-quality skills they need to deliver high-quality jobs.

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