Amazing. There is not a better word I can think of to sum up the past couple of weeks which saw the Skills Olympics take place in Kazan, Russia. It was a spectacular global celebration of young people and skills that will live long in the memory of all who attended. And I’m so proud of the young women and men of Team UK who made the journey home with 19 medals. That means that well over half the team attained the all-important world-class standard in a wide range of skills. All of this not only underlines the UK’s worldwide reputation for excellence, it also clearly highlights the further contribution WorldSkills UK can make to boosting workforce development through our network of expert training managers.
The secret of Team UK’s success is, after all, a combination of talent and hard work from the young people who compete and the training managers who impart their expertise. The latter are often in the background, but without them none of this success, year after year, would be possible. Our beauty therapy gold medal in Russia was an unbelievable third in succession at international competition for Jenna Wrathall Bailey our training manager, who was awarded the MBE for her dedication to helping young people succeed. And our aircraft maintenance gold this year was yet another success for one of the stalwarts of the WorldSkills UK family, Martin Yates. Jenna and Martin are simply world-class, at the top of their respective games and, crucially, work within our skills systems.
If we want to get to the top of our collective games in skills, then we need to get much better at learning from them and so many others that work within our network and the skills system. As our recent report, based on interviews with our training managers, and produced in partnership with the University of Oxford, makes clear: too much of the focus in skills development is currently around ensuring a level of competency, rather than consistent levels of excellence achieved by our training managers. So, if we want to create world-class systems, we need to mainstream better the pedagogical innovation, training and assessment methods that lie behind Team UK success into colleges and training providers across the UK.
How? By taking a leaf out of the book of our international peers in WorldSkills. We need to be a bit more like China, Russia, Brazil and Korea: the nations at the very top of the benchmark medal tables. Each of these nations has set up dedicated training centres not just to elevate their young people and training managers to the highest global standards, but to embed these standards back into their national systems of technical education to boost training standards for all. Now is the time for us to follow suit. We should establish a WorldSkills centre for global excellence in the UK. Our training managers would be at the heart of it, able to share with their peers their world-class know-how and insights across skill systems and draw on international expertise from other centres of excellence in leading WorldSkills members. This has got to be the solution to help boost workforce development and technical education systems to world-class levels to help better prepare young people and employers for the future.