Following on from the publication of the Skills for Jobs White Paper, Our Chief Executive Dr Neil Bentley-Gockmann OBE explains how international benchmarking with economies across the world can support the development of world-class skills in the UK and help economic recovery.

On 21 January, the government released its long anticipated Further Education White Paper for England, which set out their planned ambitious reforms for the sector. At WorldSkills UK, we have warmly welcomed the publication of ‘Skills for Jobs’ because it could mark a significant turning point in terms of better recognising the economic value of our skills system – and developing a “skills economy”. I believe that by placing more emphasis on the importance of skills for our economic recovery from Covid and our global future post-Brexit, we can enhance the reputation of further education and help make the business case for funding by delivering on improving standards that employers need and showing young people that technical education and apprenticeships can lead to high-quality, rewarding and sustainable careers.

In Secretary of State Gavin Williamson’s foreword to the White Paper, he also mentioned that we are behind other OECD countries in showing further education “the esteem it deserves”. This is something we are very aware of through our own international benchmarking work. Research by the RSA, commissioned by WorldSkills UK and the Further Education Trust for Leadership two years ago showed that many countries such as Switzerland, Russia and Singapore are ahead of the UK in how they view the skills system as being strategically important to their economic development and in how they utilise WorldSkills to drive improvements and quality in technical education.

So across many areas of the White Paper we are excited about the opportunity to leverage our international benchmarking insights to act as a quality improvement partner. As the White Paper recognised, we have already started to use our international expertise to help mainstream excellence in teaching, learning and assessment through our Centre of Excellence in partnership with NCFE.

Picture from the opening of the Centre of Excellence at Trafford College

But there is much more we can and want to do. For example, our new Skills Development Hub adds to our ability to share our knowledge and expertise by giving educators and learners online access to our skills and knowledge development programme, which include opportunities to improve not just technical skills, but mindset and resilience, all based on what it takes to be the best globally.

The White Paper is focused on reforms to the English system, but as a UK-wide skills charity, we know the economic importance of skills for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland too. CBI Scotland recently called for a focus on skills in the Scottish Government’s recent Budget recognising that tertiary education needs to be able to respond to industry needs of the future. Independent research by Roger Mullins, for WorldSkills UK in Scotland, also recognised the importance of excellence in skills in driving forward the Scottish Government’s ambitions for international trade. And through our partnerships with governments, educators and employers in Wales and Northern Ireland, we know that they are also looking for quality improvements in skills to power the development of their economies to create jobs.

If we are to realise the vision that the quality our skills systems will be a driver of economic development and a leading indicator to help attract inward investment, we will need to better understand what employers need to drive their businesses forward and to understand young people’s aspirations in the context of growth sectors of our economy, like digital and green tech.

Our agenda at WorldSkills UK in the coming year is focused on precisely this demand and supply equation and how international benchmarking with economies across the world can support the development of world-class skills in the UK. If we can get this right, in developing a “skills economy”, we can help make the case for further education funding by showing that skills can help power our country’s post-Covid economic recovery, attract the inward investment needed to create jobs in growing sectors, as well as giving the next generation the opportunities they need.

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