The West Midlands is a region that is going places. The fastest growing economy of any region outside London, home of the UK City of Culture in 2021 and host of the Commonwealth Games in 2022. To underline this sense of destination and ambition for growth, the West Midlands Combined Authority has just published its Regional Skills Plan. It reflects the centrality of skills to the region’s plans and the important role that young people from every town and city in the West Midlands will play in delivering its future prosperity. It’s a plan that we welcome and look forward to working with the Combined Authority to put into action. I think there are three immediate areas where WorldSkills UK can contribute: through our brand new Birmingham-based showcase WorldSkills UK LIVE; through our amazing role models; and through our shared competitive spirit.

The West Midlands is a region we’ve had a strong connection with for nigh-on 30 years. In 1989 Birmingham threw open its doors to the world of skills with its hosting of that year’s Skills Olympics. The fact the region had the honour over 20 years before London hosted WorldSkills is clear demonstration of its “get-up-and-go” and “ahead of the curve” spirit. Of course the legacy of WorldSkills London 2011 became a West Midlands legacy too with the creation of the region’s (and nation’s!) biggest skills and careers event, The Skills Show. For the past six years the Show has wowed a national and international audience with the talents of our young people and the exhilarating exhibition of all that can be achieved through apprenticeships and technical careers. As we enter our seventh year in the region, the Skill Show will become WorldSkills UK LIVE and will be continuing this proud legacy – and LIVE is perfectly placed to deliver the brand new regional campaign contained in the skills plan to promote the benefits of apprenticeships. Our research highlights this. When they get to the event at the NEC we ask young people about their knowledge of apprenticeships and then we ask again when they’re leaving the venue. The findings show that, whereas under half of young people say they knew about apprenticeships on entry, on exit, nearly two thirds say they know a lot about apprenticeships with 70% saying they would consider an apprenticeship – and 75% agreed that attending helped them to understand about apprenticeships. So I believe there’s no better home for the West Midlands’ new apprenticeship campaign than WorldSkills UK LIVE!

The next area we can make a big contribution is through careers advice and role modelling. The skills plan rightly recognises the strides forward that need to be taken across the West Midlands, and indeed throughout the UK, with respect to the quality of careers advice; and it further recognises the powerful role young role models can play in shaping the way in which all the region’s young people view their futures. WorldSkills UK Skills Champions are a two-in-one accompaniment to the plan’s ambitions in this respect.  Working with the Careers & Enterprise Company we have successfully developed a careers advice scheme which involves young people who have competed in skills competitions nationally and internationally going into schools and sharing their experiences of technical education to inspire the next generation to follow in their footsteps. We can bring this to the West Midlands working in a focused way with schools who would most benefit from the insights that our Skills Champions can bring. This is one of the most innovative and impactful models of careers advice with 76% of students saying the programme left them feeling inspired and motivated and 100% of teachers satisfied with the outcomes. Bringing it to the West Midlands could be transformative for the region’s young people.

Through Birmingham’s winning bid to host the Commonwealth Games in 2022, the West Midlands is a region which understands the benefits of high quality competition better than most. I believe that Birmingham 2022 can act as a beacon for high quality not just in the sporting sense but for skills too. Of course high quality is the hallmark of WorldSkills UK skills competitions, and there are many commonalities between skills competitions and Commonwealth Games disciplines. It’s only by testing yourselves against the world’s best that you get a true measure of your own level. The Mayor, Andy Street’s ambitions for the region to be best-in-class internationally fit into this too. There is clear cross-over potential with respect to the region’s hosting of the Games and skills competitions activity.

Therefore, we’d like to make a an offer to realise the skills plan’s vision for more high quality apprenticeships. Working with the Combined Authority, FE colleges and training providers throughout the region, we want to see more young people signing up for skills competitions. Our recent Edge Foundation research proves this is a model that works: young people who participate in competitions develop invaluable transferable skills and come out as well-rounded individuals. This is particularly important when you consider that 86% of employers believe that attitude towards work to be of greater importance than general academic ability (43%). The survey findings back this up: participant after participant agreed that skills competitions gave them the transferable skills that employers say they need: working under pressure (90%), time management (86%), resilience (84%), confidence (83%).

By doing so, this programme could harness the international profile that the Commonwealth Games will bring together with the shared methodologies of elite sports performance and elite skills competitions performance: achieving the best in time-pressurised environments through a combination of teamwork, mindset and skillset. Given that a successful Commonwealth Games will be delivered through everyone in the region pulling together, this ethos can be used to engender a ‘Team West Midlands’ spirit amongst apprentices. It will sow the idea that just like Commonwealth Games athletes, when young people take part in skills competitions they are representing not only themselves but their region – potentially on the global stage.

The Regional Skills Plan is a key moment in the evolution of the West Midlands as a place to be reckoned with. WorldSkills UK stands ready to play its role in creating a region in which young people enjoy the best opportunities to realise their potential in work and life. Through LIVE, through role modelling and through our shared competitive spirit we can do just that.

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