Incredibly, it is almost six months since we were at the NEC Birmingham for The Skills Show – time flies! As you may already have heard, we’re giving the Skills Show a bit of a facelift, and when we return to the NEC this November we will do so with a new name: WorldSkills UK LIVE.

More on this exciting change shortly, but given where we are in the year, it feels like the right time to take a look at the evaluation work we commissioned for last November’s event to assess what the UK’s  biggest (and we think best!) skills and careers event delivers. We commissioned Kantar Public to evaluate all aspects of The Skills Show. In conducting their evaluation they spoke to  some of the 70,000 attendees – the young people who visited, our volunteers, competitors, teachers and parents – not only at the event, but also three months later to test the lasting impact.

Overall, the satisfaction levels are, in common with previous years, consistently high across-the-board. Nine out of ten young people and teachers say that they enjoyed what they saw at the NEC. Kantar produced a ‘word cloud’ of people’s comments and it’s full to bursting with words like ‘Amazing’, ‘Awesome’, ‘Eyeopening’ and ‘Inspirational’. First and foremost what we’re looking to create at the NEC when November comes is an incredibly powerful celebration of skills – showing the UK’s skills sector at its best. It’s brilliant that everyone else who attends sees this  too.

But The Skills Show over the past six years – and WorldSkills UK LIVE from this year – is so much more than a celebration. It’s an event that we believe changes young people’s lives. The core principle behind our event from its founding through to today remains strong: to encourage more young people to pursue apprenticeships and technical careers. That principle has never been more relevant. With governments throughout the UK united around the need to increase apprenticeship starts, further technical education and improve careers aspiration and advice, our annual event is a one-stop-shop for all these ambitions.

And the journey of the young people who attend is incredibly instructive. When they get to the NEC, Kantar asks young people about their knowledge of apprenticeships and then they 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 – 75% agreed that attending helped them to understand about apprenticeships. When these findings are put into the context of governments’ ambitions to increase apprenticeship starts, and the challenges that accompany them, they demonstrate why our event is so vital. WorldSkills UK LIVE will continue to nurture the next generation of apprentices.

Arguably the biggest challenge in boosting apprenticeship starts is cultural. Our education system has, particularly over the past 25 years, placed a higher prestige on following the university route. If we can crack this prestige deficit, we will go a long way to rebalancing the university/apprenticeships divide. Cracking it means changing parents’ outlooks. Study after study shows that it’s parents who are the most influential factor on a young person’s career decisions. Part of our responsibility at WorldSkills UK is to ensure parents have the facts they need to give the right advice. Kantar’s evaluation says that we are achieving this.

Nearly two-thirds of parents attending our celebration at the NEC reported increased knowledge of apprenticeships and technical education. More than that, an incredible 97% said they were likely or highly likely to undertake follow-up activity, with over three-quarters saying this activity included further research into technical careers, and crucially, discussing apprenticeships with young people. Given that WorldSkills UK’s mission is to change the national conversation around technical education and apprenticeships, it’s really positive to see the difference we’re helping to make.

Second only to parents in shaping young people’s views about the world of work are their teachers. Between those crucial ages of 11 and 16, it’s teachers who have the most day-to-day interactions with young people – so they need the right facts to encourage young people to make the right choices. Not only do teachers get the facts they need at the NEC, they act on them. After 3 months, 100% of teachers had engaged in at least one follow up activity following the show. Nearly three-quarters of teachers say that they are better placed to advise young people to consider apprenticeships and nearly half say that they are more likely to do so.

The findings from the evaluation are positive and consistent: we know that what we do works. WorldSkills UK LIVE represents the natural evolution in terms of where we want to take the event this year and in the years to come. Our new name better reflects the twin elements that our success is built on: careers advice and inspiration on the one hand, and the national finals of our skills competitions on the other. This November, WorldSkills UK LIVE represents the culmination point for a year’s worth of activity throughout England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in over 50 skills competitions. For hundreds of young people from across the country, it will be their time to shine. Our national finalists not only enjoy the experience – 94% say they do – they are incredibly positive about the skills and experience they develop. Over 80% find the national finals improve their ability to work under pressure, increase their technical skill levels and improve their employment prospects.

Many people who have attended in previous years say that what they experience is so much more than a ‘show’. This November, WorldSkills UK LIVE will prove that to be true. The best place in the UK for young people to find out more on all things apprenticeships and technical careers; and the biggest exhibition of young British technical skills talent. I look forward to joining you at the NEC, 15-17 November. There’s a new fixture on the skills calendar and it is not to be missed!

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