From education to employment

Burton College principal recaps Team UK’s WorldSkills glory

Like any principal I am always enormously proud every time I see and hear of success stories from within our sector.

Sharing success is something that unites us all and I believe it deepens our pride in a sector that punches its weight in transforming lives, influencing the cultural and social aspects of our cities, towns and communities and in shaping UK PLC.

So I’m sure you can all imagine how it felt to be in a jam packed stadium in Calgary for the WorldSkills 2009 closing ceremony. It was crammed full of exhilarated young people from 46 nations, their energy released after three gruelling days of intense competitions where they, as their countries number 1 in their chosen profession, pitted their minds and skills against the best young people in the world. Each one of them focused on being the best in the world, eager to make their parents, families, lecturers, principals, employers and country proud of them.

To say I cheered loudly at the closing ceremony is an understatement! The Union Jack was held aloft nine times by delighted medal winners from Team UK whilst their team mates, training managers, families and supporters, such as principals, lecturers and employers, ecstatically cheered them on. After the official ceremony Chris Humphries, chair of UK Skills, hosted a UK ceremony to share the results of Team UK’s performance. We all rose to our feet and took the roof off with our thunderous applause for such a hugely talented team of 26 people who, we discovered, had placed the UK 7th in the WorldSkills League table having gained 9 medals (3, gold, 6 bronze) and 14 Medallions for Excellence. This the highest place the UK has ever attained in the history of the competitions.

Like a number of other supporters in Calgary I didn’t have an individual student in the competitions but that didn’t matter. Team UK represented all of us; they did us proud as they showed the World how talented our staff and learners are and what fantastic FE Colleges we have in the UK.

Team UK 2009 along with their talented training managers, many of whom are lecturers in FE, have built on and learnt from the experience of previous teams to ensure they were successful in Calgary. As a sector we can’t afford not to share in their success. What’s more we need to learn from it, that way we can all help ensure that in 2011 (when London hosts the WorldSkills competition) Team UK gains even more medals and medallions of excellence thus demonstrating that Colleges in the UK are truly world class.

As a past training manager and WorldSkills chief expert I know how much involvement and support is needed from the FE sector to prepare a team member for gold. I have also seen first hand how important a team’s performance is in recognising how good a country’s vocational training is perceived to be. Over the years UK qualifications, guided learning hours and funding levels have changed and no matter what your personal views are we all know that staff in FE want all of their learners to achieve their best. To me the ultimate accolade in any profession is to be number one in the world.

Competitions demonstrate the highest skill level that is accepted in all WorldSkills member countries. It tests competitors ability to work under pressure, within time constraints and to problem solve. Being part of a team grows individuals self awareness, self esteem and self confidence as well as the attributes of selflessness and humility. Taking part in competitions develops a fighting spirit helping competitors to learn how to learn, to become self disciplined, motivated and focused on achieving. In short they nurture the competitive advantage which all businesses need! What lecturer, principal or parent wouldn’t want there student, son or daughter to gain these skills and attributes? What’s more what employer wouldn’t want these in an employee?

As Calgary closed the journey began in preparing potential squad members for 2011 and in seeking competitors for competitions that will harness the potential squad for 2013 in Germany. As a sector we have a responsibility to ensure our UK Teams really do secure the best talent FE has to share. It’s not about our individual organisations but about our sector. That’s why we must make sure that future UK Teams capture the finest talent that FE has to offer. They should also represent the diversity of our organisations and that’s where we can all play a part through spreading the word, encouraging our learners and staff to participate in competitions and in sharing the experiences gained as well as the successes. To find out more about getting involved please contact UK Skills via

I believe seeing world class talent helps raise aspirations and develops a passion for competition. It can also be one of the greatest continual professional development (CPD) experiences that FE staff can gain. I’m already planning for my staff and learners to experience Worldskills 2011 are you?

I hope to see you all at EXCEL between 3-7 October 2011 demonstrating the best talent that FE has to offer and supporting and sharing our Teams success.

Dawn Ward OBE is principal and chief executive of Burton College and WorldSkills UK Champion

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