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Growing world class skills through competition

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It is a great pleasure to be able to congratulate UK Skills on its achievement of winning a silver medal at RHS Chelsea Flower Show with their garden – Growing World Class Talent: celebrating the workforce of tomorrow.

Speaking as one of the Yorkshire and The Humber WorldSkills UK Champions I am committed, along with the other five fellow Champions in the region, to continue promoting excellence in vocational skills through encouraging colleges and individuals to engage in competitions.

We are fortunate in Yorkshire and The Humber to have great support from other organisations such as the regional Skills Funding Agency, Association of Colleges and regional development agency Yorkshire Forward. Together we all work as part of a group to champion the benefits of competition activity.

It was rewarding to see the amount of media exposure that the UK Skills garden received and great to hear about the enormous number of people who visited the gardens. I heard many favourable comments about the garden and the project as a whole. All were positive about the garden’s design and content and about the clear prevalence of the craftsmanship and skills that were used to create the space.

The entire garden team, brought together from different parts of the UK included several young and talented individuals and also those who helped in advisory and supervisory roles. All of them deserve well earned praise for bringing their skills and talent together to produce such a magnificent result.

Speaking as the Principal of York College I am especially proud of the contribution made by one of our lecturers Mike Burdett, who is also a Training Manager for UK Skills and a WorldSkills Expert in Bricklaying. Mike was responsible for overseeing the construction of the garden’s wall which included built-in nesting boxes to encourage different species of birds to flock to it. On the build Mike worked with and oversaw several young WorldSkills competitors including 21-year-old bricklayer Sam Fairgrieve who won a Medallion of Excellence in WorldSkills Calgary 2009.

The UK Skills garden contained approximately 6,500 bricks (the equivalent of a third of the number needed to build an average sized town house – a staggering amount. The garden also featured a few very beautiful examples of stonemasonry, created by 21-year-old Chris Berridge from Somerset. Chris, has already benefitted from the advice and training given by a former York College lecturer, Kevin Calpin. Kevin is also a UK Skills training manager who led on the delivery of training in stonemasonry at our college for a number of years and is a WorldSkills Expert in the craft.

The experience that both Mike and Kevin have gained since working as training managers for UK Skills has proved to be a great benefit to the many bricklaying and stonemasonry students studying at York College, who they have inspired and trained to achieve the finest standards of excellence.

The region of Yorkshire and The Humber was well represented in the garden build. Harry Turner, a landscape gardening lecturer at Askham Bryan College, who also has a longstanding involvement in competitions at regional, national and international level, project managed the garden build. Harry is also a UK Skills training manager and also earlier in the year helped plan Skills Demonstrations in Yorkshire and The Humber to help raise awareness for WorldSkills London 2011.

The result achieved at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show is a fantastic example which illustrates the importance of vocational skills and training and highlights how skills competitions can improve performance, standards and engagement among young people in the UK. I will certainly be urging my fellow college principals in Yorkshire and The Humber to encourage more competition activity and where possible to offer support to UK Skills to ensure that the best talent is found, nurtured, trained and eventually selected to represent the UK teams at EuroSkills Lisbon 2010 and WorldSkills London 2011.

Dr Alison Birkinshaw is principal of York College

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