From education to employment

Nurturing the buds of ambition


Celebrating and fostering success is a hard nut to crack at the best of times, and never more so when there is economic challenge at every turn. Competitions, awards and prizes are the trappings of good times, you may say, not bad. Yet if we are to become the skilled nation of growth we so badly need to boost our recovery, it’s those new shoots of ambition and entrepreneurship that must be recognised and helped to grow.

May saw the annual Chelsea Flower Show, a colourful, competitive event which is surely the world’s most famous flower show; a celebration of the highest skills in horticulture – or should I say ‘gardening’ to the likes of me. Whilst I am no green fingered expert, it’s fair to say that creating the right conditions to allow landscapes to flourish – especially with some essential pruning – carries a certain intrigue for me. I also find myself pondering the nurturing value of competitions – or the ‘darling buds of May-be’, borrowing from H E Bates – as a way to change public perceptions of vocational learning.

You may recall John Hayes’ launch of the WorldSkills London 2011 ‘Have a Go’ programme earlier in the year through which hundreds of thousands of people will have the opportunity to try out a new skill this October. So it was with some interest I heard that at the Chelsea Flower Show, the WorldSkills London 2011 ‘Have a Go’ team won a Silver Gilt medal for their “Showcasing Skills that Shape our World” exhibit. Visitors to the stand were able to learn about the diverse uses of plants and how the ‘Power of Plants’ – when combined with skills, science and human ingenuity – can change lives and build prosperity. And to top it off young florists Joe Massie and Jessica Andrews have won RHS awards at Chelsea. Both have strong links with the WorldSkills Competition; Joe won Bronze at WorldSkills 2009 in Calgary, and Jessica is currently in Squad UK.

All of this seems a small but perfect example that proves competitions and awards not only celebrate the success of FE, while giving well deserved recognition to those who excel at their craft, but crucially, they also attract interest from those less aware of the tremendous benefits FE offers.

Scaling up from a garden to the nation, the competition theme moves on to the National Apprenticeship Awards. These will be held in London on 29 June. Designed to celebrate the achievements of apprentices and the businesses that employ them, the Apprenticeship Awards have this year seen a record number of applications. In partnership with City & Guilds, we are also looking for England’s Top 100 Apprenticeship employers and the 25 best employers in each category will be honoured in the Top 100 Apprenticeship employers list. Team UK, the talented young people that will represent the UK at WorldSkills London 2011, will be announced at the Awards. For more information visit

And so from the country we go global. Those of you who have read my earlier columns will know that WorldSkills London 2011 is the largest international skills competition, with young people from around the world competing to be the best of the best in their chosen skill. For the UK, this is a once in a generation opportunity to attract young people to vocational skills and training – and perhaps change the view of some parents. It will be held at the London ExCeL Exhibition and Conference Centre on 5-8 October 2011. More than 150,000 visitors are expected to come from across the UK and be inspired by watching 1,000 competitors from over 50 nations competing in 45 skill areas. But the road to WorldSkills is challenging, with qualification from squad to team needed first. After months of intense training the members of Squad UK will take part in the Team UK Selection competition from 14 – 17 June at locations throughout the UK. I encourage you all to visit the selection competitions and see the UK’s best apprentices, learners and employers compete for a place in Team UK. For more information see

So despite hard times, competitions and awards are positively blooming. And this has to be right. We must plant ambition in the minds of learners; grow their confidence; and inspire them to achieve their dreams. This is our golden opportunity (silver and bronze will do very nicely as well) to inspire future generations of skilled professionals who will be the entrepreneurs that – in work or in their own business – will drive our society and our economy forward.

So, what better way to foster those green shoots of recovery than by elevating the vocational education that delivers the skills the country needs to thrive? Celebrating the success of people whose stories motivate and inspire will propel FE to another level – and that’s not fertiliser.

Geoff Russell is chief executive of the Skills Funding Agency, a partner organisation of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills

Read other FE News articles by Geoff Russell:

Skills are the vital passport to jobs

Geoff Russell: Translating Apprenticeship interest into ‘real’ apprentices

A horse called Skills

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