From education to employment

Principal outlines South Nottingham College’s skills competition strategy

I am relatively new to WorldSkills UK; becoming a Champion for the East Midlands last academic year. I have had a fantastic introduction to the role having been privileged to attend the international WorldSkills competition in Calgary with Team UK in September 2009. It really was inspiring to see talent on display from around the world and to watch our young people deliver the best ever result for the UK. The experience has certainly given me great enthusiasm for the role of Champion in the run up to WorldSkills London 2011 and I am committed to making a difference along with other Champions and UK Skills.

I was keen to become involved with a national initiative focused on student success prior to my Calgary trip. The use of competitions seemed a great way to showcase the talent we have in the UK for vocational skills. It also seemed an ideal activity to demonstrate parity with academic subjects. I must say though that until I attended the event I hadn’t realised just how inspirational WorldSkills competitions would prove.

I encourage all colleges to get involved in the competitions in order that Team UK in London will once again raise the bar on our performance. The more students entering competitions, the stronger the field from which to choose Squad UK and ultimately Team UK. WorldSkills UK Champions recently received an update on competition entries and it is encouraging to see the numbers are up 35% on 2007-2008 with FE Colleges providing over 70% of the competitors. It is encouraging to see that East Midlands entries are significantly up, however I still have a job to do to raise our participation up to the levels in the North West and South East.

My commitment as a Champion takes a number of forms. I have recognised skills competitions as a key strategy within South Nottingham College in our push for higher standards, and have allocated hours within this year’s budget to fund local champions to work with students and improve our quality. The last AoC East Midlands Principals’ meeting debated the benefits of colleges funding a post for the region in order to coordinate inter-college competitions and represent East Midlands FE Colleges within WorldSkills UK. A steering group has been established with the first meeting in December which will look at working across the East and West Midlands to provide a wider base for competitions. I am also looking to attract matched funding for the post from stakeholders committed to improving the nation’s skills base.

Asking colleagues for financial contributions in the current economic climate is not easy. It is however important, particularly as colleges, that we practice what we preach in terms of our commitment to the skills agenda. Continuing with the theme from the AoC conference on Skills and Skills Development, the country needs to maintain its investment in training for the future. I am equally aware of the impact the financial downturn has had on our industry partners and it is therefore extremely encouraging in the current climate when I look at the number of entrants to date in Automotive Technology and see that they have increased by 260 on 2007-2008 and in Entrepreneurships where there are 183 registrations against the previous 35.

There is now a clear opportunity for tutors to work with their learners to raise awareness of world class standards and to encourage young people to compete at future WorldSkills and WorldSkills UK events. UK Skills is working hard to build on the success of WorldSkills Calgary 2009 and the success of the WorldSkills UK 09 Gold medal winners was recently celebrated at the IMAX in London.

I was inspired by my experience in Calgary to encourage our students to enter competitions and I hope that you will work within your college to do the same. It could be running in-house competitions to select your best candidates to enter a WorldSkills UK competition. It could be organising inter-college competitions or looking to put regional funding into competition organisation. Whatever your particular approach now is the time to ask what competitions your college will enter and identify your students’ outstanding skills.

The next international WorldSkills event will be held in London between 5th – 8th October, 2011 where 50 countries and 1,200 competitors will come together to demonstrate the highest standards of vocational skills. With a home advantage let’s give ourselves the best chance of once again raising the bar even higher as Team UK, demonstrating our commitment to skills development on a world stage.

Malcolm Cowgill is principal of South Nottingham College and a WorldSkills UK Champion 

WorldSkills 2009-2010 Competition brochures are now with colleges and training providers throughout the UK. Online registrations can be made at

The following competitions have a closing date of 11 December 2009:

  • Autobody Repair
  • Automobile Technology
  • Car Painting

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