Ben Blackledge, Director of Education and Skills Competitions, WorldSkills UK

In less than four months, Team UK will stand on the podium at the Opening Ceremony of WorldSkills Kazan 2019 in front of a global audience of apprentices, education professionals, industry leaders and government officials as they prepare to compete in the world’s toughest skills competition.

For the 38-strong team, it will mark a huge milestone for them, for which collectively they have completed hundreds of hours of additional training on top of their apprenticeship and training programmes.

For me personally, it will be the completion of a two-year development programme that has seen us generate insights from our work with other WorldSkills member countries to create a world-class training programme that gives young people fantastic opportunities to grow, learn and develop their competitive edge.

At WorldSkills UK, we work with FE Colleges and independent training providers across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to train learners to compete in our prestigious skills competitions, the finals of which are held each November at WorldSkills UK LIVE.

Those that excel at LIVE are given the opportunity to join our international and development programme with the aim of winning the one place per skill to represent the UK on the global stage at the international WorldSkills Competition.

The Benefits of Participating in International Skills Competitions

I am often asked what are the benefits of the UK competing in the international WorldSkills Competition and more importantly why does it matter?

Having spoken with our partners across education and training, I know that they value the role that skills competitions, whether the activity be at a regional, national or international level, has in increasing quality outcomes within teaching and learning.

Competitions help to develop learners’ technical skills and gives them a distinct advantage – exposure can help develop the key skills, connections and confidence to excel in their chosen career. Our talented Skills Champions, former competitors, are testament to this.

Embedding competition practise into day-to-day learning drives up standards and inspires students to strive for gold at all stages of their development. Our college and training provider partners have told us that by encouraging learners to take part in these competitions, institutions can develop a higher quality learning programme for all students. They can draw on skills competition training requirements and high standards to enrich their syllabus and develop a curriculum based on real-life work scenarios. Adding a competitive edge urges learners to strive for the best, as well as helping them to develop employability skills and raise aspirations for future careers. It is also a proven way for organisations to demonstrate to Ofsted that they are meeting the common inspection standards by using competition activity to deliver high quality training and assessments.

What sets our competition methodology apart?

Our competition methodology is based on world-class skills levels. The insights of which are gained from us participating in the international WorldSkills Competitions.

As you would expect skills development forms a large part of Team UK’s training programme. During the competition, they will be expected to complete their skill to the equivalent of a Level 6 and above, emphasising the focus on world-class skill levels.

They won’t know the exact details of the competition project until they arrive in Russia and while they will all have a sound understanding of the technical areas through their apprenticeship and training, the difficulty will be completing the project to the exact requirements under strict timed conditions. There is no room for a mistake.

Being less than one millimetre out on a measurement can result in points being dropped and a medal being lost. Our Training Managers, many of whom work for training providers and colleges across the UK, devise individual training programmes to increase the skill level of each Team UK member.

If the UK is to be economically competitive in the years ahead, then it these world-class skill levels which will boost productivity.

However, the technical skills of an individual is only half the story when it comes to taking part in international competitions. Our apprentices are no different. They need the mind-set of a medal-winning champion if they are to succeed.

Positive attitudes and high levels of motivation and concentration can be hard to maintain when the competition is tough. To help our competitors prepare themselves, we work with a team of coaches to deliver a programme that takes the key learnings of sports psychology which have been shared by Loughborough University and is based on its support of elite athletes.

Throughout their two-year development programme the members of Team UK cover key areas with the coaches including:

  • Nutrition
  • Health and well-being
  • Performing under pressure
  • Effective communication skills, and
  • Mental resilience

It is these attributes that employers are desperate to find in potential employees.

WorldSkills UK Productivity Lab

To ensure that the training and development we offer Team UK and the global skills insights we gain from participating in international competitions are shared widely throughout the UK skills system, we are launching the WorldSkills UK Productivity Lab in the coming months.

The Lab will be the place to come to for the very latest thinking geared towards sharper productivity.  This month, with our partners the think tanks RSA and FETL and with Oxford University and the Edge Foundation, we will be sharing the first stages of our thinking. 

Ultimately, we believe the Productivity Lab programme will help us embed global skills best practise for the benefit of the wider skills system, increasing the impact of our work to benefit more and more young people.  

For the next 16 weeks, every member of Team UK will be focused on pushing themselves further, as they know the competition in Russia can transform their careers and lives. I am sure you will join me in wishing them all the best of luck.  

Ben Blackledge, Director of Education and Skills Competitions, WorldSkills UK

Follow @WorldSkillsUK to show your support for Team UK!

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