Dr Neil Bentley-Gockmann OBE, Chief Executive, WorldSkills UK

The Black Further Education Leadership Group (@FeLeadership) is right: we have to take shared responsibility to address racial inequality across the sector because without doing so, we cannot truly create a ‘world-leading technical education sector’.

At WorldSkills UK, ambitions for an inclusive and world-class skills system are at the core of our work with our partners across industry, education and governments to raise standards in apprenticeships and technical education so more young people, irrespective of their background, get the best start in work and life. 

However, as we have acknowledged, we have failed over recent years, despite a range of initiatives, to live up to our ambitions to be as inclusive as possible in our work. 

We were determined to fix this, which is why in 2019 we commissioned The Social Innovation Partnership to undertake an independent, year-long, wide-ranging, deep-dive analysis into our work, engaging 700 stakeholders.

Championing difference

Our advisory panel for the research comprised a range of inclusion and FE experts, including Lord Victor Abedowale, John Amaechi, Rajinder Mann and Stella Mbubaegbu.

We published the findings of this diagnostic research in March this year: Championing difference for a better workforce.

The results of the research made for uncomfortable reading across a range of areas and it clearly spelled out that we were not doing enough to support young black people’s development.

While this wasn’t a surprise, because we can clearly see their relative absence in our competitions programmes, it had the necessary galvanising effect on the organisation to focus and allocate resources to address the series of challenges identified.

So, we are focusing right now on three key areas:

1. Enhancing the use of data

Firstly, we are enhancing use of data to improve analysis and decision-making for better inclusive outcomes. Our most recent data, which was collated between March and May this year, show that young black people make up 2.7% of the total number of young people who registered to take part in our programme, they come mostly from London and the North West of England from two colleges in particular - Ealing, Hammersmith and West London College and LTE Group. This level of data is helping us to take a more informed view on what best practice looks like so we can learn from it and share it and set targets to increase access to our work for more young back people across the country.

We have integrated inclusion criteria into our new Centre of Excellence, which is being run in partnership with NCFE.  In September we will be announcing the colleges which have been selected to take part in the first year, and we made BAME student population a key requirement for the selection process, as we work to help mainstream world-class standards in training and assessment to help 40,000 young people, from all backgrounds, achieve higher standards and boost their potential.    

We are also working with colleges and community groups to better understand how to deliver a positive action programme that addresses the barriers to participation in our work.  We are finalising a good practice guide and developing resources to support our network and seeking more diversity in recruiting new judges, coaches and training managers, recognising that these are important professional role models for the young people we develop.

2. Increasing the visibility of peer role models

Secondly, we are increasing the visibility of peer role models to inspire confidence and send explicit signals about being inclusive. It was Raisa, a Mechatronics Maintenance Apprentice at Jaguar Land Rover and winner of our Rising Star category in our Diversity and Inclusion Awards, sponsored by Coca-Cola European Partners, who said to me ‘you can’t be, what you can’t see’. 

That in a nutshell is why role modelling is so important. So, we are sharing more of the career success stories of our alumni network role models and we have set a target of having a fifth of all images we use in our marketing and social media to be of young people from diverse backgrounds.

Our network includes black young adults who achieved world-class excellence standards representing the UK in the skills olympics.

Elizabeth Forkuoh 750x570

Elizabeth Forkuoh is now Assistant Restaurant Manager at Gleneagles

Elijah Sumner 750x570

Elijah Sumner, a former auto technician apprentice, now runs his own company in Cardiff

3. Practising what we preach

And, thirdly, as an employer, we should be practising what we preach. We conducted an extensive review of our internal diversity and inclusion policies and practices, while conducting the diagnostic research into our competitions programmes.

The results of our most recent staff diversity survey, conducted last month, says that over 90% of our staff believe we are an inclusive workplace and they feel they belong. But, of course, there are areas for improvement, particularly in the area of leadership and developing future leaders.

Just over 10% of our workforce is black and we currently have no black colleagues in management or leadership positions. As an employer, we are reviewing practices on recruitment, retention and development, particularly for black colleagues.

So, lots to do. And I firmly believe that all this work is about raising the bar and widening the gate - because leveraging the benefits of higher standards in technical education for young black people, boosting meritocracy and achieving inclusion are not mutually exclusive.

And our work as a skills development organisation and as an employer go hand in hand: taking a holistic approach is vital, because we need to be the change we want to see.

Dr Neil Bentley-Gockmann OBE, Chief Executive, WorldSkills UK

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