There has been much discussion in Scotland, like all parts of the UK, of the need for skills to be the cornerstone of our economy and valued and celebrated, just as they are in countries such as Germany, France and Russia. It was a key finding of the recent Cumberford-Little report and has taken on a greater importance as we work to manage the social and economic consequences of the pandemic.
In rebuilding our value and pride in skills, we need to set a new level of ambition for our young people, with our sights on excellence as the standard the next generation should expect from technical education and training. Underpinning this is the need to benchmark internationally against key global economies and embed insights into how we teach and train young people. That is why our participation in WorldSkills is so important. With 85 countries as members, involvement in WorldSkills provides us with insight into the latest training standards across the world. Indeed, research commissioned by WorldSkills UK, shows that Scotland’s main priority 1 trading nations such as: USA, China, Germany, France and Spain are all full members of WorldSkills and are competing and benchmarking skills at the highest level. By embedding international insight into our training programmes, we can deliver the high-quality skills that employers and investors need.
Scotland has a long tradition of participating in both national and international WorldSkills Competitions over many years and has gained much success in doing so. Indeed, the first time the ‘Skills Olympics’ was held on UK shores was in Glasgow in 1965 as 200 international competitors across 30 disciplines competed for medals. Although a highly memorable and still reminisced about occasion, it was on an altogether different scale from the incredible event I was privileged to visit in Kazan, Russia, last year which hosted over 1,300 participants.
To date, Scotland continues to embrace skills excellence and young people from Scotland are consistently amongst the top performers in WorldSkills UK’s competitions and frequently achieve the world-class benchmark when they compete as part of Team UK at international WorldSkills and EuroSkills Competitions.
Since 2013, a college from Scotland has topped the WorldSkills UK finals’ medal table at the NEC Birmingham each year and at the most recent event in November 2019, New College Lanarkshire took the number one spot with City of Glasgow number two, separated by just one point. Participation in WorldSkills UK Competitions in Scotland from FE colleges, training providers, employers and universities shows widespread engagement across the skills sector and emphasises the value that is placed on the benefits that WorldSkills UK training programmes can offer young people. Scotland currently has 13 squad members training as part of Squad UK, with the hope of securing a place to compete at WorldSkills Shanghai 2022.
In my experience as a college Principal, I have witnessed many benefits derived from participating in WorldSkills activities. Teaching staff benefit through updating skills and knowledge and students benefit from being exposed to leading edge training methodologies and frameworks that are current and industry led. Employers benefit as they recruit students that are of a high standard, can hit the ground running and make an impact in the workplace and the college can benefit from closer ties with leading business specialists and gain commercial contracts based on enhanced reputation and industry confidence.
A fantastic opportunity to further embed these practices is through the WorldSkills UK Centre of Excellence in partnership with national awarding organisation NCFE. The Centre aims to promote and advance technical learning, support educators gain high performing and industry relevant skills, provide students and apprentices with increased confidence and give employers a more highly qualified and performing young workforce.
I was encouraged that eight colleges in Scotland came forward and applied to be part of the pilot. This is a further example of the commitment of colleges in Scotland to embrace best practice and aspire to excellence. The calibre of colleges and the commitment shown from senior staff to invest in the programme made the selection process extremely difficult. I’m pleased to say that two colleges from Scotland, Dumfries & Galloway College and New College Lanarkshire are now part of the first cohort, and I wish them well.
Due to significant demand for places in the Centre of Excellence a network is being established to include all colleges who applied to be part of the programme. This network will be known as the Innovation Network and will allow learning from the pilot to be rolled out and shared more widely.
Personally, I would like to see every college in the UK get the opportunity to participate in the Centre of Excellence programme and eventually, in the fullness of time, see a national Centre of Excellence established for Scotland.
Martin McGuire is Director Scotland, WorldSkills UK and former Principal of New College Lanarkshire, Motherwell, Adam Smith and Cumbernauld colleges.