With just over a month until WorldSkills Calgary 2009, all eyes are focussed on Team UK as they make their final preparations for Canada. But as we eagerly countdown to the event, we must look beyond the anticipation and excitement of the Opening Ceremony at Stampede Park in Calgary and realise the vital role skills competitions play in today’s society.

At UK Skills we believe that such competitions offer significant benefits to all those who enter and support them. This is reinforced in the government’s skills agenda and supported by the Leitch Review of Skills.

However as the economic crisis continues to take hold and we see firsthand the tough conditions facing young people as they look for full-time employment, skills competitions have taken on an altogether more significant role.

Recent figures released by the government highlighted that record numbers of young people are out of school, training or work. These are worrying statistics and it is something that must be addressed. Indeed, as the economy recovers, we will need a highly trained workforce to allow the UK to compete effectively in the global market place. And it is skills competitions which are the perfect vehicle to encourage young people to develop their skill base and prepare them for future employment.

Throughout the year, UK Skills oversees the running of WorldSkills UK, the premier set of skills competitions for young people and adults. Run on both a regional and national level, the aim of the competitions is to help lift standards of training, promoting international competitiveness. The competitions are run in over 70 skills areas from Floristry to Engineering and outstanding WorldSkills UK National Finalists may be considered for potential inclusion in a shortlist for the team that goes on to represent the UK at a WorldSkills Competition. This was a route taken by many members of this year’s Team UK.

UK Skills is supported in its work by a number of partners in the education and training sector, but as we look towards WorldSkills London 2011 we want to encourage more organisations to get involved. From speaking with those partners that we already work closely with, it is clear they have benefited greatly from supporting the competitions.

When asked about the advantages of being involved with skills competitions, many highlighted that it has helped tutors and trainers to raise their teaching standards by allowing them to differentiate their training provision. What’s more, it provides the opportunity to showcase students’ achievements and for the student themselves it offers the chance to improve personal development, boosting their self esteem and motivation. This feeling is echoed by Oliver Clack, who is employed by Cathedral Works and is also a student at Weymouth College. He will be representing the UK at WorldSkills Calgary 2009 in Stonemasonry. On taking part in the competition, Oliver said: "It is an honour to be among the top in the UK. The thought of it makes me so proud of myself."

Involvement in competitions can help raise the profile of all educational organisations. Whether hosting, sponsoring or having a winning competitor at a regional, national or international level; getting involved in competitions is a great way to associate an educational institution with excellence and success. Pauline Waterhouse, Principal, Blackpool & The Fylde College, agrees with this. She explained: “Involvement in competitions has had a number of benefits at Blackpool and The Fylde College. Participation has built, very successfully, on the raising aspirations agenda. It’s been a very good way of motivating and incentivising students, as well as building confidence and self-esteem.”

She added: "It’s also provided a really good professional development for staff in terms of benchmarking best practice with other colleges and strengthening understanding of what constitutes excellence in different vocational areas. Overall, participation in UK Skills is a way of raising the profile of the FE sector and influencing, positively the value and perception of vocational education and training."

Through skills competitions, we can work together to lift standards of training and performance promoting world class skills and international competitiveness. Faced with continued economic uncertainty it is essential we don’t give up on training and keep encouraging new talent into the industry. It’s competitions like WorldSkills that already are and can continue to help us to achieve this. For more information please visit: www.ukskills.org.uk

And on that note, I’m sure you will all join with me in wishing Team UK the very best of luck in their final months of training, ahead of Calgary.

Simon Bartley is chief executive of UK Skills, which champions learning through competitions and awards


Read other FE News articles by Simon Bartley:

The UK's unsung heroes

UK Squad undergoing tough training for Calgary 2009

UK Skills chief Simon Bartley: Country needs to 'pull together and regroup'


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