Ian Billyard is principal of Leeds College of Building

As a specialist college we have a long history of participation in competitions which provide an opportunity for our students to perform on the national and international stage. In the past students from the college have won gold medals at WorldSkills and we are endeavouring to get back to these winning ways!

I think competitions form an important part of the college’s appeal to prospective students. However I admit that it is sometimes difficult to persuade industry to support the time commitments which will allow the students to compete effectively. We try to engage companies through internal competitions and give examples of benefits to a company’s bottom line that success in competitions can bring. Certainly students at the college see competitions as important and many seek to be part of our competition teams which assists in driving up standards within the college.

I am a member of ConstructionSkills, SkillBuild and Competitions Board and work closely with SummitSkills with their SkillPipe, SkillPlumb and SkillElectric competitions. With this background I felt that the UK Skills Yorkshire and Humber Regional Champions role was an interesting development and I am hoping to be able to persuade other principals, within the region, to join me in promoting competitions. I am delighted that Daniel Khan from Grimsby Institute has already agreed to work with me in supporting this important work.

Furthermore, it is important to maximise the opportunities that present themselves in linking both the Olympics in 2012 and WorldSkills in 2011. This is being spearheaded through the formation of a Skills, Employability and Education group facilitated by Alan Graver. The group will be working with a host of agencies engaged in the skills agenda. I am sure Alan would agree that if any agency, upon reading this article, would like to get involved they would be most welcome.

One of my objectives, as a member of the SkillBuild Board, is to encourage more colleges to participate in competitions. This translates to the "Champions" role and applies across all vocational areas. The Y&H region has a history of good practice in participation in competitions like WorldSkills and EuroSkills. At WorldSkills Calgary 2009, for example, we had competitors Daniel Cain, from Grimsby, who won a Bronze in Autobody Repair and Luke Denby, from Skipton, who won a Medallion of Excellence in Landscape Gardening. We also had training managers Harry Turner from Askam Bryan College, Mike Burdett from York College and Kevin Calpin, who previously worked at York College. All of their dedication and hard work helped bring back a haul of medals from the world’s largest international skills competition.

The AoC, in Y&H, are actively engaged in promoting competitions and in the run-up to WorldSkills 2011 in London, we are hoping all colleges and training providers will become engaged. Having had the privilege of attending WorldSkills in Japan and Canada and being involved in the build-up to WorldSkills London 2011, it is clear that there will be increasing interest from Government in vocational skills. It has been interesting to see ministers and shadow ministers become enthralled with competitions and be impressed with the level of skills and commitment of the young people competing on the world stage.

There is a great opportunity for colleges, with the AoC, to raise the profile of vocational education and the importance of training. This will escalate both to the top of the political agenda over the next 20 months. I hope you all feel as I do that it is our duty to support this.

As Simon Bartley has said, "WorldSkills is still one of the best kept secrets". Now we must all work together to ensure the event is on everyone’s agenda.

Ian Billyard is principal of Leeds College of Building

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