Just how talented are your vocational students? Are they ‘good’, ‘very good’ or are some of them even ‘outstanding’?

The best way to find out is by encouraging them to enter this year’s WorldSkills UK competitions. With over 70 categories - ranging across the built environment, cultural and creative arts, engineering, IT and business administration and social and hospitality services; you will find that there’s an opportunity here for most students to show their mettle. And if successful, they can progress through to national finals and may even be considered for inclusion in the shortlist that goes on to become Squad UK and ultimately Team UK for the international skills competition, WorldSkills. The next WorldSkills competition will take place in London, at the ExCel centre on 5-8 October, 2011.

Benefits of skills competitions

During the past 20 years my organisation, UK Skills, has been managing skills competitions for apprentices and students. The benefits have proved to be enormous – for the students themselves, for their employers (current or future) and for the colleges.

Skills competitions provide both an incentive to sharpen up performance as well as serving as a reality check on just how talented people are. It enables apprentices and trainers alike to widen their horizons, compare notes and learning methods with their peers and to undertake a rigorous testing experience which fosters maturity. Above all though, our competitions underline the importance of skills and their valuable role in our societal development. If the UK is to maintain its position as a high performance economy, then taking part in skills competitions should be common place and an integral part of the overall learning experience.

That is why the skills and personal qualities tested by the competitions bear a close relationship to the real-life demands of high quality work. They are of direct relevance to trainers and teachers and can also play a significant role in achieving the Leitch Review’s vision of a country of world-class skills by 2020. As Kevin Brennan, Minister for Further Education, points out: "WorldSkills UK competitions are a key tool in promoting skills, up-skilling the nation and enhancing business performance." And that is the reason that many of the competitions are organised not just in conjunction with the appropriate sector skills council, but also with trade associations and major UK businesses.

Check it out

Details of the timing and structure of the competitions varies between categories. For example, in Wall and Floor Tiling there are no restrictions on the number of entrants from each organisation while in Heating and Ventilation it is just one. And some competitions are so popular that they are often oversubscribed - so applicants need to register sooner rather than later.

But what is of vital importance this year is that the cohort of entrants that apply will be the last that stand any chance of being selected by UK Skills to possibly represent Team UK at WorldSkills London 2011.

So how does it work? Those who do well in the regional heats over the next few months will go through to the UK finals to further test their skills. Outstanding national finalists may then be considered by UK Skills to join the shortlist for Squad and Team UK for WorldSkills London 2011- a unique privilege and, potentially, life-changing opportunity.

So the first step for those interested in applying is to visit the WorldSkills UK website, where an a-z listing of competitions available can be found along with details on what each one entails. Full information is given on the website about who is eligible to enter, as are details about the nature and demands of the competition (for which, incidentally, there is no monetary charge). But it is important to act NOW – the closing date for online entries is Friday 19 March 2010.

Go to www.worldskillsuk.org to find out more and become our friend on Facebook: WorldSkills UK Official.

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

Read other FE News articles by Simon Bartley: 

Supporting employee engagement through Further Education

What employers want from Further Education

Simon Bartley's Christmas FE message from UK Skills

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