Dr Neil Bentley-Gockmann OBE, CEO of WorldSkills UK

Developing world-class skills is vital for economic development and competitiveness, says a new report released today (@worldskillsuk).

 Drivers of Technical Education in the Skills Economy   – by the Centre on Skills, Knowledge and Organisational Performance (SKOPE) and the Edge Foundation for WorldSkills UK, in partnership with NCFE - analysed how different countries drive technical excellence both in terms of policy and practice.

Although each of the seven countries (Austria, Brazil, France, Hungary, India, Japan, and South Korea) differed in their approach and had very different systems, there were clear similarities.

World-class technical skills and skills systems were seen across all countries as vital for the economy and successful skills economies rely on partnerships to embed excellence at all levels.

Battling for prestige against more academic routes, or demonstrating relevance to industry and the economy, are frustrations not unique to UK skills systems. However, the report found that high standards and employer involvement can help tackle low prestige for technical and vocational education and training (TVET).

The report also identified how WorldSkills can help national skills systems promote excellence by being a ‘third space’ away from the constraints of a formal education or workplace setting. This ‘third space’ gives teachers and students the freedom to experiment and innovate where mistakes are not costly. It also allows new ways of training to be developed and benchmarked to meet changing global industry standards.

Dr Neil Bentley-Gockmann OBE, CEO of WorldSkills UK, said:

World-class technical skills are seen across all countries as vital for economic development. The most successful systems keep a laser focus on employer needs to address challenges such as technology and climate change.

“To get ahead of the pack, we need to develop a world-class skills base - particularly in globally-traded sectors such as digital, advanced manufacturing and clean tech - to help boost our international economic competitiveness and attract greater inward investment to create more high-quality jobs.”

“Building a high-quality skills base has a well-documented, positive impact on learners, employers, and the economy. The policies of all UK governments echo the report’s call to explicitly link skills development with the needs of employers and the economy.

“The report highlights the unique and crucial role WorldSkills plays in different countries creating a ‘third space’ that allows for innovation, development and benchmarking, not found elsewhere.”

Dr Susan James Relly, the report’s co-author and director of SKOPE, said:

“Building a truly world-class skills economy takes financial investment over time. There are no quick fixes. We found successful skills economies are rooted in their networked skills systems – not just looking at one particular area. Embedding learnings from global insights will be imperative as the UK looks to develop its skills excellence.”

Dr James Relly also commented on how the UK is perceived by other countries:

“I didn’t expect to discover that each of the countries we spoke to was keeping a really keen eye on us too, especially around the work WorldSkills UK is doing to drive and embed international standards through its Centre of Excellence . They’re all looking to see what move we make next.”

Dr Bentley-Gockmann said:

“Benchmarking and mainstreaming international best practice is now a core part of WorldSkills UK’s work with colleges, training providers and employers to help improve training standards to levels of excellence that support more young people, teachers and employers succeed. Our Centre of Excellence, in partnership with NCFE, is a key driver for embedding higher standards in training for students and apprentices across the UK”.

Key finding from the report include:

  • World-class technical skills and skills systems were seen across all countries as vital for the economy. In Austria apprenticeships are a key part of the thriving SME sector, while India’s technical and vocational education and training (TVET) system has short courses designed specifically to respond to short-term labour market needs and longer pathways to serve the higher technical needs of the engineering and IT sectors. 
  • Successful skills economies rely on partnerships to embed excellence at all levels. In Austria and Hungary project-based learning is an important element of how they drive excellence through teaching practice. In Brazil business is seen as the TVET system’s main partner and qualifications are developed through a close relationship between education and the job market.
  • Battling for prestige against more academic routes, or demonstrating relevance to industry and the economy, are frustrations not unique to UK skills systems. However, the report found that high standards and employer involvement can help tackle low prestige for TVET. In Hungary employer involvement in the curriculum was seen as having a positive impact on how TVET was perceived. While in Japan the requirement for teachers in Kosen Colleges of Technology to have a PhD was seen as vital in enhancing the prestige of technical courses.

David Gallagher, Chief Executive of NCFE, said:

“Skills change lives - they build self-esteem and release potential, create opportunities and build stronger communities, and are the foundation of economic and social progress.

“Central to transformational learning experiences are great educators, and for the UK to be competitive on a global scale, we know that we need more world-class educators in our technical education and skills system, which is why we have partnered with WorldSkills UK on the Centre of Excellence initiative.

“It’s also vital that we learn from best practice across the globe to drive excellence. This report demonstrates the clear need for true and effective collaboration – change can only be driven by employers, educators and policymakers coming together to look at meaningful and innovative solutions that have learners at their core.

“There is no doubt that we are standing on the cusp of change and we all have a part to play in ensuring the future quality and prestige of vocational and technical education.”

Alice Barnard, Edge Foundation CEO, said:

“The Edge Foundation is a keen research partner in this important report for WorldSkills UK’s Centre of Excellence. As we look to rebuild our economy and respond to the challenges of a rapidly changing world, it is more important than ever that young people are equipped with the employability and technical skills that employers need.

“This research offers insights from seven countries with interesting or pioneering technical education systems. It identifies the close connection between teaching excellence and well networked skills systems and recognises the role of international benchmarks to ensure skills standards are world-class level.”

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