From education to employment

Working to change the way we think about skills

Three incredible days last November, I believe, have set the agenda for raising the profile of further education, skills and apprenticeships for the next few years and provided a clear demonstration of the sector’s potential.

The Skills Show, which took place at the NEC in Birmingham at the end of last year, was a fantastic platform from which to inspire, involve and excite everyone who attended about the opportunities that are available through colleges, training organisations and employers, transforming the lives of thousands of visitors who came through our doors.

It is now up to us to maintain and grow this enthusiasm. As The Skills Show is a not for profit organisation, it is integral to our 2013 approach that we incorporate a commercial focus to ensure we can preserve and strengthen the success of the 2012 show; this is something that we are working hard to achieve at The Skills Show’s 2013 event, which will be held live at the NEC from 14th to 16th November.

More than 70,000 visitors were entertained and enthralled by the wealth of opportunities available to them during last year’s show, from the best of British talent competing in more than 60 WorldSkills UK national skills competitions through to the chance to actually “Have a Go” for themselves at a new skill in a host of different sectors. The interactive opportunities in sectors ranging from floristry to aircraft marshalling really opened the eyes of thousands of young people to new skills or job opportunities which they may not have considered previously.

To ensure we continue to shape the way young people, educational organisations and businesses think about skills, we have put a new commercial strategy in place for The Skills Show this year. Our aim is to ensure we are working with our all of sponsors (especially our premier sponsors, City & Guilds and Edge Foundation), partners and other businesses and organisations to help build a sustainable resource, that acts as an experiential skills model to educate and inform thousands about skills and opportunities in vocational education and training.

It was particularly encouraging to welcome both the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, Vince Cable MP, and the Minister for Skills, Matthew Hancock MP, to The Skills Show in 2012, where both were impressed by the scope and scale of the opportunities on offer to young people. Their presence emphasised the value that the government believes skills can add to the economy, and demonstrated how critical it is that the skills sector continues to boost its profile with young people as an exciting and credible careers option moving forwards. It is this support that we are maximising as part of our new focus, to help strengthen our positioning and build our reputation for excellence and innovation within the industry.

Other well known faces, including Her Royal Highness Princess Anne, the Princess Royal, and Skills Show Patron Theo Paphitis, were also kind enough to visit The Show and offer words of encouragement and inspiration to the young people, colleges, exhibitors and other partners that they met, in 2012. Together with several other well-known faces from the world of business and entertainment, their involvement raised awareness of The Skills Show and shone a spotlight on the sector.

In such a competitive employment and economic marketplace, colleges and training organisations have a pivotal role to play in driving the national economy forwards and providing employers with the skilled workforces they need to grow their businesses. Several sectors are already reporting “skills gaps” between the jobs that are available and the talented staff that they need, and these can be filled by colleges and training organisations, if only young people realise that the opportunities actually exist.

We are uniting colleges and training providers, with businesses and young people, under one roof. Not only does this involve commercial benefits for businesses, who gain the opportunity to raise their own profile and get a first look at fresh industry talent, but training providers and colleges also benefit, as they form relationships with businesses and gain access to the 75,000 young people expected at this year’s show. This all helps to sustain The Skills Show as an organisation and not just an event, by ensuring we are resourcing the show and the organisation in a manner that has benefits for all companies, associations and organisations involved. And, whilst we’re keen to ensure all parties participating in the show gain commercial benefits by attending, the visitors remain our primary focus. The greatest benefit of uniting businesses, educational organisations and young people, is the opportunity to shape conversations about skills and careers and, ultimately, provide young people with the inspiration, knowledge and resource to realise their potential.

Exhibitors at last year’s Skills Show were enthused by the positive responses that they received from visiting students and their tutors, all of whom were keen to see what a vocational career could offer them. From the further education colleges involved in our dedicated FE feature area through to large-scale commercial exhibitors and sponsors including City & Guilds, BAE Systems and the Royal Navy, the feedback from visitors was overwhelmingly encouraging with many citing The Skills Show as the catalyst for changing their perceptions of further education, skills and apprenticeships.

Colleges and FE providers have a real opportunity to drive knowledge and understanding of the value of skills forwards with students and employers, through their work both in the classroom and also in the wider community. Engagement through involvement with taster “Have a Go” sessions to provide a “bite sized” insight to a new skill or career proved immensely popular with visitors to The Skills Show, and an ongoing programme of engagement with colleges and employers funded by the European Social Fund will extend the opportunity to a host of new young people.

Theo Paphitis himself tried several new skills for the first time at the Show, including sports science, visual merchandising and auto spraying, and found the activities inspirational: “There is no substitute for hands on experience to help open the minds of thousands of young people to the jobs and careers that are out there waiting for them.”

The Government’s Skills Funding Statement for 2012-15 has reaffirmed its commitment to creating an FE system which secures the skills needed for everyone in Britain to succeed. It is clear that the talent is out there, and the responses received at The Skills Show demonstrated that young people want to try new experiences and look to vocational careers as they plot their next steps. With the support of the FE sector, and governmental backing, the future for skills in the UK looks very rosy – a situation which we, at The Skills Show, are celebrating in the lead up to and throughout our 2013 event.

Gail Cohen is director of marketing, content and commercial development at The Skills Show, the UK’s largest skills and careers event


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