Pete Spence explains how Toyota has used skills competitions as a benchmarking exercise to boost standards and develop its workforce

Our business ethos is one of premium quality and premium skill.

It is fairly obvious how we might go about proving the former: by making premium quality vehicles. But how do you demonstrate premium skill?

The answer is that you pitch yourself against the best in the UK, Europe and the world – which is exactly what we have done through our involvement in WorldSkills UK Competitions.

Competition activity is now fully embedded in our apprenticeship programmes

Toyota has a strong association with WorldSkills Competitions, with many of our manufacturing plants across the world entering apprentices into the competition. I am proud to say that the Motor Manufacturing apprentices were the only Toyota UK representation to make it to WorldSkills Sâo Paulo 2015, where they were awarded a medallion of excellence, to recognise them reaching the world class standard in mechatronics. We then had further success at EuroSkills Gothenburg 2016, where our apprentices were awarded the bronze medal in mechatronics. I’m also extremely proud that our involvement in these competitions helped the UK achieve its best ever result, with the UK currently ranked in the top ten in both the WorldSkills and WorldSkills Europe rankings.

This is fantastic recognition for the talent in this country but we still have a fair way to go to close the skills gap.

In 2013, we started a benchmarking exercise to gauge the skills of our current workforce. I attended WorldSkills UK Competitions as this is a great way to compare the skills of apprentices throughout the UK. Following this, we introduced development plans to close the skills gaps in our company using elements of competition to address key areas including work accuracy, speed improvement in tasks, and error control in our apprentices’ work.

The training of apprentices continues and competition activity is now fully embedded in our apprenticeship programmes. Competitions enhance standards in apprenticeships by setting extra challenges. This mirrors what UK businesses need to do in order to thrive in a global economy. Everything our apprentices do in competition is required by them in the workplace. Competition activity is driven by and for the business.

The senior management have really bought into skills competitions

Last year, our apprenticeship placements grew to 48. I feel that this is, in part, due to the success of our apprentices Robyn Clarke and Andy Smith in the mechatronics competition at WorldSkills Sâo Paulo 2015. They are great ambassadors to young people thinking about a career in engineering. Their success shows potential apprentices the opportunities that exist in our company both in the UK and internationally.  

The senior management have really bought into skills competitions as a mechanism for developing our workforce, with our managing director travelling to Sâo Paulo to cheer on Robyn and Andy at the WorldSkills Competition. This created a real buzz throughout the company.

We have recently introduced the new Mechatronics Maintenance Technician apprenticeship which strongly features elements of skills competitions to ensure standards are continually being raised. At the end of March, our apprentices will once again focus on an international competition as they compete for the place to represent the UK in Mechatronics at WorldSkills Abu Dhabi 2017. I can proudly say the whole of Toyota Manufacturing UK will be behind them.

Registration for WorldSkills, for which FE Week is a media partner, is open until 7 April

Pete Spence is Senior Specialist in Technical Development at Toyota Motor Manufacturing (UK) Ltd