Ross Maloney, chief executive, the Skills Show
Ross Maloney, chief executive, the Skills Show

Ross Maloney does not give much away about his personal life.

But the chief executive of the Skills Show does admit that he’s a perfectionist with a critical eye — one that he casts mainly on himself.

What is clear is that this conscientious 32-year-old has a lot on his shoulders. He’s responsible for carrying on the legacy of the 2011 WorldSkills Show held in London.

The event — the largest ever international skills competition and careers show —  was such a success that it led to an annual national skills show. And Maloney’s team is in charge of it, and its aim to promote vocational pathways.

“We now have the national public platform for skills competitions to take place,” says the information management graduate who grew up in Monifieth, a small seaside town just outside Dundee.

“I’m quite hard on myself and the team to always be striving for excellence. The local stuff is continuous, but the show comes only once a year — you have a window of opportunity to get that right.

“The biggest challenge is that none of us is 14, so we spend a lot of time talking to young people.”

The Scot, who now lives in Borough, London, says he first “earned his stripes” working for the Scouts. Did seven years working with this institution teach him what young people want?

“When I started, membership was in decline with fewer adults willing to volunteer,” says Maloney who was involved with the organisation throughout his teens.

“We’d gone through a review — a big bit of research that led to a programme of change including a new brand and uniform — which was a huge deal for an organisation of that size [Scouts has half a million members in the UK alone].

“All sorts of questions were raised: How do you really embed the change? Create impact and reduce waiting lists? We swapped lots of stuff over from manuals to online, moving away from printed resources. We could deliver stuff almost within the hour to adults; in some ways I earned my stripes doing that,” he admits.

He ended up as head of the Scouts international division, the “Foreign Office of the movement”, he jokes.

But the charity with a turnover of £25m is not to be sniffed at. These days there are groups in every country, except five communist states: China, Laos, North Korea, Cuba and Myanmar (formerly Burma).

“As we are the founding nation, we are quite important within the international division,” admits Maloney. “It meant I got to travel.”

It was also his responsibility to take on huge events such as weekends bringing leaders together at Windsor Castle, gifted to the organisation by the Queen once a year — and a European Scout jamboree for 10,000 people.

He moved on to manage flagship projects, such as developing online tools to help adults to plan programmes.

By the time he’d finished, he’d covered seven different roles. It was,  he says, “the best possible graduate scheme”.

“Lots of my friends have done more corporate training programmes and it’s been good for them. Mine was different because people believed in what I could do.

“The Scouts is now growing and is recognised as an organisation that has a real value for society. It’s interesting to have been part of that: a huge body with just 250 people working for it in UK — that’s actually a very small secretariat for that size and meant you really felt you were part of it.”

Maloney, whose father James looks after global planning for an American oil company while his mother Anne is a social worker, next took his passion to showcasing vocational education.

“In 2006 the UK bid to host WorldSkills was successful. We started ramping up more with the appointment of a chief executive who pulled together a senior team,” he says.

A 28-year-old Maloney was appointed as operations director in 2009, on a three-year contract.

“I had responsibility for venues such as City Hall, Westminster and the O2 and had to arrange thousands of  beds across London, catering, customer services, transport — a fleet of buses  — to make it all work,” says Maloney.

He also had to sort out education programmes for the young competitors and the show’s young volunteers.

“We had a small team, just the chief executive and six of us, so it was like starting with a blank sheet of paper. It was strange going from a really established organisation to one where you couldn’t even work out where to get paperclips from,” Maloney says.

“It was like an embryo but Chris Humphries [founding chief executive of the UK Commission for Employment and Skills], the chair of the board at the time,  said we’d done the hard work to get to that point . . . that we could all do it.”

He says while the event was a competition, the bigger picture was how to change people’s attitudes towards vocational education.

“It wasn’t just about creating a workforce, it was about inspiring volunteers. What were they going to get out of it? We needed this to be more than just a day out of school. It had to be engaging, with big ceremonies. We wanted to tell the story about skills. It was great to be a part of something you could be so free with.”

Held at ExCeL London, young people came from 51 countries to compete to be the “best of the best” in their chosen skill. It was the first time the UK had hosted the competition and more than 200,000 visitors were able to ‘have a go’ at hundreds of new skills, meet employers and get specialist careers advice.

The University of Dundee graduate says it was the “right time” as the financial crisis had exacerbated  a “significant decline” in the number of skilled young people.

“The London event was such a success after the team did exceptionally well, and I was asked to take on the legacy,” he says.

The first national Skills Show event was born and held in Birmingham’s NEC last year, continuing the theme of skills competitions and ‘have a go’ activities.

How has this keen cyclist, single but with friends forming a big part of his life, keep up the energy to drive the concept forward?

“The organisation moved on from WorldSkills but we’re still moving on . . . it’s a journey. I’ve got a very pragmatic approach to things,” he says.

“Some might say I’m risk adverse. I think I keep the day-to-day going, but also take the opportunities to look forward.

“Sometimes my team probably wish I’d just get off their backs but it’s about getting things right. My friends would say I’m a perfectionist but it’s important that doesn’t reflect on the team. They do an immense job.”

He adds: “I think there are tremendous opportunities out there for young people. We all have a responsibility to inspire young people and expose them to opportunities and make sure vocational routes are not seen as a second-class route to academic paths.”

It’s a personal thing

What’s your favourite book? 

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

What did you want to be when you were younger?

A doctor

What do you do to switch off from work?

I go out on my bike

If you could invite anyone to a dinner party, living or dead, who would it be?

Steve Jobs

What would your super power be? 

To be able to shapeshift