A new report looks at how UK general FE colleges are reaping the VET (vocational education and training) rewards of taking part in WorldSkills competitions, explains Dr Sally Messenger.

The 2014 Skills Show and Association of Colleges (AoC) conference gave a very important message: future VET success depends on global standards underpinning higher level skills development.

In Global standards: bridging the skills gap, published by North Warwickshire & Hinckley College, one of the case studies outlines how at government level, China’s Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security and our Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, supported by British Council (China), are committed to sharing and aligning elements of technical and vocational education and training.

They have joint interest in using the global standards embedded within the WorldSkills competition as a mode of development. Since 2010 the collaboration has delivered skills roadshows, exchanges of WorldSkills experts and support for college-to-college partnerships.

More recently the partnership has encompassed the delivery of standards workshops in alignment with the direction signalled by Premier Li Keqiang.

WorldSkills competitions are increasingly gaining recognition as a beacon of aspiration for ‘skills excellence’ within the UK VET system. Within WorldSkills International (WSI), strategy also includes how the standards, within the competition, can add value through a wider and deeper reach into global vocational and education training systems.

Following the success of WorldSkills London 2011, the Skills Funding Agency recognised the opportunity to build on the momentum of the achievements of Team UK through investing in a suite of five Legacy Projects which have subsequently been transferred to Find a Future.

One of the projects, contracted through the AoC, was to use WSI standards to support the drive to increase high level technical skills.

We need fresh thinking on developing professional VET teachers as global skill leaders, a model well-illustrated by WorldSkills experts

A national team, based at North Warwickshire & Hinckley College, has been working on the project in collaboration with WSI for the past two years.

A key outcome of the Project is Global standards: bridging the skills gap which provides a set of case studies, designed to act as a catalyst for ‘skill standards ambition’ within the UK.

The focus of the publication is on providing examples of how the concept of aspirational standards and ‘stretch’ can be taken forward by governments, industry and business, further/higher education, private training providers, sector skills councils and awarding organisations, among others.

The concerns and opportunities that emerge include, not surprisingly, the increasing importance of relevant and current industry and business-led standards; the need to support an internationally competitive economy through clear links with global standards; and our collective dependency on ‘cutting edge’ programmes linked to appropriate systems for updating, quality and regulation.

New College Lanarkshire provides an example of the many practical ways in which WorldSkills standards can raise capacity to engage and meet modern industry needs in engineering design and in so doing adapt teaching, learning and assessment practice.

Similarly Middlesex University has, since 2007, been championing WorldSkills standards, project-based learning and assessments to drive innovative programmes in mechatronics, electronics and robotics within its degrees and in courses at Tottenham University Technical College, for which the university is a sponsor.

Focussed investment in the professionalism of our VET teachers is vital — the combination of their leading edge technical and pedagogy skills. With the many changes taking place in the sector we need fresh thinking on developing professional VET teachers as global skill leaders, a model well illustrated by WorldSkills experts.

Continuing technical upskilling, linked to programme development, is the prerequisite for a world class VET system. One case study outlines how the Vocational Training Charitable Trust (VTCT) has been undertaking research with representatives from the hairdressing and barbering sector with the aim of providing deep skills development for VET teachers.

As a report by McKinsey & Company, in 2007, stated: ‘The quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers.’

Email skills.projects@nwhc.ac.uk for more about the project and to get a copy of the report.