The training methods behind the UK’s international success in skills competitions can be transferred to the wider economy, says Neil Bentley-Gockmann

This week London plays host to a global ministerial audience for the annual Education World Forum. In welcoming his fellow ministers to the UK capital, the education secretary, Damian Hinds, rightly paid tribute to the world-class nature of British education. As he said in a recent article: “From our nurseries to our universities, in many ways UK education is already a world leader”. To the examples of schools and higher education institutions that the minister cites, I would like to add another: our proud track record of world-class success in skills.

Thanks to the talent and hard work of young people and expert professionals from across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the UK has consistently placed in the top 10 of nations in each of the European and global skills competitions in which we have participated over recent years. Most recently, UK performance at WorldSkills Abu Dhabi 2017 and EuroSkills Budapest 2018 were hallmarked by high calibre medal hauls. This year, the bar will be raised even higher as we prepare to compete at the Skills Olympics in Kazan, Russia across the full range of skills: mechanical engineering, web design, cooking, beauty therapy and many, many more.

Why is our participation in Kazan this summer so important? Because our international rivals are increasingly using events like the Skills Olympics as a key benchmark measure of the quality of their technical education systems.

We are right to celebrate the world-leading status that UK education enjoys

If the UK nations want to continue to hold their heads high in the company of China, Russia, South Korea, Japan, France and Switzerland, we must continue to invest in our young people. At WorldSkills UK, our mission, working with governments, business and the education sectors from across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, is to do exactly that. And the value of our international success transcends the medals that our young role models bring home: it is success that touches the wider UK economy in terms of productivity and inward investment.

That’s why this year we are launching the WorldSkills UK Productivity Lab. The Lab is built on the principle that the training methodology behind the UK’s international success at the Skills Olympics and EuroSkills can be transferred into the wider economy to boost productivity. We believe the insights from our success has a positive contribution to make to drive up training standards in the UK to world-class levels, which is why we are currently working with Oxford University and the think-tank RSA on research to unlock our medal-winning formula. We are also developing new products to help businesses with the know-how to become world-class when it comes to training standards and productivity. 

On inward investment, being a world-leading nation at events like the Skills Olympics showcases the high quality of the skills base across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. That’s why we welcome the education secretary’s reference to the forthcoming new international education strategy, which he is developing alongside the international trade secretary. I see a great potential for WorldSkills UK playing a full role in meeting the strategy’s goals in terms of showcasing our world-class credentials in Kazan this year and in Austria (for EuroSkills Graz 2020) and Shanghai (for the Skills Olympics in 2021), providing a ready-made platform for governments across the UK to promote our technical education systems as being able to meet inward investors’ vital skills needs.

We are right to celebrate the world-leading status that UK education enjoys.  To their number we can add our status as a world-class nation for skills. As governments across the world increasingly prioritise their success in skills competitions, so we in the UK must make renewed investment in our world-leading position and harness this prowess to enhance the UK nations’ reputations as competitive destinations in which to invest for jobs growth.