Call for WorldSkills winner cash prizes

FE Week investigates how other countries reward their WorldSkills medal winners

FE Week investigates how other countries reward their WorldSkills medal winners

Cash prizes should be considered for winners of WorldSkills awards to bring the UK into line with other countries, industry bosses have said.

An FE Week investigation has uncovered how some countries give money to medallists, including India which has paid up to £7,500, while Chinese and South Korean champions are rewarded with exemption from military service.

Association of Employment and Learning Providers chief executive Ben Rowland called for the government to “play its part” in honouring competitors with tangible rewards.

He said: “This would raise the profile of WorldSkills and celebrate the achievements of our successful entrants.”

WorldSkills is a global biennial event that involves thousands of young people up to age 25 competing in skills competitions from cabinet making and mechatronics to cooking and landscape gardening. The next competition will be held in the French city of Lyon in September.

Haydn Jakes, who was awarded an MBE a year after winning a WorldSkills gold medal for aircraft maintenance in 2019, admitted returning home felt “somewhat anticlimactic” after being named the world’s best in his field.

He told FE Week: “The level that we are competing at is recognised, and yet very few people outside of my family, friends and employer at the time fully realised the scale of my achievement.”

In previous years Team UK has received good luck messages from education ministers and the prime minister. The team has also been invited to Parliament and Downing Street for send-off and welcome-back receptions.

Asian countries reward big

But in India, which ranked fourth at the WorldSkills 2022 special edition, medal winners and their training managers get cash prizes.

The country’s two silver medallists were awarded 800,000 rupees (£7,500) each and their trainers received 300,000 rupees (£2,800).

Meanwhile, the Malaysian government has agreed to award 40,000 ringgit (£6,700) to its competitors who win gold in Lyon, while 20,000 ringgit will be given for a silver medal and 10,000 ringgit for bronze.

Singaporean education ministers presented their 2023 national final winners with cash prizes of up to 3,000 Singaporean dollars (£1,750) while winning teams were awarded up to 4,500 dollars (£2,600).

In Japan, FE Week discovered a medallist was awarded one million yen (nearly £5,000) by their employer. Japanese winners generally don’t receive government money but are given a certificate and medal from the prime minister.

FE Week understands South Korean and Chinese medallists are granted exemption from compulsory military service if they win gold.

South Korean medallists also get to swerve qualification exams and receive an unspecified monetary reward. And competitors receive annual financial benefits from the “grant programme for continued employment” if they stay in the same field.

In Europe cash awards are less common.

French medal winners are in a similar position to their counterparts here and receive a message of thanks from their country’s president.

However, in the French national finals some regions awarded between 100 and 200 euros to winners.

Germany does not hand out standardised prizes to winners but champions are celebrated with a post-competition event and a personal invitation to the Federal Chancellery.

Cash prizes not ‘main motivation’

Haydn Jakes WorldSkills Kazan 2019

UK winner Jakes said financial incentives could be attractive but wouldn’t be the “main motivation” for competitors.

Rewards would require funding but WorldSkills UK, the group that organises competitors, has suffered an 8 per cent drop in its government grants in the past five years to £7.6 million in 2023.

A source close to the government told FE Week that finding a budget “however small” needed someone high up at the DfE to “make the effort”.

They added Downing Street officials were “genuinely keen on skills” but “even if Number 10 suggested it, it would pretty much die unless someone in DfE was proactive”.

The source said they “couldn’t see why anything would change post-election”, and added “DfE is basically a schools place”.

Team UK is due to take 31 competitors to the 47th WorldSkills event in Lyon from September 10 to 15.

WorldSkills UK chief executive Ben Blackledge said: “We want to use WorldSkills Lyon and Team UK to show everyone in the UK why they should be excited about the opportunities technical education brings and give every apprentice and student who studies for a vocational qualification the prestige they deserve.”

The DfE declined to comment.

FE Week is the official media partner for WorldSkills UK and Team UK.

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