Competition is healthy if it’s done in the right way  

Skills contests develop the professional and technical skills of learners – and the professional development of their teachers, says Daniel Thomas

Skills contests develop the professional and technical skills of learners – and the professional development of their teachers, says Daniel Thomas

3 Apr 2023, 5:00

Home to arguably two of the leading football clubs in the world, we are no strangers to sporting competitions here in Manchester. What is less known is that we also have a strong track record in winning medals in skills competitions.

Alongside eight other colleges in the region, Trafford College Group takes part every year in the Greater Manchester Skills Competitions. Run by a dedicated group of ‘champions’ from each college, these competitions also serve as a feeder for the WorldSkills UK Competition programmes. In 2021, the Greater Manchester Colleges Group dominated the leader board at the WorldSkills UK national finals in skill areas ranging from graphic design to mechanical engineering CAD, with Trafford College Group winning two bronze medals, for IT support technician and confectionary and patisserie.  

Participation at a national level with WorldSkills UK has helped develop the professional and technical skills of our learners and has had a positive effect on their ambition and aspirations for their future careers. In addition, I have found that working with WorldSkills UK also delivers tangible benefits to teaching staff in three key areas, and I would encourage everyone to get involved.  

Enhancing curriculum

There is sometimes a misconception that putting learners forward to take part in skills competition programmes will result in a lot of extra work. In truth, while there is some additional preparation in the initial set-up of the assignment or activity, this allows greater scope for creativity in teaching and learning.

For example, my department has introduced projects that involve cross-departmental working. The Art Department have been using clay to create 3D model characters and the games design department have been using photogrammetry to capture 360 images that they can load into games engine software to animate. What better way to prepare learners for the commercial settings that await them? And for me, the variety in teaching is a great motivator.

An ear to the ground

The Greater Manchester and the WorldSkills UK competition programmes are designed by industry professionals. As a result, you receive exposure to the latest trends in industry. This provides an excellent form of engaging CPD for our teachers, ensuring we are providing our learners with up-to-date information and skills that will help them gain employment. 

It’s also meant that we have built stronger relationships with industry partners, creating more opportunities for our learners. This level of commitment shows our learners that these competitions aren’t simply a nice thing to be involved in but are a crucial part of them finding employment. Indeed, many employers who judge the competitions use the process as a talent-spotting exercise.

A global outlook

As part of the WorldSkills UK Centre of Excellence programme run in partnership with NCFE, we are working with coaches who have captured valuable lessons from their involvement in the international WorldSkills competition. We are learning to embed these global best practices in our classrooms, helping our students and apprentices perform to higher standards of excellence.

But the focus isn’t just on technical skills; mindset training is also a key part of this CPD programme.  I’ve learned new techniques to support my learners develop positive mental and behavioural skills, including teamwork, communication, time management and working under pressure. This is not only helping them excel, but me too. The reflective practice element of the training offered by WorldSkills UK is crucial in that.

Ofsted recognises the role of skills competitions in stretching learners, but I think the best way to understand how competition activity can drive forward a college is from the learners themselves. One of our students, Daisy Wheeler recently told me she feels involvement is preparing her for industry, “where I will compete for jobs and contracts”. She also particularly valued “having industry professionals as teachers and guest lecturers”.

It’s sometimes hard when you’re watching your football club to remember that it’s not always the winning or losing that matters most. But with skills competitions, it really is about the taking part – and everyone gains from that.   

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