Solving the productivity puzzle: what can we learn from Russia?

24 May 2019, 14:00

The WorldSkills competition has been a springboard for some countries to reform and develop their skills training, writes Dr Neil Bentley-Gockmann, chief executive, WorldSkills UK

I have been fascinated by how other countries use skills competitions to inform the development of their skills systems ever since my first speech as chief executive of WorldSkills UK in November 2015. I highlighted the need to mainstream international learning to ensure that the benefits of participating in WorldSkills had a broader and deeper impact.

The more I learnt, the more confident I became that undertaking global benchmarking would improve outcomes. After all, we have been competing internationally successfully at WorldSkills (informally known as the ‘Skills Olympics’) since 1953; but in all those 66 years we have failed to properly utilise our involvement in the way other countries do.

Research undertaken by the RSA, in partnership with WorldSkills UK and the Further Education Trust for Leadership (FETL), looked at how four major players in WorldSkills – Russia, Switzerland, Singapore and Shanghai – use competitions to develop their skill systems.

The findings

clearly show that the four systems have integrated WorldSkills in a variety of ways to help achieve wider public policy objectives. Examples include: developing their economic strategies; enhancing the status of technical education; and improving standards and quality.  A particularly compelling case study relates to Russia, which only joined WorldSkills as a member in 2012, yet has enjoyed a transformation on an unimaginable scale.

Four participants have integrated to help achieve wider public policy objectives

Russia has one of the world’s largest number of university graduates, together with adult literacy at close to 100 per cent. However, this does not mean that young people in Russia are well-prepared for the workplace. Indeed, Russian employers report considerable difficulties in recruiting suitably skilled staff.  This led to a comprehensive strategic review of its technical and vocational education and training system in 2013, which included expanding opportunities for different sections of the population to gain vocational skills throughout their working lives.

The competition standards developed and used by WorldSkills have been central to these Russian reforms and are fully embedded in their systems. The standards are used to inform assessments, qualifications and training for workers, educators and trainers and also to anticipate future skills challenges. Since the reform and given the commitment to using WorldSkills as a tool for improvement, participation amongst young people in vocational education has increased from 43 per cent to 59 per cent in Russia.

This certainly provides us with food for thought and shows just what can be achieved by learning from other countries. Capitalising on our unique access to the latest global trends in skills development was the driving force behind the WorldSkills UK Productivity Lab, which we set up last year. This programme is designed to help our partners in business, education and governments explore how mainstreaming skills excellence can enhance productivity through sharing global insights and transferring our knowledge and know-how about our training and assessment methodologies.

The Productivity Lab has already generated interest from industry and organisations in the sector who, like us, are passionate about embedding world-class standards. NOCN will be working with us on a programme with industry leaders from the construction and manufacturing industries to provide them with access to the latest global thinking in skills development. This programme will include a “seeing is believing” visit to the WorldSkills competition this summer in Kazan, Russia, where, alongside seeing the development of world-class standards in action, participants will be able to engage with international counterparts and policymakers from 80 countries.

I firmly believe that WorldSkills UK can play an ever more effective role in mainstreaming international benchmarking to help make sure the UK stays at the cutting edge of global best practice in skills development. And this will help with the development of the next generation of world-class technicians that industry needs in order to be more productive and competitive, to attract inward investment and protect and create jobs.

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