Last week, the national finals of the WorldSkills competition were held at colleges across the UK, including Blackpool and The Fylde College and Barking and Dagenham College. These saw talented young people compete in a range of advanced skills – from mechatronics and automation to carpentry and bricklaying. Those who were outstanding will be selected to represent the UK at the next ‘Skills Olympics’ in France in 2024.
WorldSkills is an extraordinary way for participants to competitively hone their skill sets while gaining the confidence and experience they need to forge great careers. They are also inspiring the next generation of students by opening their eyes to the range of opportunities that technical education routes can offer.
Take Jack, who studied advanced manufacturing and engineering at Dudley College and secured a job as a boilersmith at Severn Valley Railway. Competitors such as Jack are all the proof you need that a traditional academic route is not the only path to success.
I would like to congratulate all the competitors: they have done an amazing job showcasing their exceptional talent. They are all winners in my eyes for choosing a pathway that will build their skills and career potential, allowing them to climb the skills ladder of opportunity.
WorldSkills has been running for 72 years, but like the technical and vocational education it showcases it doesn’t always get the attention it deserves.
I know I’m preaching to the converted here. But if we want this to change, we need more people to recognise the huge value of technical and vocational education – for career advancement, earning potential and the economy.
We have come a long way, buoyed by the government’s skills revolution, but there is still more to do to promote these routes to the point where they hold parity of esteem with academic courses.
I’m passionate about social justice and have for many years been a vocal advocate of apprenticeships and technical education.
Most of you will have heard me talk about the ‘ladder of opportunity’ before. Now that I am back at the department for education, as minister for skills, apprenticeships and higher education, you will hear me speak about it a lot more. It is the sequence through which young people and adults can progress to attain good jobs and career progression, beginning with the social justice required to access and achieve good educational outcomes and get on the first rung of the ladder of opportunity.
The government has an ambitious skills agenda, backed by a £3.8 billion investment over this parliament. We’re using this to expand and strengthen higher and further education, ensuring skills training is aligned to the needs of employers to enable communities to thrive.
This includes supporting more people to earn while they learn with an apprenticeship, rolling out more T levels, establishing our network of 21 institutes of technology and expanding our popular skills bootcamps and free courses for jobs programmes.
We are also simplifying and strengthening qualifications at level 3 and below. This will allow all leaners to be confident that their chosen course will set them on a path to success and give employers confidence that employees will have the skills needed to grow their business.
The fourth rung of the ladder is lifelong learning, giving adults the chance to upskill or retrain at any stage of life. From 2025, our lifelong loan entitlement will transform access to further and higher education, allowing everyone access to the equivalent of four years’ worth of student loans to use flexibly over their lifetime.
My driving mission is to provide this ‘ladder’ to good employment to everyone, which will help build the skilled workforce businesses are crying out for, boost our economy and drive growth. It’s not rocket science. It’s mechatronics. And concrete construction, cloud computing and carpentry skills that will propel this country forward.