Skills make a world of difference

Posted on 10 Jan 2011 by The Manufacturer

In the past 115 years since Lincoln Electric company founder John C.Lincoln started selling his own electric motors, technological advances have meant that the manufacturing sector and the needs of consumers have changed enormously. Yet amongst all this change, there is one aspect of the manufacturing industry that has remained as vitally important today as it did in the 19th Century.

This factor is of course the workers. Not just any workers but the skilled, trained, talented employees who make such an enormous contribution to the UK economy. Without employees with the right skills, businesses would (and do) falter. David Kirkwood of Lincoln Electric says that as an employer, he knows firsthand how vitally important it is that staff have the right expertise and experience, and fully understand the demands of the market in which the company operates. Put simply, says Kirkwood, “skills mean business”. For this reason, Lincoln Electric has chosen to support WorldSkills London 2011.

Taking place every two years, WorldSkills is the world’s greatest skills competition. It sees 1,000 young people from 50 nations battling it out to be the best of the best, competing for the honour of being the greatest in the world at their chosen skill.

Next year, following a successful bid from team UK, WorldSkills comes to London. With 45 skills on display including Construction Metal Works, Autobody Repair and Welding, and around 150,000 visitors expected, it is set to be one of the biggest education related events of 2011.

Lincoln Electric has been involved in WorldSkills for the past four years; in 2009 the company helped select candidates for the Welding category, and had prior involvement through links with the AWFTE and The Welding Institute. As a result, Kirkwood says putting the company forward as a sponsor when the competition came to the UK seemed very natural.

“We are passionate about training and have our own Lincoln Electric Welding School in the US, where we teach students various welding techniques to enable them to gain a qualification. We believe in vocational skills and making sure that young people in the UK know about all of the options that are open to them before they start planning a career – something to which we hope WorldSkills London 2011 will open people’s eyes.

“At the moment, despite the economic downturn and the well publicised job cuts, I would say there is still a clear skills gap in the UK. Ten or maybe 15 years ago, many skilled welders left the UK because jobs did not exist for them. The lack of jobs led to a lack of investment and unfortunately, when new positions became available the lack of homegrown talent meant that the positions were often filled by migrant workers. We are still feeling the repercussions of this today, but believe things are now moving in the right direction.

“Over the last few years we’ve seen more funding and resources, and a greater focus from employers on educating their existing workforce. While this is encouraging, there is still some way to go, but we’re confident that WorldSkills London 2011 will be the catalyst we need for people to start taking skills seriously. In our industry, we know better than most how skills shape our world. If we don’t have the right level of skills in the UK, there is no way we will be able to rebuild and maintain a strong manufacturing industry and remain a globally competitive force. The better our workforce, the better the quality of our work and the more attractive our products are to buyers.” A skilled workforce is absolutely key for rebuilding the UK economy but the current skills-shortfall does not always receive the media exposure it deserves. The recent student protests relating to the planned rise in university fees has been widely publicised in the media. However, according to Kirkwood, it is important that young people need to be shown that university is not the only way to equip themselves with qualifications for a successful career.

Apprenticeships, work-based learning, and vocational skills are absolutely crucial for the UK economy now and in the future. “If we don’t start encouraging more young people to follow these paths,” says Kirkwood, “we could end up with an abundance of jobs in certain market sectors that no one can fill because they don’t have the right training or skills.” The government recently announced its latest skills development plan, demonstrating an understanding that sustainable growth can only be achieved if the country’s current skills shortcomings are tackled. It has promised more funding for apprenticeships and government backed loans for those who want to equip themselves with better skills. This will assist in alleviating the burden of the skills deficit, but for it to be truly successful industry needs to start inspiring people and showing them that developing skills in industry can lead to a successful career. WorldSkills is intended to inspire people by letting them see the world’s best welders, mechanics, electricians, all together under one roof showing what they can do.

Any support we can give to the WorldSkills event and to Team UK is absolutely vital if the UK is going to emerge from the competition victorious and inspire young people to gain expertise at the highest level. In just 10 months, skills experts from all over the world will be in London, getting involved with the competition.

For more information or to be a part of WorldSkills London 2011 and help create something to be proud of and that leaves a legacy of skills-proud youngsters for generations to come, visit: