Vocational talent gets the respect it is due!

Last night the first UK Skills Show launched at a ceremony attended by celebrities, politicians, leaders from industry and – most importantly – a horde of young people with incredible talents to display.

The Skills Show brings together all the disparate challenges which make up the national prelim to the WorldSkills competition – a kind of Olympics for vocational skills which is held every two years. Last year the event was held in London. Next year it will take place in Leipzig, Germany.

The consolidation and public celebration of a UK Skills Show, to showcase the earlier stages of the global competition is an important indicator of the ascendancy of vocational skills and their value in our society.

Last night at the Skills Show opening ceremony, Business Secretary Vince Cable commented, “I want to see a world where we do not only celebrate the forty per cent of young people who go to university. But also the young people who progress through vocational training.”

Dr Cable said that these individuals should be seen to contribute equal, if not greater value to society and the economy than their university peers.

Such words will be welcomed by champions of apprenticeships as a route to the top of industry – many of whom were present last night to see TV presenter Will Best and Dragon’s Den Star Theo Paphitis officially open the show.

Another welcome message to come out of the launch of the UK Skills Show is that some effort is being made to consolidate national programmes for the promotion of vocational skills.

As anyone close to the skills agenda will know, this landscape is crowded with events, which are individual success stories, but too often compete for supremacy in the eyes of employers and sponsors. Or simply end up diluting their message by confusing their audience.

The Skills Show has successfully consolidated the previously ill promoted UK Skills competitions as well as the National Apprenticeship Awards and National Training Awards.

The UK Skills machine is now a true force to be reckoned with in the mission to reach out to young people, employers and educators and convince them that vocational education can lead to great success.

Does it mark the beginning of a wider move to consolidate and rationalise the UK skills landscape? Possibly not. But it certainly shows that the National Apprenticeship Service, the event organiser, is following through on promises made in the wake of the Holt Review, to up the anti on communicating its purpose and the importance of apprenticeships.

It did so last night in style.

The opening ceremony was an extravagant celebration in times of austerity. Critically it was largely delivered by immensely talented young people who will be the UK’s leading film, theatre, broadcast and music stars of tomorrow.

Industry was well represented in the National Apprenticeship Awards. MBDA was made notable as an employer which really knows how to attract and foster talent in all areas of its business by gaining shortlistings in several award categories. Bethan Sherbourne, an admin and law apprentice at MBDA scooped the Higher Apprentice of the Year Award.

Today, the Skills Show-proper kicks off in earnest and TM will be on the ground observing the engineering challenges and attending the conference sessions.

The engineering competition areas here at the NEC in Birmingham are filled to bursting with the highest tech kit that industry could supply to the event. And, if last year’s World Skills Competition is anything to go by it will be an education for even the most seasoned industry leader to observe the competitors manipulating this technology .

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