At the WorldSkills UK (WSUK) finals held at the NEC Birmingham, professionals from a range of industries came together to learn about the WorldSkills Live competition that took place in Russia earlier this year. ‘Learnings from Russia’ was an informative talk which looked at what had been learnt during the skills Olympics, as well as reflecting on how the UK could learn from it too.
The session was introduced by Dr Neil Bentley-Gockmann OBE, chief executive of WorldSkills UK as a way of learning from the rest of the world in order to benefit our own industries. The chair of the event, Chris Humphries, UK commission for employment and skills, noted that comparing and learning from other countries was something that could help to develop the UK’s economy, specifically by focussing on the development of best practices.
This follows the five to six-year transformation that has been happening in Russia which was talked about by WorldSkills Russia’s research and development director, Ekaterina Loshkareva. She began by explaining how the Russia’s skills system has changed over the last 10 years and how the country has gone from relatively skills poor to one of the top performers at WorldSkills competitions.
Back in 2013 Russia performed poorly at the WorldSkills Leipzig competition, with 40-50 percent of competitors scoring bellow the medallion average. This initial shock drove the country to change their practices to help them to develop their skills system; initially they focussed on changing the way things worked in the colleges but this developed into changing the entire system.
Through technical and vocational education and training, supported by WorldSkills, WorldSkills Russia was able to trigger the development of the country’s skill system. An increase of industry involvement informed how the education side of apprenticeships needed to change in order to make the apprentices employable.
They also used the competitive side of the competition as a tool for improvement; by using WorldSkills benchmarks they could compare their skills level to others and therefore see where they needed to improve.
Further to this, Ms Loshkareva discussed what had been learnt from the WorldSkills Live final that had been held in Kazan earlier this year. The event increased the viewability of the competition. Due to the size and reaction to the event she commented that WorldSkills Russia, along with the wider skills community across the world, were still learning from it.
Something that she emphasised throughout her talk was that in Russia WorldSkills is not about the competition, but rather it is about the ability to demonstrate talent and set an example. They do not compare the competitors to others but to the medallion level as a way of measuring the skill standard they have. Those who participate are also given a Skills Passport which shows all the courses they have done to show future employers. This adds a longevity and employability element to the competition, benefiting the apprentices further.
In Russia they have skills competitions for multiple age groups. This is something that could be employed in the UK to increase the number of Skilled people in the workforce. In Russia they provide training and competitions from the age of 10 with the Junior Skills competitions.
By introducing younger people to practical skills and the idea of apprentices the country has been able to develop its economy in a way that could be mirrored in the UK. On the other side of this, they also run competitions for people aged 50 and older so that those who already have training can develop further.
Something the UK could learn from Russia’s approach to skills within their country is that what matters most is not the competitions, but ensuring that those training in the skills are achieving a world class standard in every college. Similarly, the idea that apprentices need to learn relevant skills to help them to join the workforce seems seminal in bridging the skills gap in the UK. We should look at the rest of the world to see where our standards should be set in order to develop our own system and use WorldSkills as a driver for change both politically and economically.