Skills competitions: successfully changing public perceptions of vocational education and training
by David Hoey, WorldSkills International
In 1999 the second UNESCO Congress on Technical and Vocational Education, with representatives from 130 countries, convened to develop a 21st Century vision for VET. This Congress identified as an urgent goal the need to enhance the status and prestige of vocational education in the eyes of the community and the media, and to promote the parity of esteem between vocational and general education, especially in developing countries.
As the need for skilled workers grows, many countries recognise the importance of promoting the positive aspects of a career in the skilled trades - and the need to overcome long-held stereotypes that a university education is the only route to financial, personal and social success.
Accordingly, most countries are now experiencing a shortage of skilled workers. Ensuring that a country has skilled workers is vital to future prosperity and is essential to the country's ability to develop and/or maintain a strong economy within the global market.
We believe WorldSkills International remains one of the more effective means to achieve this goal on a global basis through the cooperative action of its members in skill competitions, education initiatives, advocacy and promotion. The WorldSkills competition provides the ultimate demonstration of the skills, craftsmanship and ingenuity these workers bring to the economy. It serves as an inspiration to youth, encouraging them to consider an exciting and rewarding career in skills, trades and technologies. This is evidenced by the fact that the membership of WorldSkills International has doubled to 52 member countries/regions in the last 15 years.
At the core of the WorldSkills Competition is the ability to benchmark VET systems. Competitors benefit by being able to prove themselves on the world stage and pit their skills against the best in the world. Experts benefit by collaboratively running and managing the skill competitions, and sharing best practice with each other. Industry sectors benefit by showcasing and sharing ideas, and member countries/regions benefit by benchmarking. WorldSkills International has not actively marketed membership; its growth is a powerful testament of the benefits to governments, industry and education providers.
However, the larger and broader goals (and the success of competitions) are achieved through the process of preparing for a competition, and the associated events and experiences at the competition. Through a mix of interactive activities like 'try-a-trade', visitors can try their hand at many of the competition skills. Visitors can learn more about a specific skill by visiting an Ambassador Kiosk at each competition where experienced and dedicated professionals are ready to inspire and inform them.
The last three competitions have engaged large numbers of school children through strategic programs. For example, at the most recent competition in Calgary (Canada, September 2-5 2009), the 'One School, One Country' program involved 55 local schools (a total of 25,000 children) who got to meet the WorldSkills competitors face to face. Each school adopted a member country/region and learned all about the skills showcased at the competition. Various conferences, spearheaded by the WorldSkills Leaders Forum, and other meetings were run concurrently to engage all levels of government, industry and education.
We are often asked "what is the return on investment for a country hosting the WorldSkills competition?". The budget for our competition in Calgary was 55 million dollars. Firstly, there was an economic return to the local region valued at 100 million dollars. Secondly, and arguably far more importantly, was the effectiveness and reach of the impact on young people (and, in fact, everyone): raising awareness of the importance of skills, trades and technologies in Canada and around the world. In the few months since the event we are seeing both qualitative and quantitative positive metrics.
Our 38th WorldSkills competition was hosted by Helsinki, Finland in May 2005. In mid-2008, our Finnish member organisation reported that, as a result of hosting the competition and the associated strategies and initiatives, there had been an increase from 36% to 44% in students enrolling in VET coupled with a significant increase in the percentage of students staying in education (97.5% including 10th grade and other forms of education).
The benefits? An increase in VET students and students staying in education longer positively impacts the economic growth and output of a country.
We look forward to seeing you at WorldSkills London 2011 from October 5-8, 2011.
For more information please visit www.worldskills.org. To view videos and stories about the WorldSkills Competition visit www.worldskills.tv.