Written evidence submitted by WorldSkills UK




1.1              WorldSkills UK is an independent charity and a partnership between employers, education, and governments. Together, we are using international best practice to raise standards in apprenticeships and technical education so more young people and employers succeed.


1.2              As an organisation committed to increasing the supply and quality of technical skills to boost productivity and growth, we welcome the committee’s inquiry into developing workforce skills for a strong economy. In this submission we draw on our experience as the international arm of the UK’s skills sector to provide insights on the key findings within NAO’s report ‘Developing workforce skills for a strong economy’. Specifically the submission demonstrates that:



Increasing the quality of workforce skills can narrow the productivity gap with international competitors


2.1              As a member of the 85 nation strong WorldSkills International movement, WorldSkills UK are well placed to offer insights on how international competitor countries are developing world-class workforce skills to deliver economic goals. WorldSkills UK benchmarks skills internationally by preparing a team of young people to compete against their global peers, using occupational standards that are informed by the latest industry requirements. Our international benchmarking on skills delivery shows that the UK is behind competitors such as France, Germany, Switzerland, Japan, and Korea, particularly in skills for sectors that can raise UK productivity. In the most recent international skills event, WorldSkills Kazan 2019, the UK dropped out of the top 10 for the first time in ten years, finishing 12th in the medal table, and was less competitive in competitions in high productivity industries such as digital, manufacturing and engineering. This supports the NAO’s findings that the UK has experienced lower workforce productivity growth than comparable nations[1].


2.2              Benchmarking of how skills are used to deliver economic goals suggests that other countries have historically placed a higher value on technical skills to deliver economic outcomes. International case studies[2] compiled by the Royal Society for the Arts for WorldSkills UK and the Further Education Trust for Leadership found that in Switzerland, the status and quality of technical and vocational education and training are mutually reinforcing, with an employer-led system highly integrated with economic policy. Likewise in Singapore technical skills development is linked very closely to economic strategy through the Skills Future programme. In both countries WorldSkills is at the heart of setting high quality skills standards and gives prestige to technical education routes.


2.3              The gap between skills developed in the UK and other nations has been analysed by Professor Susan James Relly of the University of Oxford, who studied the role of WorldSkills UK’s skills experts, as the difference between training for competence’ and training for ‘excellence[3]. This led to the creation of WorldSkills UK’s Centre of Excellence, involving nearly 60 skills providers in all four nations of the UK. This programme offers Continual Professional Development (CPD) to educators, giving them the tools to embed excellence in their teaching using WorldSkills UK’s skills development techniques and world-class occupational standards. By raising standards in technical education, apprenticeships and training, this can help the UK to create a thriving workforce and stronger economy, and narrow the productivity gap with economic competitors.


Overcoming skills shortages driven by economic and societal change will be key to a strong economy 


3.1              As the NAO report identified, the requirement to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 will significantly affect the workforce and the skills needed in the labour market[4]. Our recent report Skills for a net zero economy reinforces this point, showing green skills shortages beginning to bite across the economy, and the need to inspire young people toward technical education pathways that support green jobs. Polling revealed that green skills shortages are already stymying businesses’ ability to keep pace with changes in technology, remain competitive, manage rising energy costs, and meet net zero targets[5]. Two thirds of firms that require green skills struggle to recruit them[6]. Challenges in skills supply are exacerbated by young people’s poor understanding and awareness of what green jobs are available and the relevant training pathways[7]. This is despite most young people, particularly young women, feeling inspired to develop green skills and pursue a green career[8].


3.2              In response to the findings of the report, WorldSkills UK is working to empower and inspire young people of all backgrounds to build science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) skills, to help them pursue careers that will tackle climate change. Our Spotlight online careers talks on green jobs earlier this year engaged over 40,000 young people and had a 45% female registration rate. We are also launching new skills competition programmes in renewable energy and electric vehicle maintenance and repair, helping to build the pipeline of world-class green skills these sectors need.


3.3              New employer demand and skills shortages are also being driven by digital transformation and the fourth industrial revolution. In research commissioned to help develop our digital skills programmes we found a mismatch between increasing employer reliance on digital skills and numbers gaining these skills via education and training on a downward trend. 92% businesses polled in 2021 cited basic digital skills as important, but one in four said their current workforce lacked the basic digital skills needed[9]. This rose to 37% of employers in relation to advanced digital skills, particularly important to high productivity industries such as engineering and manufacturing. Polling of young people identified that, despite strong interest to pursue a career that requires digital skills, just one in five were confident they had the advanced digital skills that employers need[10]. Young women also face additional barriers in gaining digital skills, reporting themselves as less confident and less interested in digital careers compared to young men.


3.4              WorldSkills UK is therefore working to show young people digital careers are for everyone, embed digital skills in our skills development programmes, and champion the development of excellence in advanced digital skills. Our 2021 Spotlight online careers talks on digital jobs had nearly 50% female speakers. We are also launching a new skills competition programme in additive manufacturing as part of our initiative to provide more STEM-based skills programmes to support growth in high-value jobs in priority sectors.


Developing world-class workforce skills can help the UK capture greater inward investment- spurring growth and levelling up


4.1              The NAO report recognises the importance of developing an employer-led skills system, which the Government has started to deliver and WorldSkills UK is working to support by developing high quality skills that employers need to grow. Specific actions, like the Government’s commitment to increase participation in higher technical education, will help unlock jobs and productivity gains in high value UK sectors such as manufacturing, where technician skills are key to firms’ ability to adopt new digital technologies and boost performance[11].


4.2              Earlier this year an independent Skills Taskforce for Global Britain (convened by WorldSkills UK and chaired by the former CBI chief John Cridland CBE) proposed building on these positive developments by creating a system that responds to the skills needs of inward investors as well as domestic employers. The Taskforce report Wanted: Skills for inward investors noted that technical skills play a strong role in the UK’s ability to capture greater foreign direct investment (FDI) projects, and anchor international firms in global high growth sectors such as digital technologies, advanced manufacturing and life sciences[12], which is vital in creating jobs, boosting productivity and levelling up.


4.3              Polling conducted for the Taskforce revealed that nearly half of UK domiciled foreign firms would move operations abroad if they couldn’t access the technical skills needed in the UK[13]. Based on international comparisons the Taskforce also found that the UK risks slipping behind other countries who are doing more to promote technical skills to win FDI in high growth sectors. France has overtaken the UK as Europe’s most attractive destination for FDI in recent years, with France’s skills offer featuring prominently in Business France’s investment promotional activity including flagship events, such as Choose France[14].


4.4              The Taskforce also noted that DfE’s new Unit for Future Skills provides an opportunity to improve data on skills and inward investment[15]. At present, the UK does not have a consistent data set on skills levels to use in investment promotion, while insights on skills needed by inward investors are not being used in the planning of future provision. This risks the UK losing investment to other countries such as Ireland which has a much more data-driven approach to using skills to attract and retain international investment. Local Skills Improvement Plans could help by mapping and delivering the high-quality skills the UK needs at a local level, whilst also enabling local areas to boost their competitiveness for FDI.


4.5              WorldSkills UK is using its programmes to help boost the international competitiveness of workforce skills, particularly in internationally mobile sectors where winning increased FDI can catalyse jobs, productivity and growth across nations and regions. For example, we are focusing more of our programmes on STEM skills at higher levels in areas such as industry 4.0, cyber security and industrial robotics. We are also using our international network to form partnerships between skills providers in the UK and other economies focused on sharing best practice. For example, we are working with institutions in Japan, Korea, and Kenya on advanced manufacturing skills and with institutions in France, Netherlands, Chinese Taipei, Kenya, and Korea on green skills.


4.6              Developing high-quality workforce skills both for domestic firms and inward investors is particularly vital for levelling up growth across the nations and regions. EY survey data shows that local skills availability is the top consideration when international investors are looking to invest in the UK outside London[16], while FDI has significant spillover effects in local economies raising wider skill levels and productivity. WorldSkills UK believes that every young person should have the opportunity to excel in their chosen skill, regardless of background. This is why our skills development programmes are in every region of the UK, with two-thirds of our Centre of Excellence institutions in priority one areas, and with programmes to help ensure that financial hardship and caring responsibilities don’t stand in the way of accessing world-class training opportunities.   


5.0      Conclusion    


5.1              This submission offers the Committee some insights from WorldSkills UK’s experience in developing world-class workforce skills which can help power a strong economy. Through international benchmarking we are working with the UK skills sector, governments and employers to drive higher standards in skills development- meeting the demands of businesses and investors, and helping young people build sustainable high-wage careers.


October 2022

[1] National Audit Office, Developing workforce skills for a strong economy (2022), p.7.

[2] Adopting global skills excellence for the UK

[3] WorldSkills UK, SKOPE, University of Oxford, Good people in a flawed system: The challenges of mainstreaming excellence in technical education (2019), p.16.

[4] National Audit Office, Developing workforce skills for a strong economy (2022), p.7.

[5] Skills for a net-zero economy, Learning & Work Institute/WorldSkills UK (2022), p.33.

[6] Ibid. p.32.

[7] Ibid. p.43.

[8] Ibid. p.38.

[9] Disconnected: Exploring the digital skills gap, Learning & Work Institute/WorldSkills UK (2021), p.8.

[10] Ibid. p.20.

[11] High Value Manufacturing Catapult, Gatsby Foundation, Manufacturing the future workforce (2020), p.48.

[12] Wanted: skills for inward investors, A report by the Skills Taskforce for Global Britain for WorldSkills UK (2022), p.25.

[13] Ibid, p.24.

[14] WorldSkills UK, OCO Global, Promoting technical skills to win foreign investment: Learning from other markets (2022), p.49.

[15] Wanted: skills for inward investors, A report by the Skills Taskforce for Global Britain for WorldSkills UK (2022), p.58.

[16] EY, Attractiveness Survey 2021