Why Scotland needs to engage more with WorldSkills

Scotland should not remain as an outlier – it must fully engage with the WorldSkills movement, says Roger Mullin
2nd December 2020, 5:48pm
Roger Mullin

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Why Scotland needs to engage more with WorldSkills

https://www.tes.com/magazine/news/secondary/why-scotland-needs-engage-more-worldskills
Skills: Scotland Should Improve Its Engagement With Worldskills, Says This Expert

Scotland will benefit considerably by engaging more fully with the WorldSkills movement. That is the message of my Momentous Change report for WorldSkills UK, which was commissioned by its Scottish director, Martin McGuire, back in July.

I have had some time to reflect further on our findings since completing the report. I should also declare to those reading this article that, as a former member of Parliament (Westminster-style) for the SNP, I support the Scottish government. But that doesn't mean I don't think it should do more to develop a world-class skills system. Indeed, I very much want it to be more ambitious. This article, therefore, reflects our research and also my prejudice in favour of a more ambitious approach to skills development, and in particular a strong belief in the pursuit of international excellence.

To be fair, in recent years the Scottish government has sought to look outwards in pursuit of its economic goals. This is very evident, for example, in the development of its international trade policy, led by Scottish international trade minister Ivan McKee, and its related work to identify its main trading competitors. It has also sought to develop an exit strategy from the current pandemic while taking a fresh look at its economic priorities, as has been particularly evident in the Scottish government's commissioning of the Higgins report.


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Running in parallel with this, the government has shown itself to be concerned with developing a strategy in relation to colleges and skills, which led it to commission the Cumberford-Little report. Like the Higgins report, it is concerned about the quality of education and skills provision and the desire to achieve excellence, not merely competence.

Taking advantage of WorldSkills

The question is how is the Scottish government going to realise its ambitions? Besides Ivan McKee, I also pose this question to the FE minister, Richard Lochhead, and the skills minister, Jamie Hepburn.

Our research undertook a detailed review of every country mentioned in government strategies. In relation to WorldSkills, the results were quite startling. Let me set it in context. The WorldSkills movement has attracted a membership of 84: 80 of the world's independent states and four from other jurisdictions such as the devolved authority of South Tyrol in Italy. According to the United Nations, this represents 40 per cent of all the world's independent states. 

We firstly looked at the Scottish government's international trade strategy. It identifies 15 priority 1 countries, and a secondary list of 11 Priority 2 countries. We found that all 15 Priority 1 countries and 10 of the 11 priority 2 countries are members of WorldSkills. The extent of WorldSkills' engagement with the Scottish government priority countries surprised us and encouraged us to look further.

We, therefore, turned to examine Scotland's key competitor countries.  The government's own analysis involved assessing the competitive nature of 100 countries across 66 goods and 19 service sectors. The government then identified the key competitors to Scotland in each sector. Our analysis shows that each and every key competitor nation is a member of WorldSkills. Every competitor is therefore benefitting directly from the development of world-class skills standards.

Finally, we considered the Sustainable Growth Commission (of which I was a member). It's report used a set of 12 comparative countries of similar size and stage of economic development to Scotland for international benchmarking purposes. Again, we found every comparator country was a member of the WorldSkills movement. So Scotland seeks to compare itself with countries that are full members of WorldSkills.

I would, therefore, argue that Scotland should not remain as an outlier, but rather should fully engage with the WorldSkills movement. It has two options. It could choose, as a devolved jurisdiction like South Tyrol, to seek to join WorldSkills directly, or it could seek to fully subscribe to WorldSkills UK. I'll leave it to the Scottish government to select its preferred route.

I believe that membership would have tangible benefits for Scotland, including the following:

  1. Using WorldSkills to raise the prestige and status of vocational skills, similar to the approach of Ireland that is discussed in our report.
  2. Demonstrating a commitment to excellence in skills development, not mere competence. This would complement the aims of both the Higgins and Cumberford-Little reports.
  3. Adopting WorldSkills standards to enhance the contribution of skills to productivity improvement.
  4. Driving up standards to support Scotland's international competitive ambitions.
  5. Using WorldSkills competitions to stretch the abilities of students and staff in a continuous drive for international excellence.

By moving forward and supporting WorldSkills, the Scottish government will be able to take some practical steps to move beyond wise words and commit to effective action.

Roger Mullin is director of Momentous Change Ltd and a former SNP MP

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