'Seeing is believing': behind the scenes at the Skills Show

The biggest live skills event in the country gives FE students the platform to thrive

Will Martin

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For someone arriving at the Skills Show for the very first time, it is easy to be overwhelmed. Alongside a host of opportunities for the 90,000 registered visitors to try out everything from hairdressing to television presenting, the WorldSkills UK national finals are being held.

More than 60 different events, showcasing the leading FE students in the country at their specific skill, are spread across five hanger-like halls at Birmingham’s NEC. Machines whir and projects are assembled as people watch teams of young FE students compete for the ultimate prize: a gold medal. And those who excel could find themselves in the running to compete on the biggest stage of all: the international WorldSkills contest in Kazan, Russia in 2019.

More than 90,000 people registered for this year’s Skills Show, with many students from colleges attending to support their classmates and friends. Each event – from landscape design and environmental science to plumbing and aerospace engineering – offers a chance for the UK's top students to push for international honours.

FEs finest

One thing that might not be immediately obvious to someone attending the Skills Show is that each student is a walking embodiment of the training they have received at their college or training provider. You’re witnessing further education’s finest end products lay garden tiles on the way to creating the perfect garden, or masterfully manipulate a car’s engine to make it splutter back to life. Although they are competing to win a medal, the skills each competitor possesses will serve them well when they search for employment after their course ends. And many will go on to start their own companies and become entrepreneurs in their own right.

It makes you slightly envious that you haven’t taken a course in carpentry, or learned how to properly tile your bathroom. Even if you’re not an FE teacher, or a young student looking to be inspired by the next generation of the UK skills force, you can still marvel at the very best that FE can muster. As Neil Bentley, chief executive of WorldSkills UK, which organises the Skills Show, puts it: "Seeing really is believing." And watching the competitors in person helps you realise the enormous impact and importance of FE colleges and training providers across the country.

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Will Martin picture

Will Martin

Will is a junior reporter at TES

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