This October, 1,000 competitors from across the globe are travelling to London to compete to be "the best in world" at WorldSkills London 2011. As the UK hosts this 60-year-old event, often called the "skills Olympics", we will witness the world's most talented young people competing for prizes in their chosen career. With teams from over 55 member countries and regions, these athletes have undergone an intensive selection process; they are coached to compete on a world stage. The 1,000 competitors, typically under the age of 24, are inspirational role models.
However, the stage they compete on differs immensely. In some countries, such as South Korea, successful competitors are celebrated, enjoying celebrity status as well as wealth and glory. The picture in others, including the UK, is very different. Here, the public appreciation of any education that is non-academic is disappointingly low. Conversely, in China they acknowledge that their "vocational graduates" face far lower unemployment than their counterparts from academia.
It is a source of constant frustration that our biggest asset remains such a hidden treasure. WorldSkills provides a tangible opportunity to change this - there is no better way to discover a new passion or a hidden talent than getting hands on and trying it out. Hosting the competition here, for the first time in 22 years, should take FE to the very top of this nation's agenda. If skills gaps are to be addressed, the careers and jobs of the future need to be opened up to the UK's young people. WorldSkills is the ideal forum at the ideal time.
We will be showcasing 46 different skills competitions, from carpentry to robotics and hairdressing to graphic design. Every one of the 150,000 visitors to WorldSkills London 2011 will have the opportunity to try their hand at any of the skills and get impartial careers advice, as well as watching performances from over 100 carefully selected colleges. It will open up opportunities, jobs and careers that many may not have heard of or considered.
WorldSkills also celebrates our unsung heroes; the people with practical and applied skills who design, build and improve the world we live in. It will show that skills mean business. We all know that skills equate to long-term job security and economic prosperity for the country, as well as personal satisfaction. This is why it won't all be over when the show finishes. In fact, it is just the beginning. The inspiration and excellence generated by WorldSkills must be replicated so that its legacy will see future generations competing for gold at the national level every year.
WorldSkills UK has the potential to inspire business in our country. Finland saw a massive 8 per cent increase in the national uptake of skills after the 2007 competiton was held in Helsinki. A similar expansion in the UK will ultimately drive growth and productivity for years to come. In the interests of this country's young people, future jobs and prosperity - and not least our sense of national pride - now is the time to showcase what FE can accomplish. Challenging attitudes about the value and acquisition of practical skills has never been more necessary.
David Cragg is deputy chairman of WorldSkills London 2011, which takes place on 5-8 October. For details, go to www.worldskillslondon2011.com.