Woman on the winning circuit

A competition is boosting confidence and tackling skills shortages. Simon Midgley reports

KELLY Walsh will be competing in the finals of a nationwide electronic engineering competition during the United Kingdom's first national skills show this summer.

The 20-year-old, who is employed by Matra BAe Dynamics as a Modern Apprentice in electronic engineering in Bolton, qualified by coming third in a two-day regional heat.

The national skills show is being staged at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham from July 5 to 9 .

Kelly found the competition stimulating: "Taking part really builds your confidence," she said. "I have done things I would never have dreamed of. I gave a demonstration in front of Prince Charles and - although it was nerve wracking - it's an experience I'll never forget."

During the show 25 competitions will take place in automotive engineering, electronics, pastrymaking, fish-frying, butchery, stonemasonry and other skills.

Winners from the national competitions will go on to the world skills competition with competitors from 35 countries.

Some 40 vocational skills are tested in the world competition and the UK usually submits teams in up to 31 skills. The UK team for the 2,001 world skills competition being staged in South Korea will be announced in the autumn.

The first schools skills challenge championship will also be staged at the national skills show. This will involve competitions in the performing arts, fashion, horticulture, information technology and cookery.

The show is targeted at young people aged 14 to 25, the unemployed and the disadvantaged. The organisers hope it will attract up to 80,000 visitors who can try their hand at a variety of skills being demonstrated.

It will be the highlight of the year-long Manpower Nationl Skills Festival 2000 . This is an initiative by UK Skills and The Prince's Trust to help young people succeed by promoting excellence in practical skills to generate high quality jobs for the future.

During the show there will be opportunities to take a simulated helicopter ride to a North Sea oil rig, test one's cooking expertise alongside celebrity chefs and try hairdressing .

The CBI estimates that at least 50 per cent of UK jobs in the United Kingdom require level 3 (A-level equivalent) or higher skills. Some 15 per cent of 16 year- olds, 23 per cent of 17-year-olds and 39 per cent 18-year-olds do not develop skills after leaving school.

Several conferences are being staged during the show week. These include a British Council- organised event entitled "Transformation: Skills for the 21st Century" on July 6 and 7. This will be addressed by Baroness Blackstone, Jacques Delors, former president of the European Commission, Lord Dearing, chairman of the University for Industry, and Bob Fryer, assistant vice chancellor, Southampton University.

A Trades Union Congress and Department for Education and Employment conference on July 7 entitled "Learning with the Unions" will be addressed by Education Secretary David Blunkett and Brendan Barber, the TUC's deputy general secretary.

Lord Trefgarne, chairman of the Engineering and Marine Training Authority, is chairing a conference on July 6 on engineering skills needs which will be addressed by Malcolm Wicks, minister for lifelong learning, Chris Humphries, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, Terry Morgan, human resources director of BAe Systems and Roger Lyons, general secretary of MSF.

Professor Tim Brighouse will speak on July 7 at a conference on the education and training needs of 14 to 19-year-olds.

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