A second group of Finns who participated in a Leonardo expert exchange “Learning from each other” to England was hosted by UK Skills. The group was headed by the author of this post and it included electrical installation skill manager Jorma Kärkkäinen (Ylä-Savo Vocational College), cleaning services skill manager Tiina Joensuu (Keuda Vocational College), docent Petri Nokelainen (Actualising Vocational Excellence and Modelling Vocational Excellence research programmes at the University of Tampere) and training manager Hilkka Tuominiemi (AEL).
Charged atmosphere at national WorldSkills tryouts
Our group was welcomed to Coventry by Jenny Shackleton, head of international competition at UK Skills, and her staff.
We had dinner together and enjoyed lively and fruitful conversation. The atmosphere was charged because of the upcoming WorldSkills London 2011 tryouts: the hotel was housing 35 Experts and other UK Skills competition officials for the duration of the UK squad selection event for World Skills London 2011.
In the week ahead, some 300 youths would be competing for a place at the subsequent final national squad selection event, which will be held in June 2011. The Competitors were housed at another hotel in an effort to replicate the ambiance of the actual WorldSkills Competition as closely as possible. Our hotel served as the event’s conference centre for four days, while the squad selection competition itself took place at two nearby colleges.
Several different educational institutions participate in Skills activities in the UK, but only a handful of them are vocational excellence training units, and the two we visited in the Midlands are the finest of the lot. The first of these was the fantastic, light-filled Stephenson College. Led by Principal Nigel Leigh, the college has focused on pedagogically enhanced learning environments and energy-saving innovations. The second was Hinckley College, which has around 20,000 students and is rated as outstanding by Ofsted. Marion Plant is the Principal at Hinckley.
The principals were kept busy by the media, six mayors and other guests who attended the opening day of the national squad selection event. French Competitors and Experts participated as guests in the tryouts. Finnish flags were flying at the competition grounds and the information displays told us that Skills officials from both France and Finland were participating at the squad selection event.
These two colleges, Stephenson and Hinckley, cooperate closely and both principals are pioneers and developers of vocational excellence training activities. The Finnish Experts observed the Skills competitions in welding, electrical installation, plumbing, hairdressing, caring, cabinetmaking, confectionery and landscape gardening while Skills Finland project manager Leena-Maija Talikka and researcher, docent Petri Nokelainen participated in a cooperation development seminar, where they agreed on a joint research project and made arrangements for a reciprocal visit to Finland’s national squad selection event by Skills UK and Oxford University researcher Susan James.
What did we learn?
- We received a thorough familiarisation in the competition activities and objectives of UK Skills from Eugene Incerti.
- Neil Collishaw of Sector Skills Council/ UK Summit versed us in vocational degree development efforts. In the UK, companies participate in training to a very great extent.
- We became more aware of how the strong role played by apprenticeships is based on the committed cooperation of all involved parties: educational institutions, the Sector Skills Council and companies.
- We compared the differences and similarities of the new UK degree framework and the Finnish vocational degree modernisation. According to Peter Wilson from UK Skills, there are now no less than 6,500 different degrees available in the UK! Jez Anderson of UK Skills presented the training for vocational excellence degree, which is currently being piloted at three colleges.
What did we bring to the table?
- Oxford University researchers Susan James and Cathy Stasz were interested to hear about Petri’s MoVE and AVE studies. His excellent presentation received applause and arrangements were made to continue our fruitful research cooperation.
- We agreed to continue our cooperation on the development of Skills training with a meeting to be held at the next EuroSkills competition as well as with a reciprocal visit by UK delegates to the next Taitaja Finnish national skill competition in Kuopio.
- We considered a joint project to promote a vocational excellence degree or degree component as an EU-level collaboration.