Competitions: the secret to developing and measuring skills?

Interview with David Hoey, Chief Executive Officer of WorldSkills International
by Cassandra Davis and Julie Harris, Editors, Educationtoday

“A high-performing athlete is the result of his or her training,” he explained during a break at the OECD Forum in Paris in May, focusing in on the question of how one benchmarks skills development and acquisition. “A well-trained athlete will perform well. But how do you measure ‘well’? Competitions draw out real excellence. By creating international skills competitions, deep learning can be demonstrated and witnessed. But more than that, competitions introduce fun into the process with games, introduces a healthy competitive spirit, and raises both levels and training. At WorldSkills, we’ve instituted a ranking and a scoring system, at the individual, sector and country levels.”

If we didn’t know better, we’d returned to the first Olympic games.

David Hoey, Chief Executive Officer of WorldSkills International spoke to us of the international skills extravaganza (WorldSkills Leipzig 2013) going on now, between 2-7 July. Over 200,000 people and representatives from upwards of 50 countries will be walking through the doors in Leipzig, attending the main and side events, witnessing some of the stellar skills and talents of the world’s top carpenters, graphic designers, technologists, robotic engineers, hairdressers, plumbers and more (46 skills in all).

But let’s learn more about David’s thoughts on the skills of today and tomorrow.

educationtoday: We’ve heard that 65% of today’s students (in the United States) will work in jobs that do not yet exist. Given this, what would you say the most important skills are to develop going forward?

David Hoey: I agree with this statistic. Traditional skills are not the future. Green and sustainability skills, for example, is a whole new area that requires both the traditional and a multi-discipline and a multi-skill approach.

educationtoday: Is there a big rise in the need for technical skills?

DH: Definitely. Look at the products consumers use today. They are born out of multi-disciplinary teams (concept, design, production). Look at what we are using, and how that drives what we will need to use. These needs are driving innovation and development. If we do not have a wider pool of creative and technically skilled individuals (and by this I mean those who can conceive product innovation and development, those who can design these needs-driven, future-oriented products and solutions, and those who can produce such products and solutions), then our economies will suffer and progress will be stilled by the shortfall. 

Take a look, for example, at wireless networks in developing countries. This is just one example of a need developing (communication, learning, getting help), but the development of the solution (creation of a wireless network) not being logical or straightforward. The solution was leap-frog, and around, rather than linear. Would you have thought to create a wireless network in Africa? Would you have been able to do it?

educationtoday: What is your take on the MOOC (massive open online course) revolution?  Is it a threat to vocational education?

DH: We’re seeing a move to online delivery, that’s true. But you still have to demonstrate competency and excellence. At WorldSkills International, we run skills competitions to show skills competency. MOOCs is another method for developing skills, but the proof is in the pudding.

At WorldSkills, we provide the ability for countries to benchmark themselves against other countries, and provide individuals the opportunity to showcase their competency excellence – moving beyond a binary system of “competency or not”.

I’ll give you an example of what these competitions do. Finland hosted the WorldSkills competition in 2005. Do you know what happened? 70% of its youth increased VET (vocational education and training) enrolments from 37% to 44%. That’s a lot of youth deciding to develop their skills.

We want to show young people that a career in skills trades technologies is a very good option. If you can find people who can do something with their hands, put them together with design people and technicians, and by this I mean technicians with knowledge of both mechanics and design, then you’re in a great place. We need people who can do, in addition to those who can conceive and talk about their ideas.

educationtoday: Is there such a thing as a universal set of skills that is valued nearly everywhere? If so, what does that skill set look like? 

DH: Team work, project management, costing. These are but a few. But it’s not the individual skills. It’s the combination with traditional skills (reading, writing, arithmetic) that makes the whole package so powerful.

WorldSkills International 
OECD work on skills
OECD work on Vocational Education and Training
OECD Skills beyond School reviews: Austria and Germany
International Conference: “Skilling the Future – VET and Workplace Learning for Economic Success”, Leipzig, Germany (during the WorldSkills Leipzig 2013 event).
Barbara Ischinger, Director for Education and Skills: Global Award for Leadership in Education and Workforce Development   
Follow #GSx2013 @OECD_edu for coverage on twitter and livestreaming
Related blog post: Skills on Show
Photo credit : Flickr

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