Alan Woods

As the British sociologist Anthony Giddens once said, “Dr Martin Luther King did not stir his audience in 1963 by saying, ‘I have a nightmare’”. Indeed, if this most recent of times has shown us anything, we need to dream big. To make the audacious claim; to try and be more than what we perceive we are.

This morning, all of this came to mind after I reflected that sadly, the fantastic organisation that is WorldSkills UK has had to cancel, understandably, WorldSkills UK LIVE, which takes place annually at the NEC in Birmingham, due to continuing anxiety around large-scale events and the Covid-19 pandemic. The good news is that the event usually hosts the UK’s national finals for WorldSkills competitors and WorldSkills UK has opened applications for 2021 and is looking to source various locations to host the national finals.

However, I believe another significant event in Birmingham, scheduled for 2022, could be the catalyst for all that is good in proving to ourselves as a country what can be achieved by hard work, determination, and qualification success. It applies to both young and old, those looking for a job and those wishing to expand their careers. The Birmingham Commonwealth Games 2022, running from 28th July to 8th August 2022, could be the realisation of the dream to make a permanent change to peoples’ aspirations a reality. It's not only about putting Birmingham at the heart of the games; it is also the first time the whole of the UK can engage in an activity to create a lasting legacy to the ambition and needs of so many that the pandemic has thwarted.

Just imagine a Commonwealth Games that could inspire and help all people, but particularly the young, into having a direct line of sight into a job or increasing their skills to earn higher rewards? According to a recent BBC article, unemployment is on a trajectory to peak sometime towards the end of 201, with most of the under 35s bearing the brunt of the crisis. The impact of longer-term structural unemployment will hit the youngest hardest, even though the rest of the economy may start to recover. The Games could be one important opportunity for us to do something about this.

With all the great opportunities available for technical education delivery in our colleges and private training providers, apprenticeships, and the government's Kickstart scheme, we need to give young people the greatest opportunity to see skills in action and raise their ambition to be the best. 

Let’s use the Birmingham Commonwealth Games 2022 as an example of what we can achieve; let’s display the skills of young learners in the West Midlands. Let’s get them involved with the athletes, from everything from sports therapy, hairdressing, administration, safety, hospitality and customer service and everything in between. We can build upon the existing partnerships between employers and the FE Colleges of the West Midlands, focusing on the Games as the highlight of the skills year. Yes, it will take funding, but surely, we can bring funders together with a mindset of supporting young people and those who are most disadvantaged due to ethnicity, gender, disability, class, or other protected characteristic? The Games brings together 72 nations from across the globe into the global village of the West Midlands. Participants in the Games will be representative of the community in which the Games takes place. Excellence, ambition, and dedication will be displayed by all participants. We must try and get as many local people involved in those ideals as we can.  And with regards to funding, I'm sure a call to action to the education sector in its widest sense will evoke a response. Even just recently the government in England has announced the £65m Skills Collaboration Fund for FE Colleges and private providers to collaborate. What a perfect opportunity for the 23 colleges in the West Midlands to come together and use the Games as the focus to start to deliver real change and addresses skills mismatches. 

It is also important not to forget that the Games are also the once in a lifetime opportunity to showcase the West Midlands on the global stage. Now it seems to me that there is a confusion in what the Games can bring in terms of the skills and the engagement of wider further education profession. Some of this undoubtedly is to do with the pandemic, but the challenge must be to use the Birmingham Commonwealth Games to unleash the art of the possible. Let’s not fail in our ambition to unlock the talent of aspiration of all people, whether athletes, barbers, or chefs, to lead fulfilling lives. We cannot let this opportunity go to waste, and we should act together to ensure we don’t.

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