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David Hoey: WorldSkills is the skill Olympics

October 28, 2015, 12:30 UTC+3

In an exclusive interview with TASS the CEO of WorldSkills International speaks about the ways Russia may use WorldSkills to trigger the development of vocational education

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WorldSkills International CEO David Hoey

WorldSkills International CEO David Hoey

© TASS/Mikhail Japaridze

One of the key issues of Russia’s education system is the excess of managers graduating from universities on the one hand, and severe shortage of high-skilled workers with vocational education, primarily to fill blue-collar occupations. What could turn things around is Russia’s accession to the global WorldSkills movement, which is aimed at raising the image and standards of professional training and qualification throughout the world. Chief Executive Officer of WorldSkills International David Hoey visited Russia just before the national Championship of cross-industry blue-collar occupations in the high-tech branches of the economy WorldSkillsHi-Tech 2015, which is kicking off October 30 in Ekaterinburg. In an exclusive interview with TASS he speaks about the ways Russia may use WorldSkills to trigger the development of vocational education and diversification of the country’s economy.

- Kazan will host the WorldSkills Championship in 2019. What do you expect to see here in Russia?

- WorldSkills is not just about the 45-50 high-level skill competitions. It’s an advent where we use the venue to showcase skills of the future, to show parents and teachers and kids, policy and government people what future career opportunities will exist. The high-level conference program engages people in a strong debate about what works, what doesn’t work, innovations for the future, best practice.

From our perspective the host country has to deliver a certain quality of event. And we’re working with the competition organizer here, to introduce new aspects to the competition by the time it’s hosted here in 2019. We fully expect that the legacy from the competition will be twofold – first, there will be a legacy for Russia and secondly, there will be a legacy for WorldSkills International, which raises out quality of advent and brings value to another level.

- What benefits does the host country get for organizing the WorldSkills Contest?

- For the host country it is an opportunity to use the competition as a platform to launch new initiatives, to showcase new skills.

No matter what company, community or country you belong to, the quality of your work is going to ultimately determine short-term and long-term economic success. And we see it here in Russia with your vision for the future, which is to move your economy away from a high reliance on oil and gas into a whole range of new skills that currently even don’t exist, sectors that don’t exist.

Russia is at crossroads here to continue the way you’ve gone putting a lot of focus on creating the Russia of the future. From what I’ve seen this week that is very exciting, from the top-down there is a strategy and a plan to move the Russian economy, to move the country into a new direction.

And you see this in other countries around the world, the UAE for example, recognize that they won’t have an endless supply of oil, one day they’re going to ship the last barrel and therefore what are they got left? So you see Dubai creating itself as an economic hub, so a lot of this planning has to happen 10-15-20 years out. It’s like a big ship you’ve got to move over a period of time and it’s a lot of work to get there and the country that’s doing it continues to succeed.

- How are the preparations and the competition itself usually funded? Do other countries contribute or is it only the host country that is in charge?

WorldSkills is an international membership association, which means that the countries around the world are the members of WorldSkills. WorldSkills Russia is the body or agency here within Russia that the government has appointed to be the member for Russia. The advent itself is primarily funded by the host country but the economic returns are far greater than the investment.

For the members around the world they’re also running skills competitions in their national structure, so it’s a bit like sport, you have a local competition, a regional competition, a state competition, national competition, and the winner will go to represent their country. They pay for their own investment in coming to the host country – accommodation, all the incidentals, the shipping of their tool boxes, etc.

Obviously, it’s not just done through cash because you have the opportunity to engage the key players in your economy, which is really education, demand, and the companies. The companies demand skilled workers for them to grow and improve and compete internationally, and then the government becomes the facilitator. So a sponsorship in partnership is a huge part of that cost of the competition, and in most countries in the past sponsorship was between 40 and 50%, sometimes more.

- Can you unveil any particular companies, which have expressed interest in becoming sponsors of the Championship in Kazan?

Here in Russia you’ll have your companies who are supporting WorldSkills Russia because while you have an advent in four-years-time what the strategy for WorldSkills Russia is over the next four years, what they can create and what we call galvanize together all these different players in the future of the economy of Russia they become the stakeholders, we run the advent and then the legacy that is left behind.

Too much emphasis sometimes gets put on we think it’s about the schools competitions. It’s actually not, it will be the opportunity you have here in Russia between now and 2019, and it’s not just about Kazan, it’s about whole country – how can you put the focus on vocational education and training as a very good first choice career option, how can you showcase to these young people.

A company could spend a lot of money on producing booklets and DVDs and whatever but why wouldn’t they invest in something at the competition the kids can come along and see and experience? For associations it’s a huge opportunity as well as they’re more interested in profiling and showcasing that industry as a career choice, etc.

So while it’s an advent in four-years-time the real opportunity is what we can do between now and then to advertise, promote, open people’s eyes over the next four years to it. If the first time people hear about it is the week before Kazan we failed, but if our four-year strategy becomes part of the broader national strategy for reform and the future economy then it’ll be a tremendous success.

- Did you meet with potential stakeholders during your recent visit to Russia?

We’ve had discussions with a number of stake-holders this week. Part of what WorldSkills Russia is doing is finding out from these people what is the future, what do they see as the future. We shared what has happened around the world, what has worked in the past may or may not work here. My visit this time is really very early exploratory initial conversations.

- Do you think Russia can use those initiatives to enhance its investment attractiveness?

I strongly believe that by the time 2019 comes around WorldSkills will be a showcase that can actually show people what is available within that country, which could then attract investment. You do have an opportunity using the competition to showcase your national competences.

- Russia’s budget implies spending $2.4 mln on events related to preparations to WorldSkills in 2016. Do you think those are sufficient funds?

We don’t have any involvement with the national budgeting and the national initiatives, etc. so I really couldn’t answer that. What I can say from a qualitative perspective is that if there is a line item dedicated to the promotion and development of skills excellence in this country I think it’s fantastic because it shows that the government is serious, it’s not just a lot of talk. Everything that I’ve seen up to this date and certainly after the discussion this week and the meeting with Deputy PM Olga Golodets was a very positive affirmation towards the government’s seriousness about the investment. And I think that’s good because the government is not just providing the funding, it’s providing the verbal push to achieve outcomes, it doesn’t always happen.

- Do you mean the meeting with Olga Golodets was also positive and you gained understanding in the areas you discussed?

The meeting with Olga Golodets was very positive. She is Chair of the competition organizer so as CEO I will work closely with her. That is not just about the layout of the structure, it’s about the overall strategy as the competition organizer is responsible for bringing together all the stakeholders in Russia, managing the stakeholders, which is not always easy.

- Do you think anti-Russia sanctions could hinder processes related to hosting WorldSkills in Russia?

If WorldSkills was next week then yes, I think there would be some issues. But with 4 years out from the event part of our job as professionally managing it is to risk manage the advent as well. There are a lot of things happening around the world at the moment that would probably have governments questioning certain involvements in certain areas of the world. So maybe we’ll have to get some people in high places to talk to some other people in high places.

- In 2014, Russia hosted the biggest global sporting event – the XXII Olympic Winter Games in Sochi. Does the WorldSkills Competition have something in common with the Olympics?

WorldSkills was known as the skill Olympics. The analogy is just so strong and obvious. We are not allowed to use the term formally because of the brand rights and brand identity of the Olympics, but informally everyone we speak to just says aren’t it the skill Olympics. What the Olympics are is a showcase and a benchmarking of world’s best athletes and a benchmarking of the sporting and athletic systems behind them.

WorldSkills International does exactly the same thing with the schools, trades and technologies. It’s a global benchmarking of a country’s vocational education and training system. It’s an opportunity for the experts, the trainers or coaches to be able to meet other colleagues and peers around the world and learn from each other about practices, competences, equipment, duration and all those things. And for the individuals it’s a chance to pit themselves against the best in the world and find out at the individual level how good they are really, so the analogy is very strong.

Interviewed by Oksana Tregubenko, Tatyana Vinogradova. 

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