WorldSkills UK Conference held in Cambridgeshire!

March 14, 2024

World Skills UK Conference


This time last week, I had the pleasure of attending the first half of the Workforce Skills Conference hosted by WorldSkills UK Centre of Excellence – which coincided with British Science Week.

The event was hosted at the Wellcome Sanger Institute in South Cambridgeshire, a venue steeped in history of groundbreaking discoveries and which symbolises the potential of a future shaped by science and technology.

The aim of the conference was to provide a platform for different stakeholders to come together and discuss how collectively we can develop an inclusive and diverse workforce with the right skills to support economic and scientific growth.

The government’s commitment to strengthening the scientific capabilities of our nation has been set out in its 2023 Science and Technology Strategy and Framework, carving out a roadmap for achieving the goals by 2030. It is clear that industry leaders such as WorldSkills are vital to ensuring that we focus not just on meeting our current skills needs, but also champion the development of future skills needs.

Themes and discussions


AI is a topic increasingly in the headlines and on the agenda of policymakers, economists, scientists and education professionals. AI featured heavily in many of the Local Skills Improvement Plans published in 2023, including Cambridgeshire and Peterborough’s.

But it’s worth noting that AI is not new. It has been around since the 1950s, though the general public may not have been aware of their interactions with AI until the development of tools such as Apple’s Siri in 2011.

Insights and discussions

In conversation and workshops throughout the day, the value and challenges of AI were discussed.

There is no doubt that the value for science in the advances of AI is transformative. Among other things, AI can enhance research efficiency by processing vast amounts of data and drive simulations which can be used to test scientific theory and support drug discovery.

But AI also has benefits outside of laboratories and research institutions, with teaching professionals discussing how they can use AI tools to free up time to engage with students and enhance the quality of content such as lessons plans.

But AI poses challenges in how young people and education establishments apply them. Discussions points included:

  • The challenge of effectively and fairly assessing knowledge when AI tools are widely available and the usage increasingly difficult to identify.
  • The risk of bias. Algorithms inherently have the potential for individual’s own bias to be reflected back at them – without their awareness.
  • Accepting that understanding and being able to use AI will be key skills for much of our future generations and so trying to keep the technology out of classrooms may not be the solution. It is the ambition to embed AI into their learning, balancing upskilling young people on how and when to use it – while educating them on the limitations and risks?

Informed education and training provision

In order for the local workforce to have the skills needed, we need to ensure that the education and training provision available is aligned to those needs.

This is easier said than done considering the time between a young person embarking on an education pathway and their entrance into the workforce. This becomes more complicated as we look to ensure that skills planning takes account of not just the current skills needs, but those of the future (especially considering how quickly certain technologies and the related skills required are evolving).

In order to move the dial on resolving skills gaps, we need to not just to replace the skills we will lose via natural attrition in older individuals leaving the workforce, but to engage in long term planning to ensure a pipeline of additional people with the sufficient skills to enable growth and innovation.

Informed decisions

In discussions throughout the day, I was pleased to hear the repeated references to collaborative engagement in taking action on recommendations in skills strategies, such as Local Skills Improvement Plan. Initiatives that are disconnected from activities in the wider skills system will fail to benefit from the collective power of aligning efforts by the various types of stakeholder – who are committed to improving skills.

It is clear that the evolution of the content delivered via education and training provision, has to be a continuous improvement process – informed by skills strategies, labour market information and employer engagement. But in an age of information, it’s vital we apply consideration to what we do and don’t actually know.

Taking labour market information tools such as Lightcast as an example, it’s clear these offer powerful and interesting insights into the job vacancies.  But they lack regional specificity and at times context:

  • Does X job postings listing ‘team management’ as a required skill mean there is a shortage of skilled managers? Or is it the other skills on those CVs that are the ones being sought by the employer?
  • Data can be filtered by geography, but the same definitions are used globally and for every industry. So, when a hiring manager for a construction firm lists ‘communication’ as a required skill on a job advert – does that term mean the same thing to them as when it is listed by a hiring manager at a digital marketing firm?

Emphasis on upskilling

With the previously mentioned 2030 roadmap set by the government, it’s impossible to ignore the need to upskill our existing workforce. In fact, it was noted that 80% of the 2030 workforce is already in the workforce.

So, it’s vital to ensuring that there is education and training options for adult learners and employers (accredited or not), which is accessible both financially and in a way which makes upskilling while at work practical for employers.

Continuous evolution

The challenges for education and training providers, in creating responsible and agile provision are vast. From regulatory inflexibility in what content is taught and how it can be delivered, to the commercial sensitivities of ensuring that the provision will generate enough income to fund the teachers, resources and equipment required.

Even the structure of the academic year creates months of additional lag between agreeing priorities for provision and delivery (I learnt that the long summer holiday dates back to the 19th century, when it was created to give children time off to support the summer harvest).

To ensure capacity to deliver the skills of our future, support needs to be identified to reduce the growing numbers of teacher vacancies, and opportunities created to ensure teachers have access to training and up to date industry experiences.


Education and training play a pivotal role in shaping our future, both in terms of the progress in science and health, but also in meeting our national priorities and promoting our economy on the international stage.

There’s a need to set clear and meaningful expectations of what good technical excellence looks like. But the key to unlocking these comes in the form of longer term skills planning, joined up actions which support teachers and incentivising employer engagement.

Organisations like Wellcome are leading the way in demonstrating how employers and sector advocates can support the skills system. For example, offering innovative work experience placements, to developing career pathway resources and giving opportunities to teachers to gain up to date industry experience.

The conversation needs to continue, but so does meaningful action. My hope is that discussions like those held during this conference will help to inspire stakeholders and galvanise policy makers to ensure the necessary support mechanisms are secured for our often undervalued education system.