Review: UK Skills Show 2013

We arrived slightly later than planned (owing to another event being held at the NEC, the tailback was quite considerable).  So, we gained an additional 15 minutes viewing pleasure of the NEC approach roads and the children benefited from 15 minutes additional ranting on just why people feel the need to queue jump - it's clearly a queue if there are 150 other stationary cars in a line with their engines running.

However, although we missed our specified arrival time slightly, this wasn't an issue.  (I'm not sure if that would have been the case had we been a large party).   We booked in and were given a wristband that can be swiped at various "interest points" throughout the day.  You can synchronise your wristband with your online profile and also login to find out more about what you have swiped.  (In practice, this also meant that my three entered the same competition repeatedly - yes, I know only one entry will be counted - apparently it's a very satisfying beepy sound)

Partly because we were late, and partly because of the location of where we booked in, we started at Hall 4 and went around the Show backwards.  Fortunately, for the "directionally challenged", it doesn't actually matter what direction you go round in. (Unless there was something specific you wanted to see - if so, go there first because by the end of the day, they will probably be low on leaflets/freebies/demo materials and understandably, the poor exhibitors will be shattered from a day talking to hundreds of students)

As we walked around, it was possible to view live competitions in each area.  Understandably, some competitions were more visual to watch than others.  We were particularly drawn to watching the skill of some of the sculptors, makeup artists and welders.  We're still mystified as to what the CNC operators do, but it does feature impressively large machinery and some of the "office based" skills really do not lend themselves well to spectating (even though the organisers had gamely, and possibly optimistically, put up large monitors which duplicated what was on the competitors' own screens)

In each area there were hands-on areas where all the children (and adults/teachers!) could have a go at some of the skills.  In addition, there are "Spotlight" areas where there are live shows and demonstrations.  There is an opportunity to talk to employers, colleges and careers advisors in each section.  On the whole, this year's show was better laid on than in previous years.  All the exhibitors on the stands we visited were all very welcoming, positive and patient with children of all ages.

My 11 year old son was able to appreciate why I'm always in awe of F1 pit stops, because his go at changing a wheel took considerably longer than 2 seconds.  On the other hand, he was rather faster at the lego construction challenge.  My two younger daughters loved making a plaster cast, nail art and watching the welding.  All three enjoyed bricklaying, making keyrings and having a go at beating the sheet lead.  They also had a go at making a Da Vinci bridge and the girls were very pleased with their pink and purple hair extensions.

The Skills Show focuses on vocational careers, practical skills and apprenticeships.  It's especially ideal for 14-16 year olds.  However, there is a lot to see and do for younger children, too, and we didn't do it justice in the 5+ hours we were there.  It does get extremely busy and younger ones may get buffeted to some extent, particularly around the middle of the day as there were streams of people all walking with a brisk sense of purpose - presumably towards their lunch.

It was around about midday that we attempted to meet up with friends (who had started, more logically at Hall 1).  Within hindsight, it might have been better to plan this detail in advance because the mobile signal at the NEC can be patchy.  As it was, we ended up battling our way across Hall 3 twice, as we reacted to text messages that had been sent 10 minutes earlier but had only just been received.

This is the third year we have been to the Skills Show (We went to World Skills in 2011, and UK Skills in 2012).  Over that time it has developed from a competition stage with a small amount of demonstration stands, to a full scale careers fair and show for the vocations.
It is spread across 4 large halls at the NEC in Birmingham.  The halls are interlinked, in that you could move between them without having to go out to the lobby area.

There are 5 main skills areas:

  • Social & Professional Services
  • Engineering
  • Built Environment
  • Cultural & Creative Arts
  • IT & Business Administration.

At the heart of the Skills Show are the actual competitions.  There are over 60 competitions across the 5 main skills.  Some of the competitions have industry sponsors.  Young people compete in regional heats, and then national finals.  Outstanding competitors can be selected for Squad UK and Team UK with the chance of competing in the international World Skills competition.

New for this year is an expanded careers section with more colleges in attendance; the Culture and Creative Arts section seems also to have been larger.  This may have been my imagination, or it might have been that by the time we got to Halls 1 & 2, our feet were rather sore.


The Skills Show ran from 14-16 November 2013, with 14-15 November open to schools and educators and 16 November being a family day.  Entrance is free, but you need to book ahead via their website.  We went on Friday 15 November, with three children, aged 7-11, we parked at the NEC at a cost of £10 for the day, we arrived at just after 9.45am and stayed until 3pm.  Skills Show 2014 will take place on 13-15 November 2014 at the NEC.

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