The Millennium Stadium opened its doors to Wales’ largest ever skills and careers event in Cardiff today (Thurs 16th September) signalling a new drive towards a higher-skilled economy.

And over the next three days, more than 20,000 young people and adults are expected to explore vocational training and job opportunities with over 100 exhibitors who include major employers, colleges and other learning providers.

Some of Wales’ leading business figures have help launch the flagship event by joining Lesley Griffiths, Deputy Minister for Science Innovation and Skills, in trying out some of the 80 interactive skills opportunities on offer, including aero-engineering, paper manufacture and high-level catering skills.

In her welcome speech Ms Griffiths called on people of all ages to embrace new skills or enhance existing skills to improve their own prospects and help Wales recover from recession and secure future competitiveness and growth.

She announced two major new investments in skills development. These include a £28m investment to help nearly 8,000 firms to build management and leadership skills and £17.5m to enable 1,000 employers to boost the numeracy and literacy abilities of up to 30,000 low-skilled workers. Both of these initiatives are support by the European Social Fund.

Speaking in advance of skillscymru, which is being staged with support from the European Social Fund, she said: “We were determined to develop an event that would be much more than a careers fair and would be pivotal in raising awareness of the skills that employers need and want.

“Skills don’t only enable people to develop rewarding careers and make businesses more competitive. Evidence also shows that skills lead to better lifestyles, improved health, stronger and safer communities and enriched cultural experiences."

In particular the Deputy Minister highlighted the growing need for new skills to support a green economy. The Welsh Assembly Government is currently working with sector skills councils to introduce apprenticeship training in low carbon and renewable energy skills which will be given priority funding from next year onwards.

The curtain was raised on the showpiece exhibition by young learners Sam Ebeneezer age 15 and Michelle Owen age 20, winners of the skillscymru ‘Be the Presenter’ competition which was held over recent weeks to find the star broadcasters of the future. Their introductions will be carried on big screens across the stadium and they will be broadcasting from the event over the three days.

Following the welcome reception the Deputy Minister and CBI Wales Director David Rosser put their abilities to the test with aircraft landing gear on the Airbus stand while Adrian Clark, of insurers Legal and General, Helen Phillips of engineering and building management specialists, Tremorfa, Gary Griffiths of Airbus and Barry Liles of Coleg Sir Gar, tried their hands at a variety of skills across the exhibition floor.

David Rosser commented: “Improving our skill base will play a huge part in overcoming the difficulties of the recession, making companies more competitive and positioning Wales as one of the best places to do business. I hope skillscymru will inspire people of all ages to embrace that challenge, unlock their own potential and acquire the skills the economy needs for the future.”

Skillscymru will include a succession of key events over the three days including a special business conference today (Thursday 16th September) hosted by Gavin Esler of BBC’s Newsnight and a children’s educational and wellbeing conference hosted by Ester Rantzen tomorrow (Friday 17th September).

There will be two major skills contests during the exhibition – an Environmental Skills Competition in which six teams from across Wales will undertake horticultural projects and a UK Master Fitter competition designed to find Britain’s best automotive glazing technician.

The three days will culminate in an attempt on Saturday to stage the largest ever Welsh language lesson. Hosted by Radio One presenter, Aled Hayden Jones, the lesson is designed to highlight the importance of language skills in the development of a stronger Welsh economy.

Exhibitors at skillscymru include some of Wales’ best known employers, such as Airbus, Admiral, BBC, BT, Corus, Control Techniques, EADS, British Gas, UPM Kymmene, Wales and West Utilities, the NHS in Wales, and the Fire Service.

Skills stats for Wales:

7,700 businesses to benefit from management training over the next five years

22,700 people are currently undergoing apprenticeship training

75% of apprentices now successfully complete their full training course (up from 54% in 2006/07)

30% of working age adults have a degree level qualification (National Qualifications Framework Level 4 or above)

71% of working age adults have a Level 2 qualification or above

14% of working age adults have no qualifications