Vocational education and training (VET) in the UK has received much bad pressdomestically and internationally and the criticism is long standing. Yet, there isevidence pointing to positive aspects of VET. This paper, rather than focussing on adeficit model, draws on a study of skills competitions to begin to understand betterwhat vocational excellence looks like and how it is developed, focussing particularlyon the learning environment at work. The study surveyed 124 young people, vying forselection into the WorldSkills Team UK in 2009 and 2011, about their workplacelearning environments. The findings show that the more ‘expansive’ the workplaceenvironment, the more likely the competitor is going to have the necessary andsufficient skill base to begin working towards meeting WorldSkills internationalstandards in that skill.