Judging HIP Apprentice of the Year

Jerry (far right) at the prize giving

The Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering is dedicated to the highest of educational standards so it is a privilege to get to see some of the best talent in the country in my role as one of the judges in the HIP Apprentice of the Year competition 2020.

The HIP competition is now in its 11th year and is open to all learners between the ages of 16 and 21. They can be on a study or apprenticeship programme.

The regional rounds start in January across the UK. As a judge you can imagine this involves a lot of travelling about the country and meeting many people. Of course, this also has the added benefit of getting the CIPHE name out in an approachable and personal way.

This year’s first regional round was held at Petroc College Mid Devon Campus, Tiverton. The day before the competition started, the bays and sponsored equipment were prepared and checked. The day of the competition had an early start for everyone as they needed to get unpacked and introduced to events.

Candidates usually arrive with a tutor from their college and are briefed on the formalities of the competition, with a few hints and tips to help settle nerves.

The college staff are given a full day of CPD, by a whole range of manufacturers, with plenty of time for questions. In reality, of course, most are chomping at the bit to know how well their student is doing. This is brilliant because their competitiveness adds to the atmosphere and heightens expectations. It’s funny to see how they start off laid back upon arrival and as the day progresses they get twitchy. As the mid-way point arrives and everyone takes a break it’s like watching the ringside coach lean over the ropes giving their advice and motivating their boxer to win.

From the candidate’s perspective they arrive fully loaded with tools and a bit nervous because it’s now reality. They’ve probably not had a great night’s sleep because they’re about to enter the unknown. However, they are all up for the challenge and can’t wait to get started. Settling nerves The day starts softly, with everyone meeting for introductions. Then it’s off to the workshops to drop off the candidates and brief them on the drawings and specifications. At this point they can ask questions and receive reassurance on their understanding of the criteria.

Once past this stage, the candidates get started and the tutors leave to get their training. Typically, candidates come from a range of backgrounds. I always have a walk around them at this early stage to check they are underway and calm. I ask them a little about themselves and I like to know which level of learning they are at and which type of programme. I also find out how long they have been on their courses and how long they have been doing plumbing and heating. This helps them settle down and they appreciate the supportive questions, hints and tips.

Showcasing skills It’s interesting to learn a little background because you get a much better appreciation of the candidate. The answers are varied. Some are on study programmes and have not yet been out into industry but are eager to take the next step while others have been working in the family business since they were 14. Therefore, their previous experience is just different and not necessarily a barrier. Key attributes that shine through are things like talent, pride in the work, planning work, understanding diagrams, problem solving and preparation.

My observations are that candidates frequently start the task in a slightly different way but achieve the same end goal. Some learners like to use a laser level and some the traditional way using a quality spirit level. Occasionally, you’ll see the clipping being done with a screwdriver while most use a battery drill.

As the competition is based on plumbing and heating skills, you’d expect pipe skills and jointing to be a large part of the task. The pipe bending of copper tube is the same as any curriculum criteria and generally 15mm or 22mm. The jointing ranges from soldering, push-fit using Tectite and compression. This year has seen the introduction of the Pegler Yorkshire Tectite flexible metal pipe. This has highlighted that a few in either industry or college have used this but not everyone. A briefing is given by Glenn from Pegler Yorkshire on how exactly it is used. This always includes the correct method of marking the insert depth using a gauge.

By 3:30pm the head judge calls time. You can always tell when it’s near the end because you get the distinct smell of Brasso metal polish!

As judges, we look for work accurately completed against the diagram issued. This includes measurements, components fitted correctly, soldering and any scorching of the walls, depth markings on the push-fit joints and overall quality of workmanship.

The time competitors spend checking and double checking their work is considerable as the standard is so high. I love this part because for me it shows the candidates’ passion and talent. Their colleges and employers must be so proud to know they understand how to do fantastic work and that anyone looking at it would be thrilled if it was work done in their home or project.

As the students and tutors gather for the results, they get lots of official photos and everyone receives manufacturers’ prizes – so many, they struggle carrying them all. A certificate of achievement is given out to proudly hang up later. But of course, there can only be one winner at each regional event and they always appear to be shocked and pleased.

Each and every one of the candidates has grown in stature and ability by the end of the day. The tasks set are generally much harder than the projects set within a curriculum and therefore each candidate has exceeded their own expectations – designed to inspire them further when back at college or work.

Competitions are a great way of engaging and encouraging diversity, as has been witnessed throughout each regional events. This event is a great opportunity for colleges and employers to raise the profile of training and education of tomorrow’s plumbers and heating engineers.

The final takes place over two days at Adey HQ in Cheltenham on 23 and 24 April and it’s going to be very competitive based upon the skills and talent heading there.

More information
Look out for next year’s event on the HIP website or in the magazine from October 2020

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