You have seen singers compete for million pound recording contracts, variety acts for a chance to perform for royalty, and young professionals for a seat next to Lord Sugar, but have you seen battling plumbers?

Earlier this year the industry saw the hotly contested regional heats, for the much coveted UK’s best apprentice plumber award take place around the country. The SkillPLUMB 2014 competition, organised by the Joint Industry Board for Plumbing Mechanical Engineering Services (JIB-PMES), is designed to promote and showcase the high levels of skill and working standards present in plumbing industry apprentices today.

Angela Gridley, general manager of JIB-PMES, said to Heating & Plumbing Monthly:

“Skills competitions are a prime means of showcasing skills and promoting professionalism across the industry and we look forward to the excellent standards we’ll be witnessing from competitors this year.”

The competition is designed to test the abilities of apprentices throughout the plumbing industry, and had the participants undertaking a series of practical tests based on the workplace which demonstrated their skills in a multitude of areas.

The apprentices were judged on:

  • Bend and joint quality
  • Efficient use of materials
  • Competence with tools
  • Interpreting drawings and pipe details
  • Measuring
  • Fitting and installation requirements
  • Marking out and cutting pipe work
  • Using plumb and level
  • Testing pipe work for soundness
  • Working safely

The winners of the regional heats were as follows:

SkillPLUMB South of England – Robert Carter, Barking & Dagenham College

SkillPLUMB Wales – Lloyd Wakefield, Coleg Sir Gar

SkillPLUMB Midlands – Jack Sturdy, South & City College Birmingham

SkillPLUMB North of England – Benjamin Cooke, Darlington College

PumbingDuring the intense competition, the apprentices were required to complete an installation of copper pipework, which included various jointing techniques and complex pipe bending. The judges marked bend and joint quality, angles and clearance, task layout and pipework soundness.

The areas where the judges were on the lookout for competence were:

  • Measuring and marking out
  • Accurately bending tubes to given angles
  • Soldering joints with no drips/wiping/one touch point
  • Planning time
  • Working cleanly

The most common errors identified were:

  • Not bending simple bends accurately due to not setting out
  • Poor soldering of fittings
  • Poor ability to work to dimensions

The winner of the Midlands heat, Jack Surdy, said:

“It was a nervous time during the judging but it was such a relief to be named the winner! I hope I’ve done my family, college and employer proud and I’m pleased to have worked hard for everyone.”   

Now that the regional heats have been decided, the winners will be competing at the SkillPLUMB UK final on 12th-15th November, at the prestigious skills show at the Birmingham NEC, which is attended by some 80,000 visitors. The glory, however, doesn’t necessarily end there, with the opportunity for the Overall Winner to represent their country and compete at International level at future WorldSkills events.

BPEC, who sponsor the competition, do so because they believe that:

‘Setting a challenge to young apprentice plumbers that requires them to work to exacting standards within tight timescales is a way of raising standards throughout the industry.’

[Photos by Northern Ireland Executive and JJ]