Nurturing the Next Generation: HIP Plumbing Skills Competitions

HIP Magazine Editor, Celia Matthews

HIP Magazine Editor, Celia Matthews

Have you ever wondered what makes the HIP Learner of the Year competitions so special?

Well, we’re sixteen years in, and every year just keeps getting more fun and exciting!

This National Apprenticeship Week,
(5 - 11 February 2024) we caught up with
HIP Magazine’s Editor, Celia Matthews, about the publication’s Learner of the Year and Female Skills competitions.

How It Began

Back when we started, skills competitions were mostly about bending copper pipes and soldering. We wanted to shake things up by creating challenges that mirrored real-life scenarios and included the use of manufacturers’ products, things that apprentices would encounter in their everyday work. Our goal was to push learners beyond the basics, encouraging them to think on their feet and come up with their own solutions.

The Test Drawing

HIP Learner of the Year 2023 winner, Eliot Julian, Cornwall College

To give you an idea of what the competition entails, it's open to both level 2 and level 3 plumbing learners, competing in one of six regional heats across England and Wales.

They face a six-hour test, designed by our head judge, Jerry Whiteley, Technical Manager at the CIPHE.

This test assesses a wide range of skills: from accurate marking out on boards to match the test drawings, to pipe bending, press-fitting, soldering, economical material use, tidiness, and the safe operation of power tools, all while maintaining proper PPE use. 

It's a thorough test that really pushes the learners to demonstrate their best skills.

The marking of the test is a meticulous process, usually taking about two hours, during which the learners wait anxiously in another room. There are typically 3 or 4 industry experts assisting Jerry with the marking. The scores can be incredibly close, often making it a tough call to determine the winners. This tension only adds to the excitement and anticipation of the competition.

2024 HIP Learner of the Year Welsh heat

At The Regionals

The competition days are always packed with fun and entertainment. Our judges sometimes do the silliest things to relax the students. If they spot a learner having a tough time, they're right there to lend a hand and offer encouragement. By the end of the competition, it feels like one big family. We all pitch in to help each other and ensure everyone enjoys the day.

The judges strike a great balance between keeping things professional, following strict rules and regulations, while also ensuring everyone has a good time and enjoys the camaraderie.

Lecturers often tell us how beneficial the HIP competitions are for the learners. And let's not forget the Dominos Pizzas while waiting for the judging to wrap up! With over £10,000 in prizes, every learner leaves with something special at the end of the day.

Student Confidence

It’s amazing to see the transformation in confidence among the learners. They arrive in the morning, often shy and reserved, but quickly start to open up, share laughs, and showcase their talents with a newfound sense of confidence. This change is exactly why we do what we do – instilling confidence in the next generation of plumbers. The day is filled with light-hearted moments, laughter, and encouragement, making it a memorable experience for everyone involved.

Fostering Talent and Community

Our success owes much to our strong partnerships with UK construction colleges and the incredible support from the industry. We bring back past winners as judges, creating a sense of continuity and community. It’s more than a competition; it’s about building confidence and self-belief in these young professionals. This approach not only boosts their skills but also positively impacts the entire industry.

HIP Female Skills competition contestant 2023

Championing Female Participation

In a trade traditionally dominated by men, promoting diversity and inclusion is essential. Our Female Skills competition directly addresses gender disparity. We're proud to provide a stage for females to show their skills and challenge the stereotypes in the industry.

The success stories, like last year's runner-up winning this year's regional heat, illustrate the empowering environment we aim to cultivate.

Engagement with Youth

One of the most rewarding parts of my job is interacting with the competitors. These young talents are skilled, adaptable, and ready to challenge the norm. Their authentic interactions with judges and sponsors show a deep respect for genuineness and a strong drive to make a significant contribution to the industry.

Encouraging Youth into Trades

Getting more young people to see trades as a viable career option is vital. The key is to shift perceptions and increase awareness. We're committed to partnering with educational institutions and incorporating modern technology into training. This makes the trades more appealing and relevant to today’s youth, helping to address the skills gap crisis and ensure the industry's sustainable growth.

In Summary

Both the HIP Learner of the Year and HIP Females Skills competitions are more than just a showcase of skills; they're a driving force for change across the industry. By continuing to support and celebrate young tradespeople, we're not only shaping the future of the plumbing industry but also ensuring it remains dynamic, diverse, and thriving. We're creating a profession that the next generation can be truly proud of.

Find out more:

2024 competitors holding their WaterSafe prizes

Our Partners

WaterSafe Approved Contractors' Scheme Operators

Anglian WaterAssociation of Plumbing & Heating ContractorsCIPHESevern TrentSNIPEFWIAPS

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