The search for the next HIP UK Heating Apprentice of the Year is over…
HIP headed to Newcastle College at the beginning of January for the first regional heat. Over the past few months, seven competitors won their regional heats across the UK in the 11th year of the competition.
The winner of each regional heat and the highest runner-up overall scorer went on to the grand final, which took place at ADEY’s UK headquarters in Cheltenham.
The test was the most comprehensive to date. It included a digital shower, boiler, underfloor heating, radiator and WC, which were all tested at the end of the second day after twelve hours of work.
Our eight finalists were: Max Murless (Rotherham College – Midlands winner), Ryan Fellowes (South Gloucestershire and Stroud College – South West winner), Lewis Blakely (Coleg y Cymoedd – Wales winner), Leonard Keown (South West College – Northern Ireland winner), Isabella Stagg (West Suffolk College – South West winner), Ben Fairbairn (Northumberland College – North East winner), Edward Jackson (Bradford College – North West winner) and Joe Worthington (Petroc – highest scoring runner-up).
The road to victory
Lewis Blakely, 19, was announced as the winner in a competition Head Judge Tony Kite described as being an ‘exceptional standard of work’.
Tony, who has been in the industry for 52 years, said: “What a fantastic two days from all the competitors – unbelievable, exceptional standards of work. You all need to be very proud of yourselves at the standard of work you’ve given out in these two days.
“The lecturers said that they don’t envy the judges marking the competition.
“To see the standard of the apprentices today is absolutely fantastic. You’ve all achieved the end goal and come here as winners from your own colleges.”
Leonard Keown from South West College, Northern Ireland, was announced as the runner-up.
We caught up with the winner, Lewis, before he was announced as the competition winner. Lewis works in domestic and has just started his Level 3 gas qualification.
HIP Magazine: What’s your favourite thing about your job?
Lewis Blakely: I like to keep things nice and neat. I also really like soldering!
HIP: …and your least favourite thing?
LB: Water! When water is in the pipe, it’s a nightmare, you can’t solder or anything and it delays the job.
HIP: Why did you decide this industry was for you?
LB: As soon as I did my GCSEs, I didn’t want to go to university so decided to look at college courses. I went on site with a carpenter at first and I tried to get an apprenticeship, but I went into plumbing and I’d never go back now.
HIP: Where would you like to be in five years?
LB: Maybe self-employed. I want to have my own company in the future. If I could do it in the next five years, that’d be great!
HIP: Who is your biggest inspiration?
LB: Probably rugby player Sam Warburton. I think he’s an absolute warrior. Whenever he’s injured, he’s always determined to get back and he’s led Wales to great things.
HIP: If you were to win today, how would it help your career?
LB: It’ll give my boss a lot of confidence in me, and hopefully a pay rise as well! I could do a lot more work on my own and maybe have a van.
We then spoke to Lewis immediately after he was announced as the winner!
HIP: Congratulations Lewis! How do you feel?
LB: I’m speechless! I never thought I could come and win the competition. All the other competitors were unbelievable and I’m overwhelmed. I don’t know what to say!
HIP: Have you entered any competitions before?
LB: I entered one before which was a bit of a tester. My lecturer, Lee, asked if I want to do the HIP one, which is bigger and more established. I said I’d give it a go.
HIP: How did you cope with the task?
LB: It was tiring. It tests your ability but it was very hard. It was a big step up from the regional heat.
HIP: Who are you going to call first to let them know you’ve won?
LB: My girlfriend. She said, ‘you best ring me first, or I won’t be happy!’
HIP: What has been your favourite part?
LB: Today! I never thought I could win it. Even taking part – before the competition I hadn’t officially started my new job. I put it on my CV that I won the Welsh heat. At the time, the company said they weren’t taking anyone on. Because that was on my CV, it tipped it and I got an interview.
HIP: What advice would you give to people entering next year?
LB: Believe in yourself. I never thought I could come up here and win it. I had doubts in my mind. Even Level 2 students are as good as anyone. Focus, take your time – there’s a lot of bends and measurements. That’s what has won it for me, taking a step back, looking at it, getting my levels right and checking my measurements before I soldered. That’s what tipped the win.
Lewis’s lecturer, Lee Perry, said: “I’m ecstatic, I can’t believe it. I’ve been lucky enough to have other students that have got to the grand final five out of the last six years. You are always hoping for their name to be called out and it’s finally happened. I’m overwhelmed!
“It was a high calibre of students here today from everybody, and that’s what makes it more special.
“It’s massive for the college. Plumbing is always full in the college on a year-to-year basis, but something like this will improve the construction department as a whole, and there is a knock-on for the entire college.
“Lewis will go very far in his career. A lot of that is down to his personality, he’s calm and collected with things. For a plumber, you have to be, you can’t go into a job and be frustrated with the task in front of you, you need to take a step back and that’s exactly what he’s done over the past two days.
“He’ll probably say he made one or two mistakes, but he didn’t get flustered and that’ll be his biggest asset going forward.”
Alongside the prestige for both the winning student and winning college, there was a fantastic list of prizes worth up to £10,000 up for grabs. The competition was supported by sponsors and prize-givers: ADEY (Platinum), Stanley (Gold), Vaillant (Silver), WAGO, Wilo, WaterSafe, Mira Showers, Graham the Plumbers’ Merchant, Pegler Yorkshire, CORGI Services (Bronze), Wednesbury Copper Tube, Ideal Standard, Barlo Radiators, Danfoss and Hep2O (Product), CIPHE and Kane International.