HIP Learner of the Year 2023


In Apprenticeships, Training, Plumbing, Heating

Written by Jerry Whiteley, Technical Manager CIPHE 

This year’s HIP Learner of the Year competition kicked off in January with the South West regional heat at Petroc College, in Barnstaple. From there, we went on to five more locations with heats at Coleg y Cymoedd in Wales, Darlington in the North East, Wigan in the North West, Coalville in the Midlands and, finally, at Aldershot for the South East heat.

Each regional heat attracted great attendance, introducing fresh new talent from colleges around the UK.

This is the fifth year that I have been involved as a judge, and the competition is always intense. Competitors arrive very early, eager to see what lies ahead and I always smile to see equally competitive tutors jockey for what they think is the best bay for their learner to use.

Tutors always play a key role because they have supported their student and their college in entering the competition. They have provided the training, alongside employers in the case of those on an apprenticeship. However, many competitors are not enrolled in an apprenticeship and this is really where college tutors come into their own as they are the primary route via which knowledge and skills are being taught. 

The camaraderie between tutors and learners is great to see and is a major benefit that comes out of the competition, as each picks up on new skills and methods that they see being used by those from other organisations.

Occasionally, a competitor hasn’t arrived and the host college steps up with a candidate brought in at the last minute. You always have to admire them for their courage in entering at the last moment and staying the pace with those they know are the best of the best from elsewhere around their region.

The competition starts with an introduction to the day’s task. Questions are asked and time is given for competitors to absorb the diagram and information provided. Then the tutors are asked to go to their respective rooms for the ‘Meet the Manufacturers’ CPD day. However, the reality is that they are often on tenterhooks. I think of them as either being like expectant parents waiting for their opportunity to see how their learner is progressing and the opportunity to offer advice, or the coach at a boxing match who is desperate to get in the ring and do it themselves. No matter which end of the scale each tutor finds themselves, it is always good fun and everyone has a great time. 

The competitors are given great support throughout the six-hour competition, as every one of us involved wants them to feel that they have had a fair go at the task. Competitors frequently learn as much about themselves as the actual task they are undertaking. Everyone finishes with a real sense of accomplishment and has a positive experience to take away from the day. 

Judging the competition are myself, as head judge, Glenn Scholfield from Aalberts Integrated Piping Systems, and Becky Bates from BB Plumbing. We also have WaterSafe representatives and Worcester Bosch staff helping with the judging.

We inform each competitor before the start of the competition of the various elements that judges will be scrutinising. There’s nothing secretive or unexpected because it’s down to the competitor to do their best and they need a transparent system in order to be able to do this. Criteria, including measurements, levels and jointing, are divided up between the judges for assessment, then we go over each other’s marking to ensure a fair judging process. From all this, we select our winner.

This competition also uses a wide range of jointing techniques to produce the task. This is done to ensure we get competitors working to expected industry standards. Anyone who has not previously used press-fit fittings, for instance, benefits from training from us on the day. This always ends up with questions from the learners as to why we don’t use a range of jointing at college.

The standard of work is consistently very high, which is a pleasure to witness. Of course, it is a competition and, although supported, it is also pressured. Therefore, sometimes people don’t hit the same heights as those they are competing against. However, even in those cases, carefully considered and constructive feedback is given that will provide an invaluable resource for competitors’ future careers. On more than one occasion I have seen a candidate who was unsuccessful one year return to the competition the following year and perform to a much higher standard. For me, these are real standout moments. 

It is very important to me that competitors always get feedback on the day. I always make sure I have time to spend on a one-to-one basis with competitors before tutors are allowed back in at the end of the allotted time, and then again when the tutors and their students are together. Feedback is really important because you need to make a learner feel that you have given them an opportunity to describe ‘why, what and how’ regarding the approach they have taken. It is amazing how often, with the chance to explain, self-reflection, and limited input, competitors will find their own way to improve their approach in the future. 

Competitions are a great way to engage all of us with supporting the next generation of plumbing and heating installers, by inspiring them to do something they may have thought was difficult but that turns out to be achievable and a great experience. Competitions are all about building people up and providing the opportunity to reflect on how challenges can be overcome. Isn’t that so frequently true of a career in the plumbing and heating industry?

The competition has been sponsored by some of the biggest names in the industry, including Worcester Bosch, Wolseley Plumb Parts, Milwaukee, Aalberts, Kingspan, Triton, Watersafe, Saniflo, Wilo, Stelrad, Scruffs, Yorkshire Copper Tube, Talon and WD-40.

The grand final is to be held at Worcester Bosch HQ on April 19th and 20th, and I cannot wait.