Coleg Meirion-Dwyfor punched well above its weight at the renowned CITB's All Wales Final Skillbuild Construction Competition recently, taking nearly 25% of the medal haul, with a total 9 medals, 3 being gold - the highest amount of any other competitor college from across the whole of Wales! 

Organised by the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB), SkillBuild is the longest running and largest construction skills contest in the country, having taken place for over 45 years, and it sees the very best in construction talent compete against each other to be crowned the SkillBuild winner in their chosen craft occupation.  Winners may then go on to compete against the best in the UK and, if successful, the best in the World.

Hosted by Coleg Menai in Llangefni, construction trainees from all four corners of Wales battled it out in their chosen trades, with skills such as bricklaying, plastering, and carpentry being put to the test.

Students from each trade were given a specific task to complete in the allotted time. The competitors were closely monitored by expert judges for the duration of the competition to ensure the work was completed on time to a high standard.

The Gold medal-winning students from Coleg Meirion-Dwyfor were: Robat Jones from Dolgellau (Site Carpentry); Ifan Williams from Aberdaron, Pwllheli (Bricklaying) and Thomas Thomas from Porthmadog (Plumbing).

These statistics are impressive, but what about the human stories behind the success?  What makes these students so driven and skilful?

Thomas Thomas, a level 2 Diploma student, won the Gold Medal in plumbing whilst competing against students who were trained to NVQ level - a level higher than Thomas is currently trained in.  The other competitors also already work as apprentices in the plumbing field already whereas Thomas is a full-time student with no work experience yet, although he has recently secured a job and is going on to study at NVQ level at Coleg Meirion-Dwyfor in September.

His tutor Iestyn Worth said:

Thomas has a natural and outstanding talent but he also puts in the hard work.  He has a competitive edge and is determined to win.  He is a perfectionist who will put in the effort to practice a technique until it is perfected.  I have seen Thomas putting in many extra hours in our workshops until he is totally happy with the standard of work, going over and over the same technique until he is happy that he has perfected it.

Thomas' welding skills are so advanced that he doesn't even use a fireboard behind his welding and yet he leaves no burn marks on the backing board.  It's impressive.  His welding is also so spot on that you can barely see the joint.  He is calm and measured when working.  His skill levels are remarkable!

Robat Jones of Rhydymain, Dolgellau took the gold in Site Carpentry.  Apprenticed to his uncle, local builder Arwel Jones, Robat is progressing to his level 3 NVQ in September.  Robat triumphed after just 3.5 hours of sleep, coming back from a holiday to Fuerteventura in the middle of the night and travelling to Bangor to grab some sleep before the competition started at Coleg Menai in Llangefni in the morning. 

Robat's tutor Meirion said:

Robat is a totally committed student.  He was prepared to compete on a few hours' sleep.  He puts in the extra practice generally, and is prepared to learn new things.  He received extra tuition in cutting roofs for example, as this is not part of his coursework until next year.  He took the gold despite not having slept and despite competing against higher level students.  He is a pleasure to teach, a credit to himself and the college. 

Robat said:

I wasn't really expecting gold as I was really tired at the start.  But I was determined to win and soon got into the zone, really got into a state of flow and focussed totally on the task before me.  By lunchtime I felt that everything was going too well, and I was afraid my luck would change but it didn't. 

My tutor Meirion has been fantastic, offering extra help at weekends and in the evenings. I practice for the competitions all the time and love competing.  I am also a bit of a perfectionist and doing the best I can is important to me.  I am hoping to qualify to compete at UK level in Birmingham this November!

Ifan Williams of Aberdaron took gold in Brickwork.  Ifan works as a CITB Apprentice in his father's building firm Williams and Williams in Pwllheli.  His tutor Alex Jones said:

Ifan is a model student, and before he passed his driving test he travelled at 6am from Aberdaron to Dolgellau to complete the level 2 NVQ with 100% attendance.  He is work-committed and has a positive can-do attitude. 

Ifan's work style is to plan ahead meticulously.  He likes to visualise the project in his head.  Once the competition starts, he sorts out his work plan, he knows exactly what he is going to do then he sets to like a rocket!  Ifan was second in the Guild of Bricklayers UK Competition earlier this year.  He is cool headed, he has clearly found his style and doesn't get nervous in competitions.  All of this might explain why Ifan, a first year student, was able to secure gold in the face of competing against others who were more senior and experienced than him. 

Mike Taylor, Programme Area Manager for Construction and Engineering at Grŵp Llandrillo Menai, said:

Coleg Meirion-Dwyfor students surpassed themselves at this year's Welsh heat with 10% of them reaching the finals. We are the best performing single college in Wales.  These are the best results we have ever achieved at the Welsh finals.

I think this success can be attributed to many factors including presenteeism on the part of both students and staff - our staff go above and beyond the call of duty to support the students and entering competitions such as this one is part of our curriculum and not an added extra.

Taking part in competitions means that you are constantly looking to improve your learning and teaching curve.  Success breeds success, with our learners now starting to compete at World level.  Owain Jones competed at World level in site carpentry Brazil in 2015 and obtained a Medal of Excellence.  Owain is now taking on his own apprentices - one of them is our student Cai Henshaw who took the Silver in Site Carpentry.

Our success in previous competitions has provided role model 'skills champions' for our students, raising our current learners' aspirations and skill levels to well above the qualification requirements.

Our aspirational skills agenda is crucial in ensuring the long-term sustainability of our local construction economy in North Wales.  Our philosophy here is to stretch and challenge our students and to do so as a matter of course so that they can be the best in their fields, enhancing their careers, increasing their confidence and getting them ready to compete in the challenging and competitive world of work.

The Wales heat is one of 15 taking place across the UK, with the top 10 competitors from across the country going through to the SkillBuild national finals at Birmingham's NEC in November 2017.  The winning students from Coleg Meirion-Dwyfor now have a nail-biting wait to see whether they have now qualified for the UK finals.  Then who knows, they may be competing against the world next at the Russian world Finals in 2019.