The national finals are traditionally held at the NEC, Birmingham but, because of Covid restrictions, this year’s finals will take place in 23 different locations across the UK.
With all eight finalists in the Industrial Robotics category representing Northern Regional College, WorldSkills invited the College to host the Industrial Robotics final at its Farm Lodge campus in Ballymena.
Over 3,000 competitors registered for the prestigious vocational skills competition back in March 2021. The top eight competitors from across the UK in each of the 64 skills categories qualified for the national finals and chance to win a coveted gold, silver or bronze medal.
The winners will be announced during a virtual ceremony hosted by TV presenter Steph McGovern and streamed lived from ‘Steph’s Packed Lunch’ studio on Friday, November 26.
WorldSkills UK is a competition-based development programme, designed by industry experts, to enhance the practical skills and knowledge taught on training courses. The skills competitions assess employability attributes against set criteria in a competitive environment. The programme has a positive impact on competitors with 90% of previous entrants saying their career progression improved after competing.
The ‘2 Dudes 1 Robot’ team is one of four Northern Regional College teams to qualify for the Industrial Robotics final.
After completing his GCSEs at Dominican College Portstewart, Louie Heath undertook his Level 3 BTEC in Engineering at the College’s Coleraine campus. He is currently studying a Foundation degree in Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering at Farm Lodge.
Louie explains his decision to attend Northern Regional College: “I did my Level 3 at the College in Coleraine and since I knew about the College and facilities at the Ballymena campus, familiarity was certainly a factor. I wanted to progress in my career in a way that experience alone didn’t allow but the lower tuition fees and potential to jump-start into university were ultimately the main attractions.
“My education so far has been solidifying; putting into words what I knew already and furthering my understanding of engineering. I have found the business-related modules the most useful in understanding how financial decisions in a manufacturing environment are made.”
Louie added that he would recommend the Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering course to prospective students. “The workshops have a variety of industrial standard machines and equipment. Most importantly, the College has technicians that are always willing and able to give the students a hand if needed,” he explained.
Louie said it was challenging getting through the preliminary rounds of the competition: “We had to figure out where our strengths lay and how best to work together. My heart was racing from submission of our work to results, but I definitely think Brennan and myself deserved to make the finals.”
Louie’s teammate Brennan Wilson, a former Cambridge House Grammar School student, completed Level 2 Electrical Engineering and Level 3 Advanced Manufacturing Engineering at the College’s Farm Lodge campus and is now a Year 2 engineering apprentice.
Brennan said the teaching at the College is “fantastic”.
“I knew I wanted to become an apprentice maintenance engineer and these qualifications worked hand-in-hand with my job role. If you are interested in electrical work then this course is for you. During my time at the College, I have felt more and more comfortable with electrics; from building, wiring or testing I feel as if everything I have learned from the College will allow me to advance my skills in my workplace,” he said.
Brennan said he is “really looking forward” to taking part in the WorldSkills UK final: “I wasn’t expecting to get as far as I did and I’m excited to see how we get on in the final.”
Northern Regional College lecturer in Engineering Karla Kosch explained that to qualify for the UK national finals, teams had to demonstrate how they could communicate ideas and work together effectively, with the top four teams going through to the next stage of the competition.
To progress, the teams had to tackle CAD modelling and programming, as well as their virtual and real-world programming skills using the FANUC Educational robot cell.
Congratulating all the students representing the College in next week’s finals, Gordon Kane, the College’s Skills Champion, said it was a wonderful achievement.
“We are justifiably proud of them for what they have achieved so far. It is wonderful to get through to this stage of a national competition and it is a great boost for them to be able to put this on their CV. They are shining examples of the skills and talent inherent in our young people. Their achievement to date reflects their commitment and dedication to their respective career paths and I wish them every success,” he said.
The other teams representing Northern Regional College in the Industrial Robotics final are: Hammer Basher and Sparky (Adam Kirkpatrick and Cameron Middleton), The Athletes (Jude Moore and Aaron Stevenson) and The Cyborgs (Julia Miller and Thomas Simpson).
As well as the Industrial Robotics finalists, the College has representatives in three other categories: Lydia Fletcher, second year Computing student at Coleraine is in the IT Software Solutions for Business final; Savannah Hodgins and Jonathon Wilsdon have made it through to the 3D Digital Games Art and Web Design finals respectively. Savannah and Jonathon have both progressed to Ulster University, having completed a Level 3 Diploma in Creative Media at the College’s Newtownabbey campus. Savannah is doing a BDes (Hons) in Animation while Jonathon is doing a BDes (Hons) in Interaction Design.
Northern Regional College has a proven track record at WorldSkills UK finals: Rory McCloskey and Samuel Gilmore won gold in Computer Numerical Control (CNC) Milling and Carpentry respectively in recent years.