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Drylining Apprentice Competes in SkillBuild 2021

Drylining Level 2 apprentice, Tommy Falco, competed in the prestigious SkillBuild Drywall 2021 competition on Thursday 24 June 2021, which is run by the CITB (Construction Industry Training Board). Due to COVID-19 restrictions the competition was online and Tommy was observed by three judges and a representative from CITB to make sure that he completed the task alone throughout the day.

Tommy Falco competing in SkillBuild 2021
Tommy Falco competing in SkillBuild 2021

Tommy, who is a student at West London College and an apprentice with the Apprenticeship Training Agency K10, is taking part in the regional heats of the SkillBuild competition and if he goes through at this stage, he will compete nationally later in the year. If Tommy beats his competitors nationally, he will go through to WorldSkills and represent the UK internationally.

Tommy was able to see the drawings and plans for the task at 8am and began the task at 9am. He finished at 5pm with a 30 minute break for lunch. Tommy spent the first 45 minutes of the day interpreting the plans and drawing out measurements, before building the struts for the wall.

Tommy, who is aged 23, said: “It’s a great privilege representing myself, the college and my employer. Knowing that there are eyes on me, I strive to do better and make sure I don’t make any mistakes. I’m confident I can complete the task to a high standard. This is what I do at work; I’ve been working on site with Sudbury Plastering on Hills’ High Path project in South Wimbledon since October”.

Drylining refers to the way interior walls are constructed in modern buildings. Where once walls were constructed with bricks and mortar, today they are constructed with panels attached to frames. This method is quicker, cheaper and drier than the traditional way, hence the term drylining as there are very little ‘wet’ materials involved. Once the pre-plastered sheets are constructed, they are lightly skimmed with plaster to create a good-looking finish.

The three online judges who took part were Ramon Hawley from the Growth Company in Greater Manchester, Northern Ireland-based Colin McCaughey, who is self-employed and teaches at the Southern Regional College and Curtis Johnston, who is self-employed and also from Northern Ireland. Curtis is a former national winner of Skillbuild and he represented the UK at World Skills 2019 in Kazan in Russia. He came tenth in the Drywall category, competing against the national winners of nations around the globe. Margaret Gonzalez from CITB also joined the judges to observe the competitors.

Colin explained why competitions like Skillsbuild are important: “Competitions like SkillBuild give students and apprentices the opportunity to see the quality of work that can be achieved by their peers nationally and internationally. It helps to increase knowledge and raise standards. It also gives students and apprentices a chance to show employers just how good they are, as some qualifications are graded only pass or fail. Taking part in Skillbuild helps to stand out.”

Ramon said: “Construction workers will be competing with others nationally for jobs in their careers, so it’s important to see what the national standards are and competitions like Skillbuild encourage students and apprentices to do that.”

Curtis said: “The best thing about Skillbuild and World Skills for me is that it gave me a huge amount of confidence and once I started working professionally it really boosted my career in terms of winning jobs.”

Leslie Lewis, Tommy’s tutor at West London College, will photograph the drywalling task Tommy is undertaking and key stages of the build and upload the photos for the judges to review in addition to the judges having watched Tommy complete the project.

Leslie said: “Tommy has proved himself in a few short months to be a really outstanding candidate, not just for SkillBuild, but in his chosen career of drylining. He has a fantastic can-do attitude, shows initiative at all stages and pays good attention to quality and detail of finish. Working under this kind of pressure is good for students. They learn how to work to a high standard at the same time as being assessed, which will help them when they work professionally.”

Stefan Simmons, K10 Apprenticeship Programme Manager, said: “Everyone at K10 is very proud that Tommy is participating in the 2021 SkillBuild competition. Tommy is thought of very highly in the office as well as on-site and this is a perfect opportunity for him to showcase his skills and see how he can work under pressure.”

Normally, several students compete in the same workshop and each student is in a bay, with judges and tutors constantly walking around to inspect the work.

Other college teachers and managers often come to look at the work too. Coupled with the critical gaze of many experts, plus competing right alongside your competitors adds a level of pressure all of its own. The materials Tommy used for the Skillbuild competition were supplied by West London College and Sudbury Plastering and Hills Partnership via K10.

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