Curtis Rees, a welding apprentice from Neath College, (part of @NPTCGroup of Colleges) was among the nation’s top skilled young people who were recognised at the #WorldSkills National Final last year (2019).

Curtis from Resolven, is the first student from NPTC Group of Colleges to win a highly coveted gold medal as he triumphed in his discipline at the NEC in Birmingham.

The prestigious competition saw more than 500 apprentices and students compete in over 70 disciplines to be crowned the best in the UK in a vocational pathway.

The National Finals were the culmination of six years of hard work and competition for Curtis. His lecturer Robert Evans explained: “Curtis has been an outstanding student for the past six years. He started at 16 years old on a City and Guilds evening course, where he quickly discovered that he had a natural talent for welding. An apprenticeship was arranged through Pathways Training – the College’s work-placed learning provider – with Afon Engineering. He has won ‘Welder Wales’ twice and the SkillWeld Regional Final in 2019 which led him to WorldSkills UK”.

The SkillWeld competition begins with regional heats throughout the country; they involve standard joints in pipe and plate in difficult welding positions. Aluminium and stainless materials are also incorporated, using electric arc processes. The competition is time-limited and external judges mark each test piece and a final mark is awarded for each competitor. The top ten people competitors are invited to the WorldSkills UK National Final in Birmingham, which takes place over four days. The competitors have three test pieces to complete on the first day and these are x-rayed and marks are awarded for the least defects produced. Curtis excelled in three pieces.

On the second day, competitors have a pressure vessel to make using manual metal arc welding, tungsten inert gas welding and solid wire & flux-cored arc welding. The vessel is inspected visually and then subjected to a test pressure of seventy-five bar which is approximately twelve hundred pounds per square inch! The pressure vessel that Curtis welded held that pressure comfortably. Two further vessels were made out of aluminium and stainless steel; these were only marked visually. Final marks were then awarded for cleanliness and health & safety.

Curtis achieved an overall score of 92.25% out of 100 to claim his gold medal, the first for NPTC Group of Colleges in any national competition.

Robert added: “His attempt at WorldSkills UK was a big learning curve; his dedication and commitment to the bespoke training programme devised for him, has been second-to-none. Curtis has developed into an exemplary welder who has obtained an array of welding qualifications with his Company”.

Work-Based Learning Manager at Pathways Training, Alec Thomas was delighted with Curtis’s achievement and said: “Pathways Training is extremely proud of Curtis’s achievement.  During his apprenticeship, Curtis has excelled in both the academic and practical elements which have supported his campaign. Curtis’s enthusiasm for welding and for WorldSkills UK is infectious and he is already encouraging new apprentices to be involved.  This can only be good for the industry and local businesses, and will help to support the development of new opportunities for young people in the area.”

Taking part in the competition equips young people with the world-class skills needed to help British businesses better compete globally.

Ben Blackledge, Deputy CEO of WorldSkills UK, said: “This is a life-changing moment for these young people…they are the new generation of high flyers that will give UK employers a competitive edge. We couldn’t be prouder of each and every one of them – the standard of competition could not have been higher.”

To recognise Curtis’s success, the College’s equipment partners ESAB – a world leader in the production of welding and cutting equipment – came to Neath College to present him with a high specification ESAB REBEL 235 multi-process welding set and auxiliary equipment, worth over £3000.

Having had some time to reflect on his incredible achievement, Curtis told us: “I’m really pleased with my achievement, it was a massive goal for me. I got involved in welding competitively about three years ago, starting with smaller competitions around Wales. As I progressed, my tutor asked me if I would like to try for WorldSkills UK. A previous student (Declan Kenny) had won a silver medal in a previous WorldSkills UK and I wanted to try and emulate his success and push on to gold. Preparing for the competition was hard; for two years I had to train really hard, including early morning and late evenings. to reach the required skill level. It still feels unreal but now that I’ve got the gold medal in my hand it that just proves that I have achieved my goal”.

Curtis has big plans for the future. Winning the gold medal has opened up doors for him, with several leading companies keen to bring him on board. However, Curtis has aspirations to run his own business within the field of structural welding, where he has spotted a gap in the market. Although he hasn’t yet ruled out returning to college one day as a lecturer, as he is keen to inspire the next generation of welders to follow in his footsteps.

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