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NI FE Students Named Among UK’s Top Trade Apprentices

Nine students from Northern Ireland’s Further Education Colleges have been named as being among the UK’s top apprentices in their respective construction trades.

The announcement has been made ahead of the Skillbuild National Final Competition in Milton Keynes next week, where the local students will compete to become the outright winner in their trade.

Delivered by the Construction Industry Training Board, the national final is part of the wider 2023 WorldSkills UK Finals. The Northern Ireland students scored higher than more than 1,000 entrants across the UK to earn their place at the prestigious construction event. They will now compete against seven other highly skilled finalists, in each of their respective categories, in a bid to be named the UK’s best apprentice and learner in their trade.

Among the finalists are Erin McKnight from Belfast and Jacqui Hawthorne from Keady, who have been named as being among the top eight apprentices and learners in the UK in painting and decorating. Both women attend Southern Regional College.

They will be joined at the Skillbuild National Final by fellow SRC students, Niall Rice, Castlewellan (Bricklaying), Josh McBride, Kilkeel (Plastering), Conor Braniff, Portaferry (Tiling) and Patryk Niedoba, Dunmurry, Belfast (Tiling). Also competing are North West Regional College’s Timothy Gilmore from Coleraine (Tiling), and Northern Regional College’s Bailey Gibson, Larne (Carpentry), and Jamie Matthews, Ballyclare (Joinery).

The Skillbuild final will see competitors have to construct a challenging project, over three days, set by leading industry experts and judges. The project will test their knowledge, skills, and ability to work under pressure, all while adhering to health and safety protocols and having to impress with their talent and finesse.

32 further NI finalists
A further 32 FE students from across all of Northern Ireland’s FE Colleges have qualified for the wider WorldSkills UK Final which is taking place this week in Manchester and Coventry.

Triumphing over 6,000 original registrants, across 51 skills categories, they will now compete against 400 other students at the finals in a range of categories ranging from mechatronics and engineering to beauty and social care.

Congratulating the students on their achievement in reaching the finals, Leo Murphy, Principal, and CEO of North West Regional College and Chair of the College Principals’ Group, said: “The skills these students will be demonstrating over the next few days showcase both the vibrancy and breadth of learning and career opportunities now available through the Further Education sector here. They also underline the importance of a strong and supported FE sector in Northern Ireland in ensuring the achievement of the vision of a 10x economy.

“Today’s FE students are taught by talented lecturers who are experienced and linked to industry, on modern campuses, with fantastic facilities. Our finalists have earned their place in the finals by making the most of all of those opportunities and by demonstrating international best practices in all that they do. A lot of hard work has gone into preparing for this major competition, by both staff and students, and I congratulate them on their achievements so far in the competition. We’re looking forward to seeing lots of silverware being brought through our college doors in the next few days.”

Each year UK WorldSkills finalists compete to win the chance to join the WorldSkills UK international development programme and compete globally at the WorldSkills Final. This year’s entrants are competing for entry in 2026.

Further information on the WorldSkills Finals is available at

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