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Northern Regional College to host Industrial Robotics WorldSkills National final


Two male in engineering workshop

Engineering students Jude Moore and Aaron Stevenson who make up ‘The Athletes’ Industrial Robotics team, will represent Northern Regional College in the WorldSkills UK national finals next week. 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. ‘The Athletes’ is one of four teams in the Industrial Robotics final and with all four teams representing Northern Regional College, WorldSkills invited the College to host the Industrial Robotics final at its Ballymena campus, Farm Lodge.

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 a chance to win a coveted gold, silver or bronze medal. The winners of all categories will be announced during a virtual ceremony hosted by TV presenter Steph McGovern and streamed lived from ‘Steph’s Packed Lunch’ studio on Friday 26th November.

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. 

One half of The Athletes duo, Jude Moore explained why he decided to go down the vocational route and do a Level 3 Extended Diploma in Engineering at Northern Regional College instead of staying on at school to do A Levels:

“I wanted a more practical way of learning and the triple award BTEC in Engineering at the College’s Farm Lodge campus really appealed to me”, adding that because he lives in Garvagh, it was easily accessible.

Having successfully achieved the Level 3 Extended Diploma – an academic equivalent of three A levels – Jude stayed on at the College to complete a Foundation Degree in Electrical and Electronic Engineering. He has since progressed to Ulster University where he is doing a BEng (Hons) degree in Mechanical Engineering.

Jude said the Extended Diploma was a good progression route to the Foundation Degree and now that he’s at university, he realises just how much he has benefitted from his four years at Northern Regional College. 

“I got to know the staff really well and they were always a great help. My mathematical skills and knowledge of mechanical and electrical science really improved while I was at the College and I can see the benefits of this for my university work,” he explained.

“The Level 3 Diploma covers all areas of modern engineering, and the Foundation Degree programme is a great preparation, not only for going to university but for helping to clarify career goals.

“I didn’t have any idea of what area I wanted to specialise in, so I did the Foundation Degree in Electrical and Electronic Engineering. This helped me realise that I wanted to do Engineering in general, not Electronics, and now I’m doing a Mechanical Engineering degree at university as it offers multiple career paths,” he continued.

Acknowledging that the support and encouragement of lecturers helped The Athletes make the final of the competition, he said being a finalist in a national competition will be a great addition for his CV.

Jude’s teammate Aaron Stevenson, who is a former Antrim Grammar School pupil, successfully completed a Higher Level Apprenticeship (HLA) in Advanced Manufacturing at the College in Ballymena.

Aaron said he was attracted to the College because the students have access to such a high calibre of teaching and equipment: “I decided to study at Northern Regional College because the Ballymena campus is a Centre of Excellence for Manufacturing engineering. Every lecturer has extensive experience in the industry and the College equipment is industry standard.”

He continued: “I feel that completing my HLA in Advanced Manufacturing at Northern Regional College has made me much more employable. The opportunities that the College presented me were fantastic.

“Taking part in a national competition such as WorldSkills UK is a great way to test yourself and expand your knowledge in your chosen subject. It has also increased my confidence a great deal.”

Recommending the Advanced Manufacturing HLA, Aaron said that “the course is industry-focused” and allows students “to gain the necessary skills that employers are looking for”.

He added that he is excited to be through to the Industrial Robotics final: “It is a massive deal and I'm looking forward to the challenge of competing at a high level.”

Northern Regional College lecturer in Engineering Karla Kosch explained that in order to qualify for the UK national finals, the Industrial Robotics teams had to demonstrate that they could communicate ideas and work together effectively, with the top teams going through to the next stage of the competition.

In subsequent stages of the competition, the teams had to tackle CAD modelling and programming, as well as being tested on their virtual and real-world programming skills using the FANUC Educational robot cell.

Congratulating all the students representing Northern Regional College in next week’s finals, Gordon Kane, the College’s Skills Champion, said it was a wonderful achievement for them and the College.

“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), 2 Dudes and 1 Robot (Louie Heath and Brennan Wilson) 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.