Two Newcastle College students are celebrating their success after reaching the finals of a prestigious national skills competition.

Painting and Decorating apprentice Courtney Maddison, and Hairdressing student Sophie Roxburgh both fought off regional competitors to reach the final rounds of WorldSkills UK, the nation’s largest skills, apprenticeships, and careers event, held at venues across the country last month.

WorldSkills UK brings together learners from across the nation to compete to be the best in their chosen field. Dubbed the ‘skills Olympics', the competition is designed by industry experts to help upskill and develop young people from all backgrounds and abilities. Competitors take part in regional heats to win a place in the UK final where they test their talents on a national stage and winners can secure a place in Team UK, with the opportunity to compete internationally.

Courtney and Sophie secured their places in the finals after spending the past year taking part in various skills competitions to hone their talents, beginning with NCG Skills, an inter-college competition for colleges that are part of national college group NCG. 
After impressing their tutors and judges in the NCG Skills final and the WorldSkills UK national qualifiers, Courtney headed to Edinburgh to compete against the seven other best student painters and decorators while Sophie flew to Belfast to join her fellow “best in class” hairdressing students. 

Speaking about the Belfast event, Sophie said: “It was incredible. Overwhelming at first, because you don’t know what to expect, but it was such a good experience. I Iearned so much and made some great new friends, as well as some good contacts. I even had a client last week who recognised me from getting to the finals.”

Courtney added: “On the first day there was a big introduction, and they described the event as a ‘Skills Olympics’, which I thought was a bit over the top, but then you walk into the room where you’ll be competing, and there’s this vibe, and all this equipment and I thought, ‘yeah ok, I get it now’. 

“It was so overwhelming, and odd not knowing anyone but by the end of it I knew absolutely everyone. Seeing what everyone else was doing, and how they worked was really motivating.” 

Courtney and Sophie spent weeks preparing for the finals with the support and encouragement of their tutors, and in Courtney’s case, her employer Samantha Murphy. 

Courtney said: “Sam’s been great with supporting me with prepping for the competition. She did events like this when she was in college so she knew what I would be expected to do, and she gave me lots of little tricks and tips. She even sanded down walls in her house, so I had somewhere to practice some of my designs.” 

Sophie added: “I’ve had a massive amount of support from my tutors with preparing for the competitions. They would give me extra bits to do and would talk me through everything. They were really encouraging and had great faith in me. 

“I’ve had to work at getting over the hurdles of “I can’t do it; I don’t want to do it”. I really struggled with my confidence but being encouraged to take part in the competitions and then getting into the top eight, has given me a massive confidence boost. I now know that if I just push myself, I can do it, because I’ve done it.” 

Scott Bullock, Principal of Newcastle College, commented: “We're extremely proud of both Courtney and Sophie for reaching the WorldSkills UK final and representing Newcastle College and the North-East on the national stage.

“They have both displayed fantastic talent and discipline throughout their journey to the finals and have performed exceptionally well.

“Our vision at Newcastle College is to develop the skills and talents of our students to succeed in modern enterprise and make a positive contribution to the prosperity of the North East. Apprenticeships and skills training are integral to the future of our workforce and competitions such as WorldSkills allow our students to enhance their employability prospects by encouraging them to reach their full potential and help them to develop lifelong skills.” 

Newcastle College and NCG have had a long-standing relationship with WorldSkills UK and have supported dozens of students to compete in its regional and national competitions. NCG Skills was developed to give students across six of NCG’s colleges an opportunity to gain work experience, develop their practical skills and improve their employability skills by competing against peers for a chance to compete in WorldSkills UK. Most recently, NCG has been named a WorldSkills UK Centre of Excellence, which will provide learners and teachers with even more opportunities to develop skills outside of the classroom.

Learners across Newcastle College, including Courtney and Sophie, are now starting to prepare for NCG Skills 2023 and their next chance to qualify for WorldSkills UK.