We spoke to two former SkillBuild competitors about what it’s like to take part in the UK’s biggest competition for construction skills.

Have you ever wondered how good you really are at what you do?

Well now you can! SkillBuild is the UK’s biggest and longest-running skills competition for construction trainees and apprentices, covering 10 trades, from bricklaying to furniture and cabinet making.

Conor Willmott

Take the ultimate test!

We’re looking for the most promising young individuals to put their technical ability and character to the test against each other and the clock. You’ll be fighting for a chance to bag a spot in the three-day SkillBuild UK National Finals.

And it doesn’t stop there. The best performers will go on to compete internationally at EuroSkills Graz (Austria) 2020, and WorldSkills Shanghai 2021 for a chance to be crowned world champion!

Be the best you can be

It’s not all about the glory of winning. Just taking part is a fantastic opportunity to hone your skills, practise new techniques and build your self-confidence.

It looks good on your CV too – making you more employable and better able to get clients if you go into business.

But don’t take our word for it. Let’s hear from two people who say SkillBuild changed their lives.

Sandie Webster

“SkillBuild changed our lives!”

Sandie Webster, painter and decorator, and Conor Willmott, carpenter and joiner, both entered the SkillBuild competition not long after starting out in construction.

They had no idea that it would have such a huge positive impact on them. They told us how SkillBuild changed their lives.

How did you get into construction?

Sandie: “It was by accident! When I left school I worked in a design showroom. Then I took time off to start a family. Two daughters and six years later, I wanted to get back into work, doing something creative with my hands.

“I thought about hairdressing, but then decorating seemed a much better fit with my design background, so I went to college to do a diploma in painting and decorating. I knew straightaway it was the right thing for me.”

Conor: “My dad’s a carpenter and he’s basically been teaching me the trade since I was 6. When I went to college I realised I was actually pretty good and managed to complete all my modules in the first few weeks! The teachers said that I should do an apprenticeship instead.”

Why did you enter SkillBuild?

Sandie: “Six months into my painting and decorating course we had an internal competition in the college to select candidates for SkillBuild. I did well in that and was put forward for the regionals.”

Conor: “My first employer was really impressed with my carpentry and joinery skills and thought I should enter some kind of competition. He asked my apprenticeship manager, who told him about SkillBuild.”

Conor Willmott

How did you prepare and what did you have to do?

Sandie: “I just kept on with my course and practised on my own. In a way, I already had an advantage from my design experience and being a bit older than the other competitors.

“I know how to organise my time and sequence a task, which is really important in the competition.

“You have to do a bit of everything – wallpapering, layering, glossing, making sure the finish is spot on – and they often throw in a surprise!”

Conor: “I did extra training specifically for the competition. It was great to have the opportunity to deepen my knowledge.

“In the competition, you get 6 hours to make something from a drawing, such as a house-shaped frame.

“This involves making a rod board – a full-scale drawing of the design which you map directly on to the timber before cutting. Usually you mostly have to use hand tools rather than power tools.”

So, what happened in the competition?

Sandie: “Well, actually, I entered the competition 3 times! The first two times I made it to the national finals, but not the top 3.

Sandie Webster

In 2013, my Level 3 year, I not only made it to the nationals, but I won! I was the first woman ever to win a SkillBuild final in any category.


“It was at the NEC in Birmingham. It’s so nerve-racking working in front of such a huge crowd – you really have to focus. But what a buzz!”

Conor: “In my first year for the regionals I had to join the seniors at Level 3, who had had two years’ more training than me. I won anyway, and did well in the nationals.

“I made it to the SkillBuild nationals the following year (2015) too, and I had to make a storm-proof casement, which is something I’ve done many, many times.

“I did it half-a-day early, so the judges asked me to help them make a router board for the rest of the competition.

“And I won! I was picked for Squad UK, and at EuroSkills 2016 in Sweden, I just missed out on a medallion of excellence by 1 point. It only motivated me to train harder.

“Then I won an international pressure test competition against Australia and a return competition at GlobalSkills in Australia.

“Unfortunately at the WorldSkills 2017 in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates I got food poisoning just before the competition. I was really ill, white as a sheet, but I still competed. I did win a medal of excellence, but it was the end of the road.”

Conor Willmott

What did your success do for you?

Sandie: “Winning the nationals gave me the confidence to start my own painting and decorating business – and the prize money went towards a vehicle. It’s going really well.

“It definitely raised my profile too. Crown Paints asked me to demo for them and Ciret made me their master decorator, touring the country doing shows. It’s great to be a role model!

“In 2017, I was also asked to be a competition judge, the first female one they’d ever had. I love helping competitors stay calm and giving them support.

“And I love the judging, checking the opacity of the paint, the lines, all the different techniques. There’s always something new and everything has to be exact to the millimetre.”

Conor: “Winning has given me so much more confidence, 10 times more than before! I used to be a shy little kid, hiding in the workshop. Now I’m outspoken and happy talking to a crowd.

I now know I’m really good at what I do – one of the best joiners in the country.


“When I finished competing, I set up my own business and I have plenty of work. Clients Google my name and say, ‘Is this you?! Wow!’ They know I’m going to be good. It’s like a seal of quality.

“I’m a SkillBuild judge now, probably the youngest one at 21! I check the measurements, the quality of the joints and the finish. I’m allowed to advise them but not give them an answer! 

“I want to take on an apprentice myself and train them up for competitions. I hope they get as far as I did.”

What would you say to someone thinking about entering SkillBuild?

Sandie: “Definitely have a go! It’s a great experience and it’ll give you confidence to work under pressure. I met so many amazing people from the competitions and I’ve learnt so much.

“And it’s so satisfying when you finish – you’ll feel like a winner whatever happens.

“I only wish I’d got involved sooner! I was too old to enter EuroSkills and WorldSkills.”

Conor: “Absolutely go for it! You can only try and it can be a massive confidence boost. If you do well, you’ll know you’re really very good, but either way it’s a fantastic experience.”

Conor Willmott
Sandie Webster
WorldSkills
SkillBuild
Images courtesy of WorldSkills UK