Sparks fly at the ‘X Factor’ of metal welding for ships

Shipweld 2011 competition''Rob Morgan practicing his welding
Shipweld 2011 competition''Rob Morgan practicing his welding
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Walrus-Class Submarine 'HNLMS WALRUS' of the Royal Netherlands Navy inbound to Portsmouth on a weekend visit.
Picture: Tony Weaver

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AS national competitions go, it’s not quite as glitzy and glamorous as the X Factor or Britain’s Got Talent.

But sparks did fly at Shipweld 2011, where Portsmouth’s top shipbuilding apprentices showed off their talents in competition with other young guns from across the UK.

Tom Hand and Robert Morgan honed their welding skills working on the first of the Royal Navy’s new 65,000-tonne aircraft carrier at BAE Systems in Portsmouth.

After coming top in an internal ‘weld-off’ in the Portsmouth yard, they were selected to represent BAE on the national stage against apprentices from shipbuilding firms all over the country.

They had seven hours to weld three test pieces at Rosyth dockyard in Scotland which was then judged by industry experts.

Tom, 20, said: ‘They judged you on how well you are able to control the process and your ability to produce a good, strong weld.

‘It was tough but a lot of fun to be representing Portsmouth there.’

The former Mayfield school pupil, who is in his fourth year as a welding apprentice at BAE, added: ‘By competition day we were all concentrating on the task at hand, the nerves started building up and we got in the zone.

‘I came 10th in the end which I was a bit disappointed with to be honest because I know I could have done better. But in the three years Portsmouth has entered the competition, me and Rob got the highest points so far.’

Rob, 19, who is a former Cowplain Community School pupil, finished eighth in the competition.

He joined Vosper Thornycroft four years ago before BAE took over the firm and has worked on the new carrier, as well as patrol vessels for Trindad and Tobago government and the Omani navy.

He said: ‘I was pleased with how I got on and how my work came across to the judges.

‘I love doing my job. It gives me a buzz. Welding is an art of sorts and you come to appreciate other people’s work.’