14th Annual Boilermakers Local 169 High School Welding Invitational - Friday, May 20, 2016
Article courtesy of Marty Mulcahy of The Building Tradesman
ALLEN PARK - "This shows our kids what the industry is all about. This shows our kids what is required on the job. This is the real deal."
It's apparent by his comments above that Jim Fowler, a vocational educational instructor with Flat Rock Community Schools, really likes the annual Boilermakers High School Welding Invitational. This is the 14th year for the event, which invites high school vocation education programs from around Michigan to send their top welders to Local 169's apprenticeship school to show their skills for a chance to get a foot in the door for a Boilermakers apprenticeship.
"We have brought a lot of my guys here for all the eight years I have worked as an instructor in Flat Rock," Fowler added. "This is one of my favorite competitions. It's a relaxed atmosphere, and the staff is helpful and is here to answer their questions. but it puts kids under the gun. They can see what the job requires, and they either deliver or they don't."
This year, 43 high school students were invited from 15 schools around Michigan, taking part in a day-long contest in which they display their knowledge about welding in written and practical exams.
The High School Invitational was the brainchild of Mark Wertz of Local 169, now with the Boilermakers National Apprenticeship Program. Himself a product of the vocational education system, he saw an opening to recruit into Local 169's apprenticeship program kids with basic skills and knowledge about welding.
"It's pretty impressive the number of kids we have brought through here (42 have been accepted into the apprenticeship)," Wertz said. "The invitational has gone on this long because it works. We have a number of general foremen and superintendents currently on jobs who started with this program, and have advocated for our union in a positive way. And there are jobs out there now that we need to fill, this is a way we reach out to kids who might be interested in what we do."
Judges for the competition come from the union, contractor and owner communities. Among them, count Monarch Welding and Engineering Vice President Safety and Health Frank Wimmer as an enthusiastic supporter of the competition. He said five of Monarch's steady employees participated in past competitions. "This program is a great because it helps us find and hire the best Boilermakers out there," Wimmer said. "These are kids that like to weld, and they want to make a career out of it. This is a great place to start."
Mike Card, Local 169's Assistant Business Manager and Apprenticeship Coordinator, said that invitations to the Invitational are now becoming highly desirable to vocational schools. "It's a great recruitment tool for us," he said. "A lot of kids don't know what a Boilermaker is until they come here, but they know that they want to weld for a living. So we can be a good match."
Added Chris Nagle, executive director of coal projects for Consumers Energy: "It's unique to be around a group of young people who are interested in this trade, who want to work with their hands and want to be here. We have a symbiotic relationship with our tradespeople: we don't do well if they don't do well. So let's help them get off to a good start."
The contest's top finishers are as follows:
"I like the layout here," said Ethan Zingler, a senior at the Oakland Technical Center Northeast. "It's a great opportunity to work with the Boilermakers and learn what they do."
Jesse Siress, a 13-year educator in career and technical education at Utica Schools, brought three vocational education students with him to the Boilermakers competion. He holds a year-long competition among his students to determine who gets to fill the coveted spots. "The kids get a chance to show what they can do, and we stress that this is the real world; it could be the start of a profitable career, where they can earn a wage good enough to support themselves and a family," he said.
Special thanks to the following supporters who helped to make this year's competition a success: