KALAMAZOO – Michigan’s top pipe trades apprentices turned in their best efforts in welding, plumbing, HVAC service and pipefitting May 1-2 during the annual statewide apprenticeship contest.
Held this year (and next year) at the Plumbers, Pipe Fitters and HVAC Service Local 357’s Apprenticeship School, the contest tested the skills of 24 apprentices from nearly every United Association local union in Michigan, who had been top performers at their local union.
The apprentices displayed their knowledge and skills and were judged in areas like welding, pipefitting, rigging and classroom testing. Of course, the 16-hour contest gives the winners bragging rights – but evaluating their work also gives apprenticeship coordinators the opportunity to see where they need to refocus their curricula or change their training methods.
“I think the biggest thing for the training coordinators is it gives us an opportunity to see where our programs are lacking, and improve on what we’re doing,” said host Local 357 Training Coordinator Bob Gulbranson. “It’s an opportunity to see what each other are doing, and it allows us to make our training more standardized.”
When asked for an example, Gulbranson said one thing he has taken away from recent contests is the importance of rigging instruction – power plants, refineries and pharmaceutical facilities, for example, want people trained and skilled in moving heavy objects from Point A to Point B without disturbing their operations. “Certified rigging is really becoming a big thing,” he said.
A second example, Gulbranson said, is the ongoing process of optimizing and standardizing HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) service training. “Just tooling up the training centers for HVAC has been a big advance for us,” he said.
This year’s contest winners included: HVAC Service Tech- Nick Dawson, Local 636, Detroit; Plumber- Zach Desrochers- Local 370, Flint; Welder- Gordon Golec, Local 636, Detroit, and Pipefitter- Dennis Kelsey, Local 636, Detroit.
The next step for winners of this contest is to go on to the regional competition at UA Local 449 in Pittsburgh.
Mike Corliss, business manager of host Local 357, said the local union’s 18,000 square-foot training facility “is state of the art, and we’re continually changing and being proactive to meet the needs of our industry. We have to be, because of the nonunion climate on this side of the state. Contractors and others that we have brought through here have always told us they have been super impressed with our facility.”
Among them is Curt Peterson, president of Pro Services, a Local 357 signatory contractor. We caught up with him after he watched contestants and toured the facility.
“It’s a great facility,” he said, “and as for the training aspect, we rely on that to make sure that we put people on the job who are skilled and ready to work. The training makes a difference, it helps change the perspectives that people have of this industry. There is obviously a lot of pride in what all these guys do.”
Also stopping by to watch the competition were Local 357 JATC Co-Chairman Matt Lavender (owner of Suburban Mechanical) and Kevin Waterstrat (contractor representative for W. Soule & Co.) “These guys are two of our best contractors and do more for our program than any other,” Corliss said.
Helping out at this year’s contest was Local 357 journeyman Nate Wertenberger, a finalist in the UA’s apprenticeship contest in 2012.
“It was a real treat meeting people from around the country, and it made you appreciate how big the UA is and what it’s all about,” he said. “The experience made me more involved in continuing education in the trade.”
Michigan pipe trades apprentices work in the UA's annual contest at Local 357 earlier this month.