And the value of the competition is what is making the annual end-of-May event a highlight on the school calendar for career and technical education instructors and their students across Michigan."This is a great event," said Steve Langdon, a 20-year welding instructor at the Oakland Technical Campus Northeast in Pontiac, who has been bringing students to Local 169's apprenticeship school for 16 of the 17 years the competition has been held. "In some ways the competition here is driving our curriculum. We try to develop a curriculum that will give the students the skills they need to get an entry level job."
On May 17 the annual competition welcomed 30 students from 10 different high schools in Michigan. The contest exposes the high school seniors to a professional working environment, allowing them contact with experts in the field, and the chance to display their skills with a shot at future employment in the trade. And the Boilermakers have repeatedly stressed that their contest is casual, friendly and low-key, with ample time for contestants to interact with apprentices, journeyman, instructors and judges who staff the Local 169 school on contest day."That interaction with the judges, the staff, and the apprentices here, that's huge," Langdon added. "Our students look at the apprentices here, and they say they want to be in their position a year from now."
The contestants' practical welding skills are judged by a panel of owner, contractor and union representatives, and written exam is also part of the contest. Over the years, 60-plus participants in the contest have become members of the union - about 10 percent of Local 169's membership."One of the reasons we have this competition every year is we look forward to meeting some future Boilermakers," said Local 169 Business Manager Robert Hutsell during introductory remarks to the students. "We're proud of the way we train people. And our trade offers you the opportunity to earn a good living and see the world, without going $100,000 into debt by going to college. With us, you start earning a living right away. Really, the sky's the limit."
Knowing that this might be the contestants' first exposure to a labor union, Hutsell said that all the welding training equipment, and the entire apprenticeship center are funded by contributions from both individual Boilermakers and their employers. "Unions are a good thing in this country," he said. "We fight for better wages, better training and good, safe working conditions, because you're going to be working in some very heavy industrialized plants, and we want you to be safe."Mike Card, Local 169's president and apprenticeship coordinator, said during remarks to the students in the contest that union membership in the Boilermakers has been a ticket to the middle class for three generations of his family. He said paying attention during training is a key to success. ""You get out of training what you put into it," he said.
Mark Salgat, a Woodhaven High School welding instructor who has been accompanying students to the contest since its inception, said the Boilermakers competition "is a gateway to the industry. For educators and kids, the competition brings validation to what is taught in the classroom."The top finishers in the contest include:
First Place Team – Flat Rock High School
In the individual competition:
First Place – Matthew Slone, Flat Rock H.S.
Second Place – Eric Smith, Bay Arenac H.S.
Third Place – Hayden Scott, South and West Washtenaw Consortium
Highest written score – Kallan Kriewall, Utica Schools
Contest judge Chris Patrick, a journeyman boilermaker for the past 16 years and currently a superintendent with Barton Malow, said the competition is "a wonderful idea - it gets kids involved with and exposed to our trade at a young age."Jacob Reid, a senior at Pinckney high school who was waiting for his weld to be judged, said "I'm looking for a future as a welder. I heard this would be a great opportunity."
Said Fraser High School senior Brendan Cilia: "I've been welding about four years. I really enjoy the creative aspect of it; sticking two pieces of metal together. I'd hopefully like to make it into a career."
BOILERMAKERS Local 169 Business Manager Robert Hutsell, right, and President/Apprenticeship Coordinator Mike Card, left, make opening remarks May 17 during the union’s annual High School Invitational.