The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, June 09, 2006

Dormant for years, UA sparks up statewide apprenticeship contest

By The Building Tradesman

YPSILANTI - Michigan's plumbing and pipefitting unions re-started a dormant tradition this year: a statewide contest to determine the top apprentice in various fields of skill.

This year's contest was a tune-up for 2007, when the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters will re-start its own nationwide contest. This competition was held at the United Association's Great Lakes Regional Training Facility at Washtenaw Community College - which will be the same venue for the International Union's competition next year.

"It's a little extra work for all of us, but it's worth it," said Scott Klapper, apprenticeship coordinator for host Local 190 and coordinator of the contest. "All the coordinators have jumped in to do their part to put this together, and the apprentices have been working hard."

The two-day, 16-hour contest May 4-5 determined the state's top plumber, fitter, service technician and welder. Apprentices took written exams, and were tested in skills like pipe threading, welding, cutting, bending, layout and rigging.

"I think the contest is a valuable tool to encourage our apprentices to improve their skills, and display them in a competitive format," said John Reilly, apprentice coordinator for Plumbers and Pipe Fitters Local 333.

The International Union's contest fell by the wayside 22 years ago, and was never re-started.

"The students get to see a world bigger than their own local," said Plumbers Local 98 Apprenticeship Coordinator Carl Schroeder. "And you think your stuff is being taught; but this helps show you if the lessons are being learned. The contest also allows coordinators to look and see how they can improve their own programs."

Klapper said when the coordinators talked afterward, they agreed that rigging and knot-tying were the major weak points that needed to be addressed back at their schools.
The coordinators are also going to be emphasizing welding, since that will be a major skill category in the International Union's contest.

Following are the top three finishers in three categories:

Service technicians: 1. Brent Denovich (Local 333); 2. Nick Beldyga (85), 3, Michael Kantz (190).

Plumbers: 1. Lonnie Birchmeier (370); 2. James Abraham (636), 3. Shawn Denny (333).

Fitters: 1. Sean Samson (333); 2. James Abraham (636), 3. Corey Wieland (85).

"I've watched some very talented people here," said Bob Anderson, apprenticeship coordinator for Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 85. "Some of them I've asked how many years they've been doing this, because the skills they've displayed have really dazzled me."

RIGGING AN IRON pipe during the statewide apprenticeship contest is Sean Samson of Local 333. He eventually won first place in the pipe fitting competition. Looking on is his instructor, John Reilly, Jr., apprenticeship coordinator for Local 333.