The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, May 15, 2015

State pipe trades apprentices reach for the top of their trade

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

KALAMAZOO - The state's pipe trades apprentices showed their talents, apprenticeship coordinators shared information on instruction, and the United Association took another step forward.

So it went April 30-May 1 at the Michigan Pipe Trades Association annual statewide apprenticeship contest, held this year at Plumbers, Pipe Fitters and HVAC Service Local 357's training center in Schoolcraft. The contest tested the knowledge and skills of 26 Michigan apprentices who were top performers in their own local unions.

As is the custom with this contest, this was the second year in a row the event was held in the same apprenticeship school - the two-year schedule gives host coordinators the opportunity to learn lessons from the first year's contest, and make adjustments for the following year.

"This year we had a better handle on what to expect, how to set up and what materials to get," said Local 357 Training Coordinator Bob Gulbranson. But he said the contest's overall mission is as important as the contest itself.

"From an education standpoint, we learn our shortcomings, we focus on areas we need to improve," Gulbranson said. "If we see low scores in rigging, or a certain area of welding or tube bending, it helps us to build our curriculum to, and focus it on improving our weaker areas." He said the United Association of Plumbers, Pipe Fitters and Sprinkler Fitters compiles the training information in a nationwide database, and instructors use it to fine-tune their training across North America.

Michigan's 16-hour contest judged apprentices' knowledge and skills in areas like welding, pipefitting, rigging and classroom work. The winners go on to compete in the regional competition.

Those winners are as follows:

            Pipefitter: Paul Russell, Local 85 (Saginaw)

            Plumber: Kyle Doran, Local 98 (Detroit)

            Welder: Jake Gaines, Local 636 (Detroit)

            Sprinkler Fitter: Francisco Rodriguez, Local 704 (Detroit)

            HVAC Service Tech: Mark Winchester, Local 190 (Ann Arbor).

"Every year this contest brings in a fresh batch of talented apprentices, and the competition is great for Michigan and the UA," said Local 357 Business Manager Mike Corliss. "And it has been an honor and a pleasure to host this two years in a row. I'm really proud of all the work Bob has put into hosting this.  But as much as anything, this is a building relationships event. It's an opportunity for our industry to come together and share and learn from each other."

Corliss said the relationship-building extended to two local state lawmakers, state Sen. Margaret O’Brien (R-Portage) and State Rep. Brandt Iden (R-Portage), who both watched the contest and toured the training facility.

Among the affiliated contractors paying a visit to the contest was Ryan LaPine,plumbing & piping estimator/project manager for R.W. LaPine Inc. Mechanical Contractors. "It was really awesome to see the intensity and focus of the apprentices as they worked to perfect their projects," LaPine said. "It shows how dedicated we are to not only providing a service to our customer, but a quality service."  Added Ned Hawkins, corporate quality director at W. Soule.  “In a constantly changing industry like ours it’s critical to have a highly skilled, well trained workforce that we can count on now and in the future.  And it’s events like this that show how the local unions' apprenticeship programs and the UA are up to the challenge.”

MICHIGAN’S TOP PIPE TRADES apprentices, along with union apprenticeship instructors and union leaders, gather on the floor of Plumbers and Pipe Fitters Local 357’s Training Center in Schoolcraft during a lunch break at the statewide pipe trades contest.