Robert “Bo” Rushing, winner of the 2023 Apprentice of the Year Competition, hails from the small town of Ponce de Leon, Florida. From there, he says he landed a spot in Local 108’s (Birmingham, Alabama) apprenticeship program “by chance.”
He began his journey into the trades at Tom P. Haney Technical College in Panama City, Florida. But his career moved forward after National Training Director Jeff Hughes stopped by the college to introduce students to the Boilermakers, test them and hopefully snag some recruits for the union.
He obviously found a winner in Rushing, who jumped at the chance to go through Welding Boot Camp at Local 455 (Sheffield, Alabama). He said he first heard about the Boilermaker’s Apprentice of the Year competition at Boot Camp. He heard about it again at the Local 108 hall as he progressed through the apprenticeship, and eventually he found himself at the Southeast Regional Apprenticeship Competition.
“I enjoyed the Southeast competition a lot,” Rushing says, noting he thought he’d placed first in the regional, but Trenton Prichard from Local 40 (Elizabethtown, Kentucky) edged him out. He knew then if he wanted to notch a win at nationals, he’d have to put in even more effort.
And he did. Prior to Nationals, he spent five weeks training at L-108 and one week at L-40. “Trenton came down to train with me there.”
Rushing said he spent a lot of time training for the hands-on portion of the competition and studying for the written exam.
“I was excited to represent my local,” Rushing said. “I was a bit apprehensive to compete on the national level, but Trenton is an excellent Boilermaker. And we were able to practice together.”
Rushing doesn’t just represent his local well at competitions. He’s also a solid member of the lodge, according to L-108 BM-ST Heath Simmons.
“As far as Bo, he doesn’t speak a whole lot, but he has an outstanding attitude. He put a lot of time and effort into this,” Simmons says. “He put an immense amount of pressure on himself. He did a great job. I couldn’t be prouder of him.”
Simmons isn’t the only one who saw the potential in Rushing. His fellow apprentices did as well. “It helps out when the other apprentices say ‘Bo should go,’” Simmons says. “His peers all said he’s the best one in the class. Even everybody around him recognized there’s something special about him.”
Even with his potential, it took practice to win. And that extra work paid off for the Southeast competitors, who individually placed first and second at the national competition, switching places from the regional. That surprised Rushing, who thought he didn’t do as well as he expected himself to do. He said when his name was called as the winner, he was in a bit of a shock because the hardest part of the competition was battling himself.
“I’ve always gone about things as a perfectionist,” he says. “And when something doesn’t come out to the standard I thought it should, I’m hard on myself. So it had me wondering.”
But he pulled it off, with support from a host of people including Simmons, his apprentice instructor Joey Umphrey and L-108’s Preston “Pork Chop” Chase. Rushing also credits his college instructor Eddie Beckworth.
“He gave me the foundation I needed to have the opportunity to join the Boilermakers,” he said.
Rushing also had support closer to home, including from his dad, “for showing me how valuable a good work ethic can be and how far it can take you. And my mom, for all the love, patience and good cooking she’s provided me over the years. She’s kept me going.”
He said the competition was tough and the guys in the competition were all the best of the best in their regions. “No one treated it like a cake walk. It’s been a pleasure and an honor working with them and competing with them.”
What’s next for Rushing? He and his fiancé’s wedding, for one thing. And, of course, his career, working as an expert craftsmen.