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First gen Boilermaker captures title through perseverance

They will teach you everything you need to know to be on a job site. It’s up to you to learn it.

Matthew Dowdy, L-40, BNAP Apprentice of the Year Competition winner

BNAP Apprentice of the Year Competition winner Matthew Dowdy

From a little spot in western Kentucky, Matthew Dowdy, L-40 (Elizabethtown, Kentucky) found his way into the Boilermakers in 2017 and on to win the 2022 BNAP Apprentice of the Year Competition.

Dowdy grew up in a small town in Graves County, Kentucky. After high school he worked for a company welding, machining and performing general work in the metal trades. His high school welding instructor wasn’t a Boilermaker but knew some people who were and told Dowdy about the union. Eventually Dowdy found his way to Local 40. And while he didn’t know any Boilermakers personally, “the instructors in the hall took me in,” he said.

After he indentured, he met a member of his local who was prepping for the competition. “He encouraged everyone to participate,” Dowdy said. He kept that in mind for the next few years.

So, when the end of his apprenticeship was on the horizon, he decided he’d go for it and started the process to earn his way to the national competition. Preparation was challenging. He had moved to northwest Tennessee and didn’t live that close to the union hall. That meant he had to plan time to make the drive to commit to hands-on practice. Once, he drove to the hall and spent a week there practicing. He also went to L-108 (Birmingham, Alabama) and worked there perfecting his skills.

He said he put in “countless hours of studying and practice. I wish I could tell you a number, but I can’t. But there’s plenty of them. And you practice everything you can because you don’t know what’s going to be up here,” he said.

He also did a lot of studying on his own. All the hard work, the time away from his family paid off.

Still, it was nerve-wracking.

 “There’s a lot of pressure because you’re representing the entire local,” he said. “It’s an honor, and it’s plenty of pressure.”

Dowdy said that overall, it was a tough competition. “There was extensive testing. I thought the toughest part was either the OSHA test or the stick welding.” Even so he enjoyed the week. “It was an excellent competition. It was challenging.”

He described his competitors as fine Boilermakers and good representations of the Boilermaker apprenticeship program. “I’d be happy to work with them and beside them.”

On his way to the win, he said there were so many people who helped him, it was impossible to list them all. He named a few from his local, including Bill VanMeter,

Ken Ritchie, Jr., Chris Elmore, former BM-ST Mike Autry and current BM-ST Don Sammons. 

Dowdy learned some lessons about himself as he prepared and competed. “When you think you’ve gone just far enough to get by you should try harder and do the best job at what you’re trying to accomplish,” he said before commenting on the Boilermaker National Apprenticeship Program. “They will teach you everything you need to know to be on a job site. It’s up to you to learn it.”

And given the outcome of the competition, Dowdy did just that.