Top graduate apprentice grateful for training, support
AT ANY TIME during the 2018 BNAP graduate apprenticeship competition, one could glance at winner Josh Slater and read the intense concentration and determination on his face — through flying sparks, up high rigging and even in consultation with his team weld partner. Concentration and determination, he says, are two things every apprentice at Local 169 (Detroit) learns early.
It’s evident his local is committed to training quality Boilermakers — Slater was competing to become the sixth Local 169 graduate apprentice to capture the top honor in the last 10 years. Throughout the 2018 competition, L-169’s winning streak pushed Slater to do his best.
“I felt a ton of pressure,” he says. “Nobody said ‘you’d better win.’ It was all self-pressure. But I knew in the back of my head that we’d done so well in the past, I didn’t want to let anyone down.”
And while he captured the top spot in the competition, becoming a Boilermaker wasn’t the first option Slater considered after high school graduation. Instead, he took a 10-week welding course, thinking he could find a steady, high-paying job in a shop.
“I thought I’d be making good money with the certifications I had,” Slater says. “I found the local weld shops did not pay very well.”
He’d already applied at Local 169 for an apprenticeship but hadn’t heard anything, so he decided to change directions and attend nursing school. But before he started classes, the local called, and his career path was set.
“Perfect timing,” says Slater with a smile. And, he says, a good choice. “In the skilled trades, the unions are where you’re going to make a living.”
So far, he’s enjoyed his years in the Brotherhood, though he admits the time and training he put in to prep for the competition took dedication. It paid off.
“I hardly slept the first night knowing that when I’d gotten done with an event, I’d left some things undone,” he says. “At no point did I think ‘I’ve got this.’ Everyone was kicking ass.”
To gear up for the national-level competition, Slater focused on the written testing. “I figured as far as the hands-on portion, if you’re in the competition you’d better already know how to burn, weld and gouge. I really targeted the book work.”
While the written test was tough, he says, the rigging exercise was the most difficult. “In the rigging portion, there was one specific way that was the correct way. But you could do it 100 different ways. It made me think. And sweat.”
Slater appreciated the coaching from L-169 President Mike Card, who also coordinates training for the local. He also acknowledged the guidance he received from BM-ST Bob Hutsell and past winners Marcus Delo and Brandon Dormire, as well as many other members who helped him prepare. He says his wife (and high school sweetheart), Courtney Slater, offered ongoing support and encouragement.
Slater says it was a close competition where every contestant was top notch and where every detail mattered. “I didn’t want to leave behind a point anywhere because I knew it could be the deciding one.”