I learned that if you want something, set goals and keep at it. Doesn’t matter how old you are. I’m proof of that.
THE 2019 NATIONAL Apprenticeship Competition winner, Billy Shick, from Local 374 (Hobart, Indiana), is a second-generation Boilermaker who has the building trades in his blood. His uncle, Dewey Shick, labored as a carpenter contractor and his father, Butch Shick and older brother, Chuck Shick are Boilermakers. Even though he knew about the Boilermakers and understood what they did, Shick took a winding path into the union.
“I was off doing my own thing,” he says. And that “thing” was working non-union construction for two decades, using skills he’d learned from his uncle, Dewey Shick, a master carpenter.
By the time Billy Shick turned 36, his brother finally convinced him to take a leap of faith and join the Boilermakers union.
“The union has done a lot for me as far as wages, benefits and a pension,” he says.
While working his first job as an apprentice, he heard about the national competition for graduate apprentices and decided then and there that when the time came, he’d want to compete.
“I knew I wanted to do it,” he says. “I wanted to be that guy.”
So, he worked to make it happen. First, he trained for the regional competition. And when he came in second place, he used that defeat to motivate himself to aim higher at the national contest.
“Being runner-up was what drove me to push it harder,” Shick says. “I knew there were certain areas I needed to improve upon.” Those were bookwork, OSHA safety rules and blueprint reading. “Four or five times a week, I’d go through everything. I spent my whole summer on this stuff when I wasn’t out on a job. Every chance I got, I’d be down there at the hall burning, welding and going over reeving.”
When he showed up at the national competition, he had one thing on his mind: winning. He says his goal from the beginning was to “dethrone Local 169, especially after they got me by a point at regionals.”
Through the entire process, he had a lot of support from friends and union brothers and sisters both in person and on social media.
“Sometimes I’d think, ‘this is too much,’ but then people would pour out encouragement on me and I’d keep going,” Shick says.
He says the most challenging moments of the competition happened on the elliptical layout exercise, due to the two-hour time limit.
Throughout the entire contest, he never took a win for granted, because the competition was so fierce. “The guys I competed with are top notch. From looking at their work, they earned their spot being here. I’d work with any of them any day. They’re very skilled guys.”
He credits his L-374 brothers and sisters who helped him learn on the job over the last four years. Especially his L-374 Zone 3 apprentice instructors Stephen Hurm, Pete Merkel (now the Zone 3 dispatcher) and Brad Young. And Zone 1 instructor Nick Tokarz.
“They gave me everything I needed. And when I had questions, they always came up with the answers.”
He also had the support of his mother, dad, brother, extended family and friends, and especially his fiancée, Tammy Mikeworth.
He says vying for the win taught him a few things he can use for the rest of his life. “I learned that if you want something, set goals and keep at it. Doesn’t matter how old you are. I’m proof of that. It’s never too late.”