L-169 welding contest becomes destination for high schoolers

Story and photos by Marty Mulcahy, the Building Tradesman

Retired L-169 instructor Jim Howard addresses participants in the lodge’s annual welding contest for high school students.

Over 500 participate since program’s inception

A DECADE AFTER the first Boilermakers Local 169 High School Welding Invitational, the annual springtime event has become a fixture on the calendar for both the union and high school vocational education programs around Michigan.

This year, the invitational was held April 26 at Local 169’s training center. In attendance were 54 students from 13 different high schools, seeking an opportunity to show their knowledge in a written test and skills in a welding examination during a day-long contest. Since 2003, the event has opened doors to the Local 169 apprenticeship program, as 40 students have been indentured over the years.

“It’s a very important event on our schedule,” Local 169 Business Agent/Apprentice Coordinator Mark Wertz told the students before the competition. Wertz organized the invitational since its inception. “For us, this competition is about finding the right people for the craft. But for all of you, use this as an opportunity to learn. The judges are here to judge your work, but more importantly they’re here to guide you and help you.”

Students were judged on both a 100-question multiple-choice test and a weld exam involving an open-butt, vertical V-groove.

“Not everyone is bound for college,” Local 169 Business Manager Bob Hutsell told attendees. “If you’re accepted into the Boilermakers, we pay for all your training, and you can go across the country with your skills to find work. It’s hot, difficult work, but we’re all about safety.” High schools that are invited can bring up to four students. To date, more than 500 students have participated during the program’s 11-year run.

“You have an opportunity to get signed up for the Boilermaker trade,” said Detroit Boiler Co. President Chris Lanzon. “If you work hard and apply yourself, it can be a great opportunity for you. But we expect you to do work in a safe, skilled manner.”

Marty Spencer, national coordinator of the Boilermakers National Apprenticeship Program, himself a graduate of Seneca Vocational High School in Buffalo, New York, told the students that he made a special effort to attend the Michigan invitational “because I understand what vocational tech is, and what it does for society. If you are able to get into the Boilermakers, you cannot get better training. We give you all the training, and all the opportunity — and it’s free. If you can concentrate on the learning the trade, you can have what we have: a career.”

Winning the Invitational were (first through third place) Justin Zueski, Flat Rock High School; Michael Waszkiewicz, Flat Rock High School, and Kai Armstrong, Stevenson High School. St. Clair High School won the team award.