Local 169 high school competition creates ‘mutual benefits’

By Marty Mulcahy, The Building Tradesman

L-169 Assistant Business Manager and Apprenticeship Coordinator Mike Card addresses aspiring welders.

Students get exposure to Boilermakers; union eyes potential members

ALLEN PARK – Now in its 13th year, the Boilermakers Local 169 (Detroit) High School Welding Invitational has earned a permanent spot on the spring calendar, establishing a program of matching up skilled high school welders with potential jobs in the Boilermakers.

Every spring, Local 169 invites high school welders and their instructors in vocational tech programs from around the state to a competition at the union’s apprenticeship school. Local 169 gets an opportunity to introduce itself and gauge the skills of potential future members, and the high-schoolers get a chance to display their welding skills — plus get an idea of the benefits of working in a skilled trade union.

This year’s daylong invitational took place May 1. Fourteen schools and 51 students participated. Over the years, more than 40 contestants have become members of Local 169.

“This has worked out better than I ever thought it would,” said Local 169’s Mark Wertz, who established the contest. “We’ve seen more than 500 vocational education students come through the doors since we started the program. We try to make it a relaxed, helpful environment and a good experience, so that when they leave they have a better idea of what a boilermaker does.”

Wertz last year become the administrative assistant to the Boilermakers National Apprenticeship Program (BNAP). Also on hand to talk to the high school students was BNAP National Coordinator Martin Spencer.

“Welders, right now, are in high demand, and we want the best welders in the industry. This program gives us a direct pipeline to them.”
— Frank Wimmer, Monarch Welding and Engineering

“I consider this a mutual benefits society,” Spencer told the participants. “Hopefully you will be able to learn about what we do, and talk to the instructors and the people we have here about how to improve your welding. And we, along with our contractors and owners, get to meet with young people who have an interest in the industry. It’s all good. So have fun, enjoy the experience. This has worked out so well that we’re trying to organize contests in other parts of the country.”

One of those contractor representatives on hand to judge the competition was Monarch Welding and Engineering Vice President, Safety and Health, Frank Wimmer. He said three of Monarch’s employees have participated in the welding competition. “Welders, right now, are in high demand, and we want the best welders in the industry,” Wimmer said. “This program gives us a direct pipeline to them.”

Paul Mason, a high school instructor at the St. Clair Technical Center, said this is the sixth year his students have participated in the invitational at Local 169, and four of his former students have become members of the union. “This is a great opportunity to show students that there are good jobs to be found in the trades,” he said. “And I really like it because it gets them out of the shop.”

Mason said that’s important because too often students get comfortable welding in one place. “I want them out of their comfort zone,” he said. “It’s important for a student to get out of his own house and work somewhere else.”

Winners of the competition included Montana Heiss, Flat Rock High School, first place; Russell Klebba, St. Clair TEC, second place; and Michael James, Newaygo County Career Technical Center, third place.

“This competition opens these kids’ eyes, and shows them that we offer good job opportunities,” said Local 169 Assistant Business Manager and Apprenticeship Coordinator Mike Card. “I just think this event is a great recruiting tool for us. It’s a great connection for us to all the high schools and intermediate school districts, and gets the kids involved for a day at our school, when they might otherwise have never known about us.”