L-374 puts Boilermakers in the spotlight as SkillsUSA host

This competition—and having it hosted at the Boilermakers’ facility—helps the students put themselves in a real-world situation.

Rachel Moore, Starke County Initiative for Lifelong Learning instructor

Six teams compete against each other—and the clock—to fabricate welding tables.

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Forty Northern Indiana high school students showed off their skills and competed for prizes as Local 374 (Hobart, Indiana) hosted its first SkillsUSA contest at its training center February 4. The daylong event included 22 individual competitors and six three-person teams, representing six area schools.

“This competition—and having it hosted at the Boilermakers’ facility—helps the students put themselves in a real-world situation,” said Rachel Moore, an instructor at Starke County Initiative for Lifelong Learning, which brought three teams and two individual competitors.

Lowell Senior High School instructor Raymond Goss agreed.

“This puts them under pressure and throws them into the fire—literally,” he said. “They’ve got to problem solve under pressure and use machines they may not have used before.”

It also exposed them to the Boilermakers and served as a recruiting opportunity for L-374. Not only did the students experience working hands-on in the Boilermakers’ training center, but they also got to meet some of the Boilermaker members—who served as hosts and judges. 

“That can have a major impact on the students,” Moore said. “They get to meet the Boilermakers and see where they train. It gives them a good idea of what’s ahead for them in the trades.”

Moore noted that several of her students have interned with Local 374, and she proudly pointed out a former student—now Boilermaker apprentice—on the local’s apprentice wall of fame.

“These students will be able to apply for apprenticeships soon,” added Goss. “This gives them a chance to see what a union is like.”

They get to see we’re a brotherhood—we’re family.

Dan Sulivan, L-374 BM-ST

For L-374 Business Manager/Secretary Treasurer Dan Sulivan, agreeing to host the event was a no-brainer. He serves on the Lowell Senior High School’s tech advisory board, and when he learned that SkillsUSA was looking for a new contest host, he jumped on the opportunity.

SkillsUSA gave L-374 a little guidance and handled the student registrations, but they left the competition curriculum up to the local. Sulivan said they structured the day based on the Boilermakers National Apprenticeship Program Apprentice of the Year competition, composed of tests on welding skills, fabrication and a written exam. For SkillsUSA, they adapted BNAP and the Great Lakes Boilermaker Apprenticeship Program materials. 

For the team competition, each team completed a group written exam and received materials and instructions for fabricating a welding table. Judges checked in with the teams at different points to provide feedback, guidance and approval to move forward with their work.

“It’s been a little bit of a learning curve, but we got a lot of great feedback from the instructors, parents and students,” Sulivan said. “Everyone was really pleased with how they day went.

“Anyone who wants to host a SkillsUSA competition needs to have a game plan and just work that game plan. I think anyone can do it, especially when we already have the facility set up for this kind of thing.”

Sulivan tapped local members Nick Tokarz, Brad Seivers and Jason Struzik to lead the event efforts, and he said it took about 20 Boilermaker volunteers to make things run smoothly. Some acted as hosts, exam proctors, judges and gave general guidance to the students. The local also provided breakfast, snacks and lunch for the competitors.

“Doing little things like that makes them feel welcome,” Sulivan said. “They get to see we’re a brotherhood—we’re family.”

Team winners were: Lowell Senior High School, first and third (Lowell sent multiple teams to the competition); Starke County Initiative for Lifelong Learning, second place; Kankakee Valley High School, fourth place.

Top individual winners were: Bill Thorner, first place; Thad Pletcher, second place; Allen Evans, third place; William Quesenberg, fourth place; and Wesley Tiemes, fifth place.

Top team and individual winners advanced to the state SkillsUSA competition.

And in the end, Local 374 won, too: prospective new apprentice applicants, team-building among the Boilermaker volunteers, positive community relations and six new welding tables.

“I hope this will be an annual thing. We’re empowering students and introducing them to the Boilermakers. This is the kind of opportunity that gives them a leg up in getting into a union apprenticeship, and we look forward to taking applicants that come from these competitions,” Sulivan said.