The sounds of buzzing power tools and clanking metal marked the 20th year that the United Association of Journeyman and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry of the United States and Canada (UA) has held their International Apprenticeship Competition and Instructor Training Program (ITP) at Washtenaw Community College in Ann Arbor, MI.
This year’s festivities drew a crowd of approximately 1,800 of the best craftsmen from the U.S. and Canada. The Apprenticeship Competition included 30 contestants from all over North America. The participants comprised of six standout apprentices from the five different disciplines — HVAC, pipe fitting, plumbing, sprinkler fitting and welding — who all advanced past state and regional qualifiers to tackle the grueling challenges of the national finals.
The Copper Development Association (CDA) sponsored and judged the copper segment of the competition, which was held over two days and truly tested the expertise of all the fourth- and fifth-year apprentices. All copper tubes and fittings for the competition were donated by CDA member companies. To be crowned the winner of each discipline, the competitors had four hours to show they had what it takes to complete a project that required the completion of nearly 40 copper joints using multiple joining techniques and enough calculations to fill a college curriculum.
“It takes a long time to measure, cut and fabricate the joints and follow the plan’s dimensions precisely,” says Andy Kireta Sr., CDA’s president and CEO, who competed in the copper segment of the UA Competition when he was an apprentice and judged this year’s contest. “It’s a pretty grueling week for these guys.”
Once assembled, their work was put through a compressed air test to make sure their brazing and soldering had no leaks and that their measurements were calculated correctly. As if that wasn’t enough, they also had to compete with Mother Nature, as the temperature broke into the 90s with humidity that wouldn’t let up.
While the apprentices were sweating it out during the competition, the Instructor Training Program (ITP) was being held in one-week sessions that covered everything from the basics to new technology in all fields. CDA offered a 20-hour course: Copper Piping Systems, Advanced Installations, Specialized Design and Safe Operation. The courses were taught by CDA project managers, Harold Moret and master plumber Dale Powell, who provided the UA instructors the knowledge to return to their local unions and teach tomorrow’s craftsmen the necessary skills for properly installing copper systems for water distribution, HVAC and refrigeration, medical gas, fuel gas, sanitary drainage, fire protection and many other applications.
Along with classroom instruction, the tradesmen applied the knowledge they learned in the classroom to hands-on shop projects.
“Letting the instructors move around a little and get hands-on experience really adds another dimension to our course,” Powell says. “It used to be all in a classroom, but we found everybody responds better when you let them apply the methods we just went over in a shop setting.”
The week was capped off with the ITP graduation ceremony, where the winners of the Apprenticeship Competition were also announced.
Overall Contest Winners:
Plumber – Jarrad Taylor, Local #5, Washington, D.C.
Pipefitter – Nick Unfried, Local #136, Evansville, IN
Sprinklerfitter – Joshua Coale, Local #669, Columbia, MD
Welder – Peter Larou, Local 597, Chicago, IL
MES Tech – David Fruehauf, Local 22, Buffalo, NY
Copper Contest Winners:
Plumber – Edgar Perez from Local #24, Newark, NJ
Pipefitter – John-Mark Carlson from Local #32, Seattle, WA Sprinklerfitter – Joshua Coale from Local #669, Columbia, MD
Welder – Thomas Wright from Local #190, Ann Arbor, MI