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Over half of America’s skilled trade employees are nearing retirement age and fewer men and women are being prepared to take their places. To address the shortage of skilled laborers, the Copper Development Association sponsored the copper piping portion of the annual the United Association Competition and Instructor Training Program in Ann Arbor, Michigan on Aug. 13-18.
The annual competition featured apprentices from the UA’s six North American districts and Australia who had won local and state events. The week-long event included a series of tests in each field – plumbing, pipefitting, sprinkler fitting, mechanical service and welding – that required apprentices to apply the on-the-job skills and knowledge they’ve gathered at their local union halls. The four-hour copper component of the competition included nearly every type of joining technique for piping systems.
“This competition has given me the opportunity to work on many different things I’ve never worked on before,” said service technician apprentice Andrew Portelli. “Pushing me to a do a project like this has really forced me to learn.”
CDA donated all copper materials for the competition and was responsible for designing and judging the projects. Awards were presented to the winners representing each of the five field specialties.
“It’s always interesting to watch the approach that a thoughtful, skilled mechanic brings to a project with no step-by-step instructions,” said Andy Kireta Jr. vice president of CDA. “They each choose where to start and how to proceed. It’s a good thing for many that copper is so forgiving, easy to work with and join that minor mistakes can be fixed without scrapping the whole system.”
CDA also taught courses as part of the UA’s Instructor Training Program. The courses focused on copper techniques and applications, including standards, soldering and brazing, dissimilar metal joining, alternate no-flame joining, joint analysis, corrosion causes and prevention for long-term performance.
“With fewer young men and women looking to join the industry, it is crucial that instructors properly educate our limited workforce,” said Dale Powell of CDA. “Year after year, I see instructors incorrectly perform basic soldering and brazing techniques. Through the training program, CDA is able to help correct these techniques and ensure that proper skills are passed on to future generations.”
The week concluded with the Instructor Training Program graduation ceremony and the announcement of the winners for the apprenticeship competition for each particular discipline. In addition to a commemorative copper trophy, the winners of the copper portion of the contest each received a $1,000 prize from CDA.
“Becoming a tradesmen is a very, very rewarding career,” said Portelli. “You get to learn something new every day. If you want a job where you're just going to show up and go home, this is not the job for you. It pushes you to better yourself all the time.”