Apprentice plumber Timothy Girouard, 19, will board a plane in late-August for a 14-hour flight that will take him 4,800 miles to Kazan, Russia.
He’s going to want to make himself as comfortable as possible in coach class because the day after he lands, Girouard, from Southampton, Massachusetts, will represent the United States in the plumbing and heating contest going up against some 75 other countries all vying for gold, silver and bronze in 56 different skills categories at the biennial WorldSkills competition, Aug. 22-27.
“The plumbing projects are very intense and complicated and created by industry personnel that support WorldSkills,” he says. “It will be over 20 hours of work performed over four days.”
Like we said, get some sleep on the plane, Timothy.
Considered the best in the world in each trade skill, contestants compete before the public in contests that are run and judged by demanding international standards. Girouard will compete as one of 21 other members of the WorldSkills USA team, with an average age, like Girouard, of 19, selected and trained by SkillsUSA. It’s the largest team ever to represent the country.
While Girouard didn’t know every detail of the work he would do when we talked to him in May, he’s preparing to plumb, bend pipe, solder, install heating and lavatory systems using about every type of piping along the way.
“We also have judges pressure test our work,” he adds. “And we will also have to handle a change order at some point, very similar to what would take place in the real world.”
Throughout the contest, Girouard and the other competitors are scored for accuracy of their installations, the proper use of equipment and product and overall knowledge of plumbing and heating systems.
Girouard, however, won’t go it alone. Robert Hahn, a plumbing and heating instructor at Eastwick College’s HoHokus School of Trades, in Ramsey, New Jersey, has been training Girouard for the big day(s) since the two met following last year’s SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference. He’ll be arriving in Russia a few days prior to the competition to help organize the show.
“Timothy has a good strong background in plumbing thanks to both his high school and the fact that he’s been out working in the field since his junior year,” Hahn says who been active with the SkillsUSA competition for the past 25 years.
How he got to Russia
When he was a freshman at Smith Vocational Agricultural High School, Northhampton, Massachusetts, Girouard was introduced to 12 different hands-on trades. But he quickly knew which one would be his career.
“I liked the work,” he says of plumbing and heating, “and right off the bat, I was good at it.”
As the name suggests, students at the public high school spend alternating weeks in shop and academic programs as they prepare for both a high school diploma and a certificate of occupational proficiency.
Graduates of Smith are expected to meet academic standards, achieve occupational competency, develop ready-to-go work skills, and prepare for continuing education. Integration of technology in course work is encouraged, and students have access to state-of-the-art computer labs with internet capability. A focus on the acquisition of key life skills, such as good work habits, reliability, self-confidence, resilience, problem-solving, serves to guide students in their personal growth.
Girouard is already out of high school and working as an apprentice at Adams Plumbing and Heating, Adams, Massachusetts. Adams, founded in 1980, is a full-service mechanical contractor plumbing, piping, HVAC and hydronics and steam heating.
“This industry is starving for workers, and I want to help fill that gap,” he adds. “I enjoy working with my hands, and I also understand how technology plays a role in making the job more efficient. I just want to do my part.”
Before graduating high school, Girouard got picked to take part in the SkillsUSA competition, which includes regional and state competitions. The winners eventually end up at the national competition held each year in Louisville, Kentucky.
If anyone has looked on the annual apprentice competition held each year in conjunction with the NAPHCC’s CONNECT conference, they’ll have an idea of what Girouard took part in at SkillsUSA.
Contestants rough-in hot and cold-water lines with copper tubing and in install DWV lines with cast iron and PVC plastic for a water closet, a lavatory, a washer box and a floor drain. Water pipes are pressure tested on completed projects.
“Professional plumbers and pipefitters judge the contestants on accuracy, workmanship, proper selection and use of tools and supplies and proper safety procedures,” Hahn adds.
SkillsUSA is the official U.S. representative to the WorldSkills Competition. After its national competition concludes, SkillsUSA reviews the previous two years for potential candidates who had success in Louisville, send out applications and candidates who wish to pursue a spot on the WorldSkills team are then tested by experts and go through an extensive interview process with industry/business partners.
By then, the field begins to dwindle down until there are two candidates left for each trade. These two candidates compete head to head and the final candidate is then chosen to represent the U.S. Each winner is matched with an expert in his or her respective field to begin training for the international event.
Since being paired up with Girouard, Hahn has been spending select weekends in Massachusetts, going over projects and running over what difficulties Girouard might be having to prepare for the competition.
“We certainly are trainers, but we really are mentors, too,” Hahn adds. “Timothy’s vocational training programs and his instructors have really done the job of preparing him to a large extent. What I do is key into more of what he’s really going to need to know at the international level.”
Hahn has been involved in the plumbing industry since the early 1970s. However, after of few years in the field, Hahn knew his calling was in instruction. So, while he was journeyman plumber, Hahn earned his bachelor's degree in industrial education from Kean University. Later, he added a master’s degree in vocational education from Rutgers University.
As a designated “WorldSkills Expert,” Hahn not only trains Girouard, but also will be judging the work of other plumbing competitors in Russia. (Other experts will be the judge of Girouard’s work.)
“The experts are there at least an hour before the competitors get there,” Hahn adds. “And we may end up staying several hours after the competitors are done just to go over the scoring. A lot of people joke that I’ll be on a vacation, but I work harder when I’m away at these competitions.”
Hahn hopes Girouard walks away from the WorldSkills competition with pride in his work and competitiveness for perfection. He believes the knowledge gained from the WorldSkills competition will instill in him something he will take with him throughout his career.
“There’s a better attitude these days towards vocational programs,” Hahn says. “Plus, there’s a lot more interest and excitement in programs like the SkillsUSA and WorldSkills competition. It can’t help, but put pride in the competitors and help promote the building trades and other skills highlighted at these competitions that offer people a chance at success that doesn’t require a college degree.”