Ohio apprentice training coordinators use Skills USA to scout the future

Ohio sheet metal apprentice training coordinators, business managers, organizers and agents look for the best students to recruit to their apprenticeship programs, and over the years, they’ve found the state Skills USA competition is the perfect spot.

Local leadership teams have hosted the state Skills USA sheet metal and welding sculpture contest for the last decade, and they also assist Lincoln Electric and Miller with their two welding contests during the two-day event.

While training coordinators and the International Training Institute (ITI) representative are busy running two contests, the business managers, agents and organizers have a booth set up in a common area where students can experience the virtual welder and virtual lift, which the ITI, the education arm of the union, also brought this year to add to the experience.

“The students at this competition are the best of the best, and to see them lined up, excited to try the virtual lift or talking to our coordinators is amazing,” said Len Liebert, field staff representative for the ITI.

The virtual simulators give coordinators and instructors the chance to talk to participating high school students about the apprenticeship as early as their junior year. The state competition allows the best-skilled students in the state to compete with one another, which leaves recruits prime candidates for their programs.

“I have never seen a better event to promote apprenticeship and union to a diverse group of people that we don’t usually get into contact with,” said Rob Gartner, training coordinator for Sheet Metal Workers Local 24 in Columbus. “We estimate 4,000 to 6,000 people come through the Skills USA state contest, and every one of them walk past our booth, many stopping to see what we are doing.

“We have recruited many top-level career center students through this effort. You’re getting access to next year’s students, too, so they’re seeing you more than once. They’re seeing you at their school, when they come as a junior and when they compete as a senior.”

This also is the perfect opportunity for students to scout training programs, and Gartner is very well aware they’re also in the spotlight.

“We come together as a group, and they get to see us working as a group, and I think it makes a big difference,” Gartner said.

Coordinators who participated in the event included Al Simonitis, Local 33, Cleveland; Dan Kline and Clint Dockery, Local 33, Toldeo; Eugene Frazier, Local 24, Dayton; Cort Wayman, Local 24, Cincinnati; Wes Smith, Local 33, Akron; Alan Lahey, Local 33, Youngstown and Eric Anderson, Local 33, Parkersburg, West Virginia.

“If you’ve never attended the Ohio Skills USA contest, you’re missing out on seeing teamwork in action. The coordinators for Locals 24 and 33 are in constant communication with each other and students, ensuring everything runs smooth. The team effort that goes into this competition is impressive,” Liebert said.

Business managers, organizers and agents attend the competition, too, because they also see the value in the recruitment opportunity, especially for women. Most of Ohio’s female sheet metal apprentices have come from Skills USA, Gartner said.

“Everywhere we go has been open arms,” Gartner added. “They hear so much negative stuff about unions, but everyone there is clicking and working together. I think it’s a good chance to see unions in a positive light.”

Al Simonitis, Alan Lahey, apprentice, Clint Dockery, Cort Wayman, Dan Kline, Eric Anderson, Eugene Frazier, International Training Institute (ITI), Len Liebert, Lincoln Electric, Miller, Rob Gartner, Sheet Metal Workers Local #33, Sheet Metal Workers Local 24, Skills USA, virtual lift, virtual welder, Wes Smith
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