Top piping trades apprentices from across Canada, including a female welder from Alberta, are poised to showcase their skills at the international level at an upcoming competition in Ann Arbor, Mich.
The five apprentices, representing locals of the United Association (UA) of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry of the United States and Canada, were in the winners' circle at the UA's national apprentice competition in Toronto in June.
In Ann Arbor, they will compete against American and Australian apprentices at the event which gets underway today (Aug. 5) and concludes with an awards ceremony Aug. 13. In all, there will be 32 competitors.
Carrying the Canadian flag are champs Alanna Marklund of Local 488 (welding); Lyle Beliveau of Local 853 (sprinkler fitting); Cody Beck of Local 67 (plumbing); Mike Malloy of Local 527 (steamfitting); and Brandon Ness of Local 787 (HVACR).
"I am very excited to compete in Michigan," said third-year apprentice Marklund, a native of Fort Saskatchewan, Alta. who is currently employed through the union at Aecon Industrial-Western Canada.
"I like to push myself and use this as another learning opportunity. I learned so much in the (Canadian) regional and national competitions. I cannot wait to see what the international competition has in store.
"I think we do great work here. It will be fun to show that we can compete on a level playing field with competitors from the U.S. and Australia."
Similar sentiments were expressed by other Canadian apprentices. Plumbing champ Beck of Brantford, Ont., a third-year apprentice who won the silver medal in his category at the 2014 Skills Canada national competition in Toronto, is also looking forward to Ann Arbor.
"They say it is just an unbelievable experience," said Beck, who is employed at a Hamilton mechanical contracting firm, Keith's Plumbing and Heating Inc.
Steamfitting category winner Malloy, a fifth-year apprentice from Kitchener, Ont. who has been employed during his apprenticeship at MWS Solutions Inc. in Waterloo, Ont. is also excited to be competing.
"Regardless of the outcome, I hope to have fun and represent Canada favourably," said Malloy who is particularly keen on meeting the two Australian apprentices.
At the 2015 national competition in Toronto, the 15 advancing regional finalists from the East, Central and West were tested on both their skills and theoretical understanding of their trade.
In addition to writing exams, competitors also completed practical assignments in such areas as rigging and oxy-acetylene cutting and brazing.
Mike Gordon, assistant director of training at UA Local 46 in Toronto which hosted the event said the competition gives union members an opportunity to showcase their skills on a broader scale.
"The competition also raises the bar for our apprentices and shows them there are standards and expectations in our industry," he said.
The Canadian competition, the eighth of its ilk and the third held in Toronto, is also a springboard to the Ann Arbor event which was resurrected by UA General President William P. Hite and UA Training Director Chris Haslinger after a hiatus of a number of years.
Larry Slaney, the UA's Ottawa-based Canadian director of training, said the international event is important to Canada in that it provides a venue for the country to showcase the skills of its apprentices "who can build almost anything if you give them a challenge.
"It is also a great place for these future leaders to meet and make new friends and see the big picture which will allow them to go back to work with a different perspective on how things should be done. "Many of them turn into leaders in their organizations as a result."
In the past, five Canadians have been victorious in Ann Arbor, winning first place in all categories except welding. In both 2013 and 2014, the champs in the HVACR category were from Canada.
Slaney is keeping his fingers crossed that Marklund, the first female to compete at the international event, can pull off a win this year in Ann Arbor.
"I hope she can pull it out for Canada and prove to all the women out there that they can be successful in the trades. I know she is fully capable of doing this, having watched her compete in Toronto.
"It really depends on the competition she has down in the U.S."
The Ann Arbor competition is overseen by a six-person committee chaired by Illinois-based Jerry O'Leary, a retired UA member.
"This event is a good way to assess the qualifications of apprentices that are coming through the system," he said, noting that the competition also provides an opportunity for the UA to tweak its various training programs.
O'Leary said that while the apprentices are competing against each other, "they have breakfast, lunch and dinner together and a lot of camaraderie develops.
"When they go back home, this is an experience that they will remember for the rest of their lives regardless of the outcome."