Ann Arbor is a quiet town most of the year. While Saturdays are usually spent watching the University of Michigan Wolverines dominate on the gridiron, for one week out of the year the town’s attention is instead focused on the International Apprenticeship Competition, a battle between some of the most-highly skilled craftsmen in their trade.
For six days in August, 1,377 of North America’s premiere plumbers, welders, pipefitters and service technicians convened at Washtenaw Community College to showcase their talents and hone their skills during the Instructor Training Program (ITP). The United Association of Journeyman and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry of the United States and Canada (UA) has been organizing this annual event since 1954. The competition began the same year, but ended in 1972, only to be revived in 2007.
The apprenticeship competition included 30 contestants from the six regions (five from the U.S. and one from Canada) who were chosen to compete for national bragging rights and industry recognition. The apprentices specialize in five different disciplines: HVAC, pipe fitting, plumbing, sprinkler fitting, and welding, and are tested on their ability to successfully apply multiple joining techniques to a complex copper assembly.
As in years past, the Copper Development Association (CDA) sponsored the copper segment of the competition. Competitors were tasked with completing a timed project that tested their knowledge of copper joining applications. CDA staff not only designed and judged the competition, but they also provided the copper materials and equipment that were used.
“We look forward to this event every year,” said Andy Kireta Jr., CDA vice president of building and construction. “The level of skill and talent that these apprentices display continues to impress us. We are always excited to participate and watch the best-of-the-best go at it in this skilled competition.”
This year, CDA changed the copper installation guidelines slightly from 2010. Given a limited time frame, contestants had to push their copper joining abilities to the maximum. Soldering, brazing, T-Drill™, press-connect, push-connect and roll-groove techniques were all on display. The final systems were judged on workmanship, quality and a compressed air test to ensure there were no leaks.
Eighty-three courses were offered by the UA during the 5-day program, including two sessions on Advanced Copper Installations and Techniques taught by CDA program managers Dale Powell, Harold Moret and Craig Thompson. These technical courses are designed to give UA instructors the latest information and methods on design, installation and operation of copper piping systems so that they can pass it on to their apprentices and journeyman alike back at their locals.
The week ended with the ITP graduation ceremony and the announcement of the competition winners. In addition to a commemorative trophy, the winners of the copper portion of the contest received $1,000. The winners were:
Welder – W3
Sprinkler Fitter – SF4
Pipefitter – PF2
San Jose, CA
Service Technician – ST1
Plumber – PL1