The apprenticeship competition highlights the importance of manufacturing in southwestern Pennsylvania.
Local fabrication apprentices put their skills and knowledge to the test Friday in a contest to see who’s the best at metalworking in southwestern Pennsylvania.
The competition, held annually by the Pittsburgh Chapter of the National Tooling and Machining Association, featured eight apprentices from six local manufacturing companies.
This year’s competition was held at Westmoreland County Community College’s Advanced Technology Center, located in the former Sony factory in East Huntingdon. The center serves as a 73,500 square foot manufacturing center and includes specialized laboratories, teaching spaces and classrooms.
The apprentices kicked off the event with a written exam, followed by a long practical part during which the participants had to make two parts, one with a lathe and the other with a milling machine. They had four hours to make each piece using blueprints they had never seen before.
The competition “reflects real life” for manufacturers, according to David Holm, a representative of Kiski Precision Industries.
Louie Brooks, a representative for Penn State Tool & Die, said the contest served as a “huge springboard” for entrants.
“It’s probably the first time they’ve had a picture of a design and they started manufacturing without any leadership,” Brooks said. “It’s like taking the first step towards accountability.”
If a participant completed a part before the deadline, they earned extra points for saving time, said Liz Blashack, program and event coordinator for the Pittsburgh Chapter National Tooling & Machining Foundation.
Blashock, who runs NTMF’s apprenticeship program, said apprentices were showing a mixture of excitement and nervousness ahead of the event.
Two NTMA member companies will judge the apprentices on their knowledge, skills and efficiency.
The winner of the competition will be announced on June 8 at the annual NTMA Apprentice Graduation Banquet. In addition to the title of Top Apprentice Steelworker, the winner will also receive an H. Gerstner & Sons Toolbox valued at $1,495.
Participating apprentices include Charles Shiring and Timothy Sheffler of Kiski Precision Industries in Leechburg; Brandon Richards and Glenn Robaugh of Penn State Tool & Die, which has stores in North Huntingdon and Mt. Pleasant; Dominick Rucker of CP Industries Holdings Inc., McKeesport; Tyler Barker of Penn United Technologies in Butler County; Shane Feher of Hamill Manufacturing Company, Trafford; and Zaiah Zieger of Jatco Machine & Tool Company, Bellevue.
Each participant will receive a certificate for completing the event. Roxanne Shurtz, member of the NTMF board of directors and representative of Kurt J. Lesker Co., said that many employers will appreciate the initiative of apprentices to compete.
“The competition is not just a good thing for (the apprentices) to see where their skills stand and where they need help. But also, as an employer, I’m going to look at (competition) as an initiative,” Shurtz said.
The competition also showcases manufacturing skills and benefits.
High school and college students might not realize that manufacturing is a career path with minimal debt and good pay, according to Holm. When given the opportunity, Holm encourages students to consider a career in manufacturing.
Edward Sikora, executive director of NTMF, said contests like this continue to drive home the message that manufacturing matters.
“(Apprentices are) in a career that most people don’t understand,” he said. “(Competition) gives them visibility and gives the industry visibility.”