|Hunter Rosnow, an apprentice with Local 539, checks his work during the Minnesota Pipe Trades Apprenticeship Contest. He will be going on to the district competition.
It had all the hallmarks of any March tournament: High stakes, high pressure, even a snowstorm. The Minnesota Pipe Trades Apprenticeship Contest had come to Duluth, and sparks were flying from welding projects, while in other rooms at the Local 11 Training Center, participants were feverishly navigating pipes set within an awkwardly-sized but industry standard box.
“It’s frustratingly stressful,” said Tyrrell Graham, Pipefitters Local 455 (St. Paul-Mankato), who was serving as a proctor for the competition. Years ago, he too competed as an apprentice and then went on to the national competition. “You don’t think about it now, doing it day to day, but when you’re competing against 2,500 others who are all industry pros, it makes you nervous.”
The competition is meant to highlight the skills apprentices need to succeed in the trades, as well as put a spotlight on the apprenticeship programs that teach them those skills.
Participants competed at the training center and winners move on to the District 4 competition in Madison. They were:
HVAC Tech: Tucker Skogstad, Pipefitters Local 539 (Minneapolis-St. Cloud)
Plumber: Makayle Brennan, Plumbers & Pipefitters Local 6 (Rochester)
Pipefitter: Hunter Rosnow, Local 539
Welder: Max Minwagon, Local 455
Sprinkler Fitter: Michael Murray, Sprinkler Fitters Local 417 (Minneapolis-St. Paul)
While speed and completion are big factors, proctors are watching to determine how well apprentices are following the best practices that they’re taught. Brad Hopping, training director at Local 417 said craftsmanship is one of the things proctors look for. “We look for them to do what they’re trained to do — you’ve got to work safely and manage their time.”
He said one competitor he had been watching in the HVAC competition wasn’t able to finish in time. “He had the math right, and would have gotten there in another 15 to 20 minutes. It’s interesting to see how the pressure affects them, but overall they’re all doing a fantastic job.”
“At some point they all just collapse under the pressure,” Graham added, but that’s part of learning. “You’re rooting for all of them, as a proctor.”
Hopping said it can be difficult for locals to find competitors. “I go to the classes to find some who are eligible, and you look for volunteers, and their peer group will put someone forward, but it’s still hard.”
“They’re afraid to get judged,” added Gene Stevens, a business agent with District 28 and member of Road Sprinkler Fitters Local 699 (Central Region), “But going to this contest is a feather in your cap. It shows initiative and some guys go on to be training coordinators themselves.”
Proctors said Midwestern competitors tend to dominate at the national and international competition, which is a testament to the strength of the training programs. In 2021, Karin Dahlin, Local 359, won first place at nationals as an HVAC apprentice.
Graham, who now owns his own company, Northland Refrigeration, said he got into the trades by working maintenance-type jobs in his teens. “I enjoyed refrigeration, and I did PSEO in high school an kept right on going into the apprenticeship and kept on the path.”