International construction industry competition reveals “The Best of the Best”.

A contestant in the UA International Apprenticeship Competition does some last-minute soldering. Photo: CDA


“Contractors should be standing right there recruiting these guys because they’re the best of the best.” A strong testimonial, but it came from a copper industry expert, and copper pipes were a major part of the event at hand. The comment came from Andy Kireta Sr., president and CEO of Copper Development Association Inc., and “the best of the best” was a special group of apprentices from the United Association of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry of the United States and Canada.

These apprentices took part in the UA’s annual international apprentice competition in early August. They made their way through the preliminary levels – local, state, regional – and were competing in the final international championship phase in Ann Arbor, Mich.

“Reaching the final round was no easy task for any of these apprentices,” said Mike Arndt, training director of the UA, “since all those competing have received the UA’s high level of training in five required disciplines.” The 2009 winners in each division are:
    Pipefitter: Nick Unfried, Local Union (LU) 136, Evansville, Ind.
    Service Technician: David Fruehauf, LU 22, Buffalo, N.Y.
    Welder: Peter LaRou, LU 597, Chicago
    Plumber: Jarrad Taylor, LU 5, Washington, D.C.
    Sprinklerfitter: Josh Coale, LU 669, Taylorsville, Ky.
Pete Marzec, a retired special representative from the UA’s International Training Department, is current chairman of the UA contest committee. “This is a tough competition,” he said. “The contestants are challenged each year with the latest in industry technology and they have to meet that challenge. The judges are all industry people, suppliers and contractors, so they know what they’re looking for – and once again, they got it.”

CDA project manager Harold Moret explains the proper technique of brazing to a UA instructor during the Instructor Training Program. Photo: CDA

The CDA sponsored and judged the copper segment of the competition, which was held over two days and tested the expertise of all the fourth- and fifth-year apprentices. All copper tubes and fittings for the competition were donated by CDA member companies.

To be crowned the winner of each discipline, the competitors had four hours to finish a project that required the completion of nearly 40 copper joints using multiple joining techniques and enough calculations to fill a college curriculum, CDA said.

“It takes a long time to measure, cut and fabricate the joints and follow the plan’s dimensions precisely,” said Kireta. “It’s a pretty grueling week for these guys.”

Once assembled, their work was put through a compressed air test to make sure their brazing and soldering had no leaks and that their measurements were calculated correctly.

Copper contest winners were:
    Plumber: Edgar Perez from Local #24, Newark, N.J.
    Pipefitter: John-Mark Carlson from Local #32, Seattle, Wash.
    Sprinklerfitter: Joshua Coale from Local #669, Columbia, Md.
    Welder: Thomas Wright from Local #190, Ann Arbor, Mich.
    MES Tech: David Fruehauf from Local #22, Buffalo, N.Y.
Aside from the respect of their peers and spectators, top honors from the copper segment of the competition received $1,000 awards and copper trophies appropriately donated by CDA.

A UA instructor practices brazing during the Instructor Training Program. Photo: CDA

Their Best Tool

In addition to being an expert in the copper industry, Kireta was once a runner-up in a past UA final competition, through a 1973 win at a regional fitters competition in central Pennsylvania. Kireta, who started his apprenticeship in 1968, went on to become an instructor at the local level for seven years. He was then recruited by the Copper Development Association, where he worked his way up to his current position as president and CEO.

He has been involved as a judge in the UA competition’s copper division for three years. “I don’t have to be there, but I think it’s important to give something back to an industry that’s given me so much,” he said. “I tell these apprentices that the best tool they have is right between their ears and it’s all about discipline.”

In addition to the pride and reputation that comes to these industry superstars, the winners and runners-up are also recipients of some impressive awards, such as gold rings, tool boxes outfitted for their specific craft, welding machines, jackets and helmets – and the best copper project in each craft receives a $1,000 check. 

Contestants can compete each year in the local and regional contests but can only take part once in the international competition. 

Taking advantage of the training offered by the UA pays off, according to previous winners. “This is a great opportunity. Contractors pay attention to the winners of this competition,” remarked Tyrrell Graham, a past winner from Minnesota.

Martin Stevens Jr., a winner from Toledo, Ohio, agrees. “Competing here has opened a lot of doors,” he stated.

This year’s competition was made up of 30 participants from six geographic regions: five in the United States and one in Canada. In addition to five-year apprenticeship programs, the United Association offers continuing education opportunities that include journeyman training and certifications in valve repair, welding, backflow prevention, medical gas installation, safe removal of refrigerants, and much more.

For more information about UA training, go to www.uauniversity.org.

Source: United Association