High school, college-age students competed for top honors, trip to national contest

FAIRFAX, Va. – Some of the last industries to recover from the recession have been the construction and labor trades. With building starting to slowly pick up across the nation, apprenticeship programs such as that for the unionized sheet metal and air conditioning industry are looking at different ways to recruit qualified applicants to attend 153 four- and five-year, post-secondary schools across the country.

Apprenticeship directors recruit like college recruiters – they want the best students for their school, and ultimately, to carry on the traditions, disciplines and technologies of the trade.

In Ohio, the recent statewide Skills USA competition was the perfect location – youth and young adults, who have gone through Skills USA’s professional leadership training, competed in their areas of interest, including HVAC and sheet metal work and sculpture.

The Ohio Valley Coordinators Group, made up of training directors from unionized sheet metal training schools across the state, judged this year’s contest for the sixth year. Every year, the directors make it a point to get to know the high school and fellow post-secondary instructors in Ohio in order to view the best recruits for upcoming apprenticeship classes. Also, demonstrations, such as welding, help show potential apprentices what sheet metal work is all about.

“They’re the best in our craft on the high school level. They come to us with the skillset to start right out of the gate,” said Eugene Frazier, apprentice director at Sheet Metal Workers Local No. 24’s training school in Dayton and member of the Ohio Valley Coordinators Group. “These are the most professional young adults out there.”

This year, high school and post-secondary students from across the state earned top awards. In the high school category, Remington Niemchak, 18, of R.G. Drage Career Technical Center in Massillon, Ohio, earned the gold medal with Leonardo Ornelas, of Auburn Career Center in Concord Township, Ohio, with the silver. Joshua Moorehouse, of the Miami Valley Career Center in Clayton, earned the bronze medal.

In the post-secondary category, Jordan Rogers of the Miami Valley Career Center took home the gold medal, and Chad Monger, of Great Oaks/Live Oaks Career Campus in Milford, earned the silver medal. Keith Klock, of Diamond Oaks Career Development Center, in Cincinnati, earned the bronze medal.

Sheet metal welders took their artistic side in the welding sculpture category. Dillon Channoll, of Portage Lakes Career Center in Uniontown, celebrated with the gold medal along with Cody Carr, from Butler Technical and D. Russel Lee Career Technical Center in Hamilton, who earned the silver and Jesse Miles, from the Grant Career Center, in Bethel, with the bronze medal.

Last year, Neimchak, a senior, placed fourth in the competition. This year, he came with the mission to win.

“I did well last year as a junior, and I really wanted to place this year,” he said. “I just really wanted to see how good I could do compared to everyone else.”

Although he plans on going into the Air Force, Neimchak found sheet metal because of the variety of skills involved.

“I like working with my hands, and the creativity of it,” he said. “You can make just about anything with it.”

While Neimchak is just starting out, Rogers, 25, found sheet metal and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) work after trying and disliking other labor-based jobs. He is enrolled in Miami Valley Career Center’s 12-month post-secondary program.

“I wanted a career I could work my way up in,” Rogers said. “One day you’re doing some electrical work. The next day you’re doing sheet metal. You’re never doing the same thing every day. That keeps it exciting.”

SkillsUSA is a partnership of students, teachers and industry working together to ensure the United States has a skilled workforce. Skills USA helps each student excel with the mission to empower its members to become world-class workers, leaders and responsible American citizens.

More than 15,000 apprentices are registered at the 153 training facilities in the United States and Canada. The International Training Institute for the unionized sheet metal and air conditioning industry is jointly sponsored by SMART, the International Association of Sheet Metal Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (formerly the Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association) and the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA).  

ITI supports apprenticeship and advanced career training for union workers in the sheet metal industry throughout the United States and Canada. Located in Fairfax, Va., ITI produces a standardized sheet metal curriculum supported by a wide variety of training materials free of charge to sheet metal apprentices and journeymen.

Those interested in Skills USA can visit skillusa.org. For additional information on a sheet metal apprenticeship, visit ITI’s website, sheetmetal-iti.org.