Apprentices show off skills during state contest

WHEELING – Plumbers and steamfitters are showing off their skills during the West Virginia Pipe Trades Apprenticeship Contest this week.

Held at the Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 83 at 117 29th St., the contest allows fifth-year apprentices to compete in welding, pipefitting, plumbing, HVAC and sprinkler-fitting. Winners can move on to regional and national contests.

The union’s training center was abuzz with activity Wednesday. Men hailing from Morgantown, Charleston, Huntington and Wheeling made sparks fly while welding fittings together. Other tests involved erecting heating, ventilation and air conditioning electrical systems; piecing together piping systems for household plumbing; rigging pieces of pipe to allow for precise movement through a steel structure; and more.

Jeff Berisford, Local 83 business manager, said before reaching the journeyman status, the apprentices must have five years, or about 8,000 hours, of training and take a final test.

”It’s expensive and time consuming. We put a lot of effort into it,” Berisford said, noting the oil and gas boom in the region requires more skilled workers. To help meet the demand, Local 83 last week finished building its new training center, just in time for the contest.

Berisford said while 30-40 people are attending, only 15 are actually competing.

”This allows them to show off their skills and build camaraderie and compete against each other … ,” he said. ”These are people who work on space shuttles, nuclear subs and install the plumbing in people’s homes. We set the standard. They are the top of the top.”

In addition to the hands-on work, the apprentices must learn and use a lot of higher math, including algebra and trigonometry, and science involving chemical mixtures and pump pressures.