By CARL GREEN
Fairmont City, IL – People don’t often think about all the things that Iron Workers do. There’s welding, of course, but also a host of other skills that are needed to build things like bridges, schools, factories, hospitals and other essentials of modern life.
Some of those skills include rigging, to lift heavy steel pieces into place; installation of windows, doors and structural ornamentation; rebar, to build steel support into structures; burning, to use welding tools to cut out needed pieces; and, sooner or later, climbing columns to make those hard-to-reach welds.
We’ve all heard of the Iron Workers Union, but its full name helps give an idea of the scope of their work. It’s the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers Union.
A key to the union’s success at providing skilled workers for construction, and at keeping those workers occupied, is the union’s extensive apprenticeship training program.
In this region, the locals are part of the Iron Workers St. Louis District Council. Together they provide a four-year apprenticeship program that not only teaches skills and puts young people to work but also provides college credit.
So it’s not a big surprise that each year, the apprentice programs of the locals get together to give their students a chance to compete against each other in the Outstanding Apprentice Contest.
SEVEN LOCALS, FIVE STATES
In the St. Louis District, seven locals from five states join in the contest and take turns hosting it.
This year’s event was hosted recently by East St. Louis Local 392, which serves 20 counties in southern and central Illinois and has its training center next to its union hall in Fairmont City, a north St. Clair County town just off of Interstate 64.
Each of the seven locals was represented by two top apprentices, all accompanied by instructors from their locals.
“It’s the best of the best,” said Dan Koleson, the welding instructor who led development of the training center here back in the 1960s and still works with the apprentices. “These guys compete against everybody in their locals just to get here.”
From Wednesday through Friday, June 7-9, the apprentices competed in welding, burning, rigging knots, column climbing and tying rebar into place. On Friday morning, they were using welding tools to cut precise patterns and make welds, and later they competed in climbing.
The competitors were:
• Douglas Wallace and Blake Walker from Local 782 in Paducah, KY.
• Dustin VanHorn and Jake Ellis from Local 10 in Kansas City, MO.
• Robert Alberternst and Phil Alberternst from Local 396 in St. Louis.
• Travis Dryden and Nathan Shaver from Local 577 in Burlington, Iowa.
• Zack Wright and Sean Hill from Local 392.
• Shawn Mahan and Steve Roberts from Local 46 in Springfield, IL.
• Kelton Hipsher and Damian Dennison of Local 103 in Evansville, IN.
And after the point totals were compiled, the winners were… Jake Ellis first and Dustin VanHorn second, and both will move on to the next level. Robert Alberternst was third.