It wasn’t the sheet metal from race cars that recently brought attendees and spectators to Indianapolis— at least those who came to the Sheet Metal Workers union Local 20’s training center.

The union’s training facility — located about nine miles from the famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway — was the site of its annual statewide apprenticeship competition April 8-9. 

Students had a chance to show their HVAC construction stills in categories such as heating, ventilation and air-conditioning; industrial/welding; service; testing, adjusting and balancing; and architectural sheet metal. 

Using questions and skills tests developed by the union-affiliated International Training Institute, students were judged on their ability to make ductwork, weld, perform the calculations necessary to balance the HVAC system and perform architectural sheet metal forming tasks.

Organizers say this year’s contestants include single mothers, military veterans and people whose families have been involved in sheet metal works for generations.
In the HVAC category, the first-place winner was Mark Ballard of Evansville, Indiana. Brent Hoag of Gary, Indiana, took second place and third place was awarded to Tyler Little of Terre Haute, Indiana. 

TAB winner

In the testing, adjusting and balancing category — often called “TAB,” Will Gillespie of Indianapolis won first place and Josh Ribar of Gary, Indiana, earned second. There was a tie for third: Keaton Sumner of Terre Haute, Indiana, and Joey Haygood of Lafayette, Indiana, shared the honors.

Jacob Pauwels of South Bend, Indiana, won first place in the architectural sheet metal category. It was his third straight win. Matt Pruiett of Evansville took second and Aaron Carter from Gary won third.

In the industrial sheet metal/welding category, Tony Coen of Gary was given first place. Nick Marshall of Terre Haute took second and Chris Maggart of South Bend was in third place.

Zach Smith of Indianapolis earned first place in the HVAC service division. Michael Besse of Gary was second and Jared Handlin of Terre Haute was third.
The training institute oversees 10,000 apprentices enrolled at 150 training centers throughout North America. Similar contests are held in many states and provinces, said Mike Harris, the ITI’s program administrator. 

“It is important to the ITI to encourage these types of local or regional competitions that gauge apprentices based on what they are learning and competing with across the country,” Harris said. “The curriculum is consistent, and testing students in this way continues to show solidarity in education. It’s also insurance for the apprentices they can stand with their peers across the country and Canada and know they’re learning the same skills.”

For Tim Myres, training coordinator for Local 20, the competition among students isn’t as important as showing the skills they’ve mastered.

“We may compete against each other, but we’re striving to make the industry better,” Myres said. “There are current and future leaders in this group. We all compete against each other, but we’re all Local 20.”

Coen, whose has won the competition twice, said he doesn’t really think of the contest as a way to prove he’s a better sheet metal worker. 

“I wasn’t competing with the other guys, I was competing with myself. I won because I just happened to be enough,” he said. “I think the competition is important because it instills integrity. I think it instills drive and motivation for people to become more and not just settle for what will get you by. I think it just drives people to be better than what they are. It was a lot of hard work. A lot of pressure. All in all, I won’t forget this experience. It’ll follow me.”

Gillespie, who won the TAB contest, earned second place in the category last year. He acknowledged assisting other contestants with difficult questions.
“I think I helped everybody more than I should have, honestly, but it’s cool,” Gillespie said. “They’re all friends and I’m sure it will be the same way next year. This year was a lot of pressure. I’m pretty happy it’s over with. I’m pretty happy I came out on top.”