PHILADELPHIA, PA — To sports fans, March is known as the time of year when college basketball teams begin their march towards a National Championship. What is not as well known is that it is also the time of year when union apprentice sheet metal workers in 12 regions around the country hit the books and hone their skills to prepare for their own national championship.

The 28th annual National Sheet Metal Apprenticeship Contest will be held this year in Philadelphia May 17-20. To get there, second-, third- and fourth-year apprentices had to qualify by competing in first their local and then their regional contests, which started in the United States and Canada on March 17.

But apprentices will need more than the luck of the Irish to win. The qualifiers must pass a grueling competition that includes welding, drafting, a written examination, a demanding sheet metal project, and plan-and-specification reading.

Getting there is half the fun

“We start out with 9,000 competing apprentices,” explained Dennis Murphy, administrator of research and development for the International Training Institute. “By the time they get to Philadelphia this May there will only be 36 left, 12 from each year, and they will be the cream of the crop.

“They will virtually pass through fire to get to the championship.”

The ITI sponsors the contest for the Sheet Metal and Air Condition-ing Industry, a joint labor-management program that provides the most advanced training possible for men and women in the trade.

Just making the finals identifies the apprentice as a skilled craftsman and a driven worker. Winning the contest marks the person as a potential leader in the field. In addition, Invesco Capital Management will present the winner from each apprentice year a $5,000 annuity fund.

Regional contests were scheduled in Rocky Hill, CT; Wilkes-Barre, PA; North Miami, FL; Warren, MI; Carol Stream, IL; Sioux Falls, SD; St. Louis, MO; Tulsa, OK; Salt Lake City, UT; Garden Grove, CA; and Spokane, WA.