Sparks flew and blue light seared in Wapato High School’s agriculture mechanics shop Friday morning during a first-time multidistrict welding competition.
Wapato welcomed students from nearby high schools to compete in an industry-supported welding competition intended to challenge students’ skills and develop collaboration.
“Personally, I find it amazing that we can make anything out of just some simple welds, and it’s a competitive thing, so it’s fun to get pushed to the edge and learn new things,” said 16-year-old Gladys Avila-Corona, a competitor from Wapato High School who began welding this school year.
Blue lights flashed behind her as her competition partner, Izaac Hernandez, 18, bonded two scraps together behind a curtain.
Avila-Corona had been drawn to welding after seeing social media posts by Hernandez, who has been welding for several years. Hernandez sees a hobby and potential career path in the craft. He’s already sold things like wall art and phone holders welded from horseshoes, earning enough money to buy his own welding helmet. He’s also made an effort to share the trade with his peers — like Avila-Corona.
The duo saw the Friday competition as an opportunity to test their welding skills and bond with fellow enthusiasts from Central Washington.
They were among 20 teams of students in grades nine to 12 that were given the same blueprint for a welding project.
Students came from Wapato, Toppenish, Selah, Prosser and River View high schools, said Wapato agriculture mechanics teacher Rob Ford.
Ford had developed the challenge blueprint with help from fellow teachers, experts from local farm equipment supplier Harrah Farm Shop, and his father, a retired military welder. The task included vertical stick welding — which he said was “pretty difficult” — a flat position and mig welding, he said.
“In the competition, they’re being graded on their vertical welds, different positioning of welds, the quality of the weld and the quality of their measurement,” Ford said.
The end result, a made-up object, was expected to be able to hold water.
Of the roughly 75 welding students from Wapato High School, Ford said 16 participated in the competition.
“It teaches the kids how to work as a group and how to work together within many groups — how to communicate,” said Ford, between questions from participants. “The fact that I’ve got kids even asking me questions right now from the other schools is great because they’re starting to open up communications with adults, and we lack that this day and age. So these kind of contests help open up those barriers.”
Damon Mattern, a welding paraprofessional from the Toppenish School District, said the competition gave students a realistic view of a day in a welding job.
“They’re getting real-world experience ... being in a fast shop setting where they have to read blueprints and create that product from raw materials,” he said. “You can kind of see what other students are doing around them from other schools ... so that’s kind of nice. They can compare their skills to others.”
Minutes later, Mattern looked over welding work by some of his students and encouraged them to grind down the seams and go back over them to eliminate imperfections and ensure a tight seal.
Bush said that trades from carpentry to operating engineering and electrician work require welding work, and in some cases trade school and community college students are being hired before completing degrees because the skill is in such high demand. He saw the competition as an opportunity for his high school students to grow their talent in potential pursuit of this path.
“These things are life skills so that they can use those throughout their life, and then also its career development,” he said. “Welding is one of those careers that’s not going to go away. There’s always going to be a need for welders.”
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