Flathead Valley Community College hosted its first high school welding competition Thursday.
The sparks were flying from morning to afternoon in the Occupational Trades building as students from Columbia Falls, Cut Bank, Flathead, Libby, Lincoln County and Whitefish high schools were busy competing for a chance to win scholarships.
“They’re going to do shielded metal arc welding and gas metal arc welding,” said Roddy “Mord” Hill, lead welding instructor at FVCC. “We’re doing three different positions. So you’re going to be doing a horizontal weld, vertical welds and overhead welds.”
Competitors were judged on accuracy and consistency in a variety of areas.
“All the welds have to be the same exact size, which is a quarter inch fillet weld, and to do them in different positions like that is really difficult,” Hill said.
Competition or not, students learn that accuracy is vital in welding.
“Welds are made so stress travels through it, and if the welds aren’t contoured correctly then they’ll crack right along the weld,” Hill said.
Hill said the competition is also an opportunity for students to see how their skills stack up against their peers.
First place went to Ty Fugle, a senior at Cut Bank, and second went to James Williams, a senior at Lincoln County. Both were awarded with $500 scholarships to FVCC. Matt Christ, a senior at Cut Bank, placed third.
For some schools such as Flathead, the competition was a precursor to the Montana SkillsUSA Leadership and Skills Conference in April. For others, like Columbia Falls, it’s the first opportunity welding students have had to compete.
“It’s good for the kids,” Hill said about the competition. “It’s getting them ready for reality and the job market,” Hill said. “You gotta work hard in order to succeed.”
Ben Schaeffer, a welding and computer-aided drafting teacher at Columbia Falls High School, said he brought students to support Hill’s efforts and increase student awareness of the opportunities at the community college. Several competitors are dual-credit students, which means they earn college and high school credit.
“We had a couple of students that graduated last year with 22 college credits through FVCC and five welding certificates. We have a couple of students here today on that same track,” Schaeffer said.
Schaeffer said Columbia Falls High School is discussing possibilities to create a specialized vocational education track for students that would culminate in a pre-apprenticeship and internship.
“It’s exciting,” Schaeffer said about the possibilities for vocational education in the valley.
Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 758-4431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.