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Portland sends two to construction championships

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JOHN M. VINCENT - Sheet Metal apprentice Tom Burns is working on the Q21 mixed-use project in northwest Portland. The American Heating, Inc. employee will head for Florida this week to compete in the American Builder and Contractors annual skills competition.For the first time in the history of the American Builder and Contractors’ Pacific Northwest Chapter, two Portland apprentices will compete in this week’s National Craft Championships.

Sheet metal worker Tom Burns and HVAC apprentice Jared Abbott will represent Oregon and Southwest Washington in the annual competition this week in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Both won chapter competitions in their respective skills to move on to the nationals.

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JOHN M. VINCENT - American Builders and Contractors skills competition contestant Jared Abbott was tasked with converting a furnace from natural gas to propane in the regional competition. Hell be competing with apprentices from many of the organizations 70 chapters across the country in the national competition.It’s insanely awesome,” says chapter President and CEO Laurie Kendall.

American Builder and Contractors is a trade organization representing 21,000 merit (non-union) shops across the U.S., and both competitors are apprentices in its training program. The intense need for skilled construction workers spans union and non-union lines, as more experienced workers are retiring from the ranks of workers than are entering the construction business.

Each year the organization conducts an annual construction crafts competition, pitting workers across 15 competitions in 13 crafts. The Portland apprentices will compete in the sheet metal and HVAC contests.

Tom Burns, 25, disenchanted working outside as a roofing contractor in Alaska, joined the state’s local ABC apprenticeship program three and a half years ago. Two years ago he moved to Portland, and was able to transition in to the region’s local program “I was able to transfer everything right down here,” says Burns, “and keep going the way I started.”

He now works as sheet metal worker with American Heating Inc., while he studies under the ABC apprenticeship program.

“I wish I had gotten into it fresh out of high school, to be honest,” Burns tells the Business Tribune, he’d be done with his schooling now if he had done so. As it is, he’ll come out of the program in June or July.

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JOHN M. VINCENT - American Heating apprentice Tom Burns has learned that construction jobs are more than just swinging a hammer. Math and technical skills are critical, and take time to learn, he says.He touts the necessity of the program, as equipment advances and the necessity of understanding workplace safety rules continues to evolve. It’s something that you have to learn over a few years, he says, “It’s no longer a just a go out there and swing a hammer kind of thing, there’s so much more technology.”

Burns had previously tried college in North Dakota, but left to move to Alaska. “I wasn’t ready to do the work at that time,” he says. Now he’s won the state competition that consisted of both written and practical exams, and will travel to Florida to vie for the national title.

His supervisor at American Heating is a huge supporter of the competition. Rick Leupton says, “We’re working hard to help our guys be good at what they do. This is a big deal.”

Jared Abbott was working what he calls a dead-end job doing mechanical maintenance at a metal fab when he elected to join the apprenticeship program, studying heating and air conditioning systems. He started working as an apprentice at Ghoman Mechanical Inc., diagnosing and repairing those machines.

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JOHN M. VINCENT - Jared Abbott shows students at a recent job expo how to properly cut copper pipe. The 35-year old Gohman Mechanical apprentice will head to Florida for the national skills finals this week.When his employer discovered his background in troubleshooting (from a previous job and working on automobiles,) he was moved over to the tech side of the Heating/AC business. He learned many of his computer skills from a previous Portland Youth Builders computer-training program.

“Now I guess all my computer skills I have are starting to pay off, because working at Gohman Mechanical Inc. I do a lot of wiring and programming,” Abbott says. He’ll typically work with the ABC apprenticeship program for about four hours per week, divided between book studies and time in the shop.

Abbott will be competing in the ABC HVAC event. In the state preliminaries, he and an assigned partner were tasked with converting a natural gas furnace to propane, hooking up a thermostat, wiring the device and firing it up. He expects a similar task at the nationals.

“I’m a little nervous,” he says, “but it should be exciting.”

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JOHN M. VINCENT - Tom Burns gears up to work on the Q21 mixed-use project at N.W. 21st and Quimby. The 7-story will include 163 apartments and 11,000 sq.ft. of retail space.

[email protected] or @oregonscarguy on Twitter.

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