The ShureLine Companies hosted the Delaware 2015 Skills USA Challenge for Welding Trades at their pipe shop in Smyrna.

Smyrna was the scene of a state high school competition where students learned if they can pass the test it might not only lead to an award now, but also a high-paying job after graduation.

The ShureLine Companies hosted the Delaware 2015 Skills USA Challenge for Welding Trades at their pipe shop in Smyrna on March 11. A total of 14 students competed from Polytech High School south of Dover and Delcastle Technical High School near Wilmington, the only high schools that offer a welding program in Delaware.

Students took a written test and were evaluated in four hands-on skill challenges: oxy fuel cutting, gas metal arc welding, shielded metal arc welding, and gas tungsten arc welding.

Polytech student Alex Walker said the competition was a great experience.

“It enlightened my view on the difficulties of welding and the skills that are needed to be able to make a quality weld and cut,” Walker said. “I liked the fact that it was a competitive event because it meant that everyone had something to work for.”

What was the biggest challenge?

“The biggest challenge was probably being able to read the drawings,” he said. “Being a sophomore with little experience with drawings, it was pretty difficult to make sure everything was correct in the time given.”

Joe Isip, also from Polytech, said the contest gave students the chance to complete more complex projects.

“Usually every school day we only work for two-and-a-half hours, whereas in the competition we worked for five hours,” he said.

What did he like most about the event?

“I liked the pizza,” he said, jokingly. “But seriously what I liked most was the sort of real-life scenario where we had to read blueprints and accomplish the task. The biggest challenge was working against time and managing it well. We only had a certain amount of time for each part.”

The winner of the competition will be announced in April and will advance to the national competition in Louisville, Kentucky.

However, the teachers and business professionals at the event said all the students who can master the skills have the opportunity for something even more valuable – a high-paying career.

“The state needs more welders,” said Darin Sumpter, ShureLine general foreman and certified welding inspector in mechanical fabrication. “This contest gets them ready for the real world by reading blueprints and actually making a finished project. They’ve got to pick out the right materials and lay it out right.”

Britny Whitby, talent and education coordinator for ShureLine, said the company is always looking for welders.

“The jobs are out there and the pay is good,” said Whitby. “We have projects all over the country, and we’re always in need of skilled workers.”

Sumpter actually got his start at Polytech and said hosting the contest is a great way to give back to the school.

He also thanked the businesses that helped sponsor the contest with materials and supplies including G&E Welding, Wistar Generator Supply, M. Davis & Sons, RC Fabricators and Infra Metals, and AG&G Metals. Pat’s Pizza Select in Smyrna provided lunch for the event.

The school instructors said they greatly appreciate what ShureLine and the other businesses did in sponsoring the contest.

“It means a lot to us to give students the experience of going out in the workforce and seeing an actual shop,” said David Summerfiled, Polytech welding and fabrication instructor. “The students see the different processes and different materials. They have to read a blueprint like they would in the field and put pieces together according to the plan.”

Delcastle welding and fabrication instructor Lenny Graves said the contest is a chance for companies to see how effectively school training programs are working.

“It gives them an opportunity to see what’s going on in education,” said Graves. “Usually experiences like this lead to co-op opportunities where students get a chance to train with a business, and that can lead to a job for the student and filling a need for the company.”