Students' skills are put to test

Winners in Saturday's local event earned a trip to Las Vegas for the national competition.

Winners in Saturday's local event earned a trip to Las Vegas for the national competition.

January 29, 2006|By DON AINES


As she worked on a plywood panel mounted with circuits, switches, outlets and fixtures, Audra Stone was asked if she expected to win the electrical competition - and a trip to Las Vegas - at Saturday's 2006 Associated Builders and Contractors Local Skills Olympics.

"No. He will," Stone said, pointing to Morris Schenk, who was relaxing in the hallway.

Schenk won it as a third-year student in 2005, but stepped aside to let the second-place student take the trip to the national competition, another student said.

"He's like the Michael Jordan of ABC. We're just the bench players," said Rick Jones of Hagerstown, one of the two dozen students in the electrical competition.


The 20-year-old Schenk, who works for Barnhart Electric Service in Hagerstown, said he was too busy to make the trip last year.

"I was buying a house and moving ... and I just didn't want to add that into the mix," he said.

About 170 students take courses in the trades at the Cumberland Valley ABC Building on North Locust Street, attending classes two nights a week from September to April while working day jobs in their chosen professions, ABC Cumberland Valley Chapter President Joan Warner said.

During the four-year program, Warner said each is guaranteed a 5 percent raise for every 1,000 hours they work at their jobs, and their employers usually pay the tuition for classes.

"What other profession do you know where you're guaranteed a 10 percent raise every year? When they finish, they have a career, not just a job," said Warner, who noted that about 20 percent of apprentices go on to someday own their own businesses.

Thirty-six students taking courses at the ABC Cumberland Valley Technical Center LLC took part in electrical; carpentry; plumbing; heating, ventilation and air-conditioning; and sheet metal competitions Saturday, with hopes of advancing to the national competition in March.

Although Floyd Harbert Jr. of Air-Row Sheet Metal Co. in Martinsburg, W.Va., was the only competitor in sheet metal, he said he that did not make him a shoo-in for a plane ticket to Vegas.

The competition includes a 100-question written exam along with the practical projects, and a score of 85 or better on the written portion is needed to advance, he said. The written exams were taken earlier in the week, and the contestants would not learn their score until Saturday afternoon, he said.

In the end, it was Schenk and Chris Ostrander of L.H. Cranston of Frederick, Md., winner of the heating and air-conditioning competition, who scored high enough on both parts of the competition to qualify for nationals. John Eyler of J&W Mechanical Services of Hagerstown topped the plumbing competition; Shannon Jays of Howard Shockey & Son Inc. of Winchester, Va., won the carpentry competition; and Harbert took first in sheet metal.

Josh Wildeson and Tim Carbaugh, both from Chambersburg, Pa., were working on their carpentry projects, which combined framing, sheeting, drywalling and other skills. Both work for GRC General Contractor Inc. of Zullinger, Pa., and learn much through on-the-job training, but Wildeson said ABC has accelerated the learning process.

"It helps you excel faster than if you didn't do it," he said.

"Society in general is telling kids to go to college," said Jeremy Crumlich of Fayetteville, Pa., as he was working on his project, the installation of a toilet, sink and water fountain. A skilled tradesman, however, can make as good, or better, a living than many college graduates, he said.

"It's a profession, just like being a doctor," said Crumlich, who works for Rodney B. Smith Plumbing & Heating of Chambersburg.

"We call it the other four-year degree," Warner said.

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