It was the end goal, the culmination of all the hard work and training. Up to this moment, young Andrew Cardin had made nearly every financial and career decision in hopes of winning a chance to represent the U.S. in the WorldSkills Welding Competition.
Now, after a near miss as runner-up in the pre-selection process for WorldSkills 2013, Cardin is finally representing the U.S. at the 43rd annual WorldSkills Competition in São Paulo, Brazil from August 11th to the 15th.
The road to WorldSkills is a rigorous journey that requires high school and college aged welders to rise through the ranks of local and statewide SkillsUSA competitions. At stake is the chance to compete for the opportunity to represent the United States and earn a four year, $40,000 scholarship from the AWS foundation and Miller Electric.
America’s Technical Talent
SkillsUSA helps students excel in their chosen careers through support, education and competition. It is a nationwide association that brings together member students and educators with businesses and industry to help safeguard the future of America’s workforce. The organization serves more than 310,000 high school and post-secondary students and their instructors with the help of more than 600 corporations, trade associations, businesses and national labor unions.
SkillsUSA hosts a series of industry sponsored local, district and statewide contests in almost 100 fields of study, from Advertising Design to Welding Art and Sculpture. The high school and post-secondary champions in each category go on to represent their state at the national SkillsUSA Championships held in Louisville each June. The Championships showcase the best technical students in the nation. It’s a multi-million dollar event that occupies about the same space as 16 football fields.
The SkillsUSA Championship awards a gold, silver, and bronze medal to the top three high school participants and the top three post-secondary participants. In June, when Cardin won the gold among the high school competitors, there were nearly 6,000 contestants in 98 separate events. Nearly 1,500 judges and contest organizers worked to make the national event possible. To say the pressure was on for Cardin to perform is a bit of an understatement. In January, Cardin quit his job to spend more time in the makeshift shop in his family’s basement, training for the competition with 8 to 10 hours a day of welding.
“Being chosen to represent the United States in welding is the highest honor I could be given,” Cardin said. “God’s sovereignty has brought me here, and the drive I have comes from knowing I’ve been chosen. If I would have been asked a year ago if I would have a chance to be a WorldSkills competitor, I would have said no way, but I’ve worked hard and intend to do the best I can in this competition.”
Team USA Welder Selection
Every two years, the American Welding Society invites the top 48 welding competitors from the National SkillsUSA Championships (24 from each year) to compete in the four-stage Team USA Welder Selection: the Invitational Pre-Trials, Invitational Weld Trials, Finalist Tune-up, and The Final Weld Off. This competition decides which welder will represent the United States at the WorldSkills Competition.
Stage 1: Invitational Pre-Trials. Pre-Trial contestants are given a set of WorldSkills Competition projects to complete in their home states. These projects are scored by the AWS Skills Competition Committee, and the students that submit the top six projects are invited to participate in the next trial. The top 6 finalists also receive a $1,000 scholarship for books, tuition or lab fees, and a one-year AWS membership.
Stage 2: Invitational Weld Trials: The top 6 Pre-Trial finalists compete for the top 3 positions at the AWS U.S. Invitational Weld Trials held at the annual AWS FABTECH Exposition. The competition involves test of skill in specific processes and personal development, including SMAW, GMAW, GTAW, and FCAW on stainless steel and aluminum. The 6 American Pre-Trial finalists compete alongside competitors from up to 24 WorldSkills countries in order to foster international camaraderie. The event also gives the American welders a taste of the competition to come.
Stage 3: Finalist Tune-up: The top 3 finalists from the AWS U.S. Invitational Weld Trials go on to the AWS TeamUSA Finalist Tune-up. This is a one week intense training event conducted by past TeamUSA Welding competitors, the U.S. Expert to the WorldSkills welding competition, and the AWS Skills Competition Committee. The tune-up helps ensure that no matter which competitor wins the final Weld Off, all three participants will be more than qualified to represent the U.S. internationally.
Stage 4: The Final Weld Off: The Final Weld Off takes place at the AWS TeamUSA Finals, a week-long event that invites the public to learn more about the contestants and the welding industry. In every Weld Off, contestants participate in a timed competition designed to test their ability to use various welding tools and processes. These include weld-measuring gauges, oxyfuel and plasma arc cutting processes, flux core arc welding, gas metal arc welding, gas tungsten arc welding, and shielded metal arc welding.
The gold medalist of the AWS TeamUSA Finals earns the right to represent the United States at the WorldSkills Welding Competition. After participating at the WorldSkills Competition, the U.S. representative receives up to $1,000 in AWS publications, a four-year AWS membership, and a $40,000 four-year scholarship from the AWS Foundation and the Miller Electric Manufacturing Company.
Getting Ready for the World
Andrew Cardin won the Final Weld Off in February 2015. He will be representing the U.S. in Sao Paolo, Brazil, where competition will be stiff. This is the first time the WorldSkills competition will be held in South America, and the number of competitors is expected to overtake the record setting Leipzig, Germany competition in 2013.
Cardin remains unshaken, training full time to prepare for the upcoming contest. “I try to assign each day of the week to focus and improve or maintain one process, doing one joint in all positions,” Cardin told the AWS Welding Journal. “This requires a lot of patience; running through different trials to be able to meet the criteria every time you strike an arc, no matter the process, position, or joint configuration.”
In Brazil, Cardin will be expected to complete eight projects in a specified time period. Competitors will need to prepare, assemble and join a wide range of metals and metal alloys using various welding processes. Their welds must look seamless, meet international codes, and stand up to hydrostatic pressure and X-ray tests.
Cardin’s preparations are bolstered by his support team. He graduated from Blackstone Valley Technical High School in 2011, where he worked under the tutelage of welding instructor Dan Rivera, who also introduced Cardin to welding competitively. Cardin’s father is the one who allowed the young man to set up a practice shop in the family’s basement, and Cardin’s mother and siblings are also very supportive. “At no point could I have ever produced this victory by my own determination or willpower,” Cardin said.
The champion welder doesn’t just have his family on his side either. “Andrew’s dedication and hard work is an example for all students that success will follow if you work hard,” said Brendan McClellan of Lincoln Electric, one of his many professional sponsors. “Since the first day I met Andrew, it was clear that not only was he talented, but he also matched his skills with hard work. He is very impressive.”
Not Going to Disney World
Remember that, no matter what happens in Brazil, Cardin has still won a massive scholarship as champion of SkillsUSA. While victory at WorldSkills would bring further glory, Cardin has a lot to be grateful for either way.
When asked about his future, Cardin told the AWS Welding Journal, “As soon as I am back from São Paulo, the sky is the limit”. Cardin intends to use his scholarship to pursue a teaching degree. “As much as I love welding, I know that I will want to teach someday, when I don’t want to travel anymore and want to share my passion with others.”