By: Asra Jawaid
The Future Farmers of America (FFA) welding team at Paso Robles High School has completed an undefeated season with its first-ever first place win at the recent California State FFA Agriculture Welding Championship held on May 5th and 6th in San Luis Obispo. Not only did the team win the overall championship, but all four members – senior Iver Hansen, 18; senior Shane Terra, 18; senior Daniel Oliver, 18; and sophomore Zac Alves, 16 –individually placed in the top five as well.
“This has been a truly remarkable year for these young men,” said veteran welding instructor and FFA advisor Justin Pickard. “Their dedication to constantly improve their craft has been amazing”. All four team members are currently taking Pickard’s Agriculture Welding 3 (Project Construction) course. Hansen and Terra also take Agriculture Welding 2 (Advanced Welding). Pickard’s courses have Dual Enrollment Opportunities allowing students that pass his welding classes to earn credit at Cuesta College.
Pickard said that students had been practicing daily for the event since the end of winter break. “Each practice was scheduled from 6 to 8 p.m., but realistically we were finishing up closer to 9 p.m. We have also been traveling heavily on weekends due to the number of FFA Field Days we went to this year.” Along with earning consistently high individual rankings, the PRHS team won each of the seven Field Day events, the last of which took place on April 8th.
“Agricultural welding was hosted at Cuesta College’s main campus while all of the other FFA contests took place at Cal Poly,” Pickard explained, referring to California Polytechnic State University. Both campuses are in San Luis Obispo. The final event began on the morning of Friday, April 7th when 31 teams participated in a qualifying event. Twenty teams consisting of 75 people returned the next day to perform weld samples in Shielded Metal Arc Welding, Flux Cored Arc Welding, Gas Shielded Arc Welding, Gas Tungsten Arc Welding, and Oxygen-Acetylene Welding. “The scorecard for the event was comprised of four areas: welding application (all of the welding rotations combined), written exam, weld inspection, and portfolios,” Pickard said. “Of those contest subcategories, Paso Robles won all four.”
The FFA Welding Season concluded with the state championship that Paso Robles won, but the PRHS FFA Welding Team still has plenty of activities left on its plate. Pickard will travel with team member Hansen to Kentucky from June 18th through the 24th for the National SkillsUSA Competitions along with nine other students and six advisors. “We will be looking to build our next welding team prior to leaving for summer vacation this year and also plan to participate in the Welders Without Borders: Welding Thunder Fabrication Contest held in Arizona this October, and I would like to have at least one practice build completed during summer break,” Pickard said.
Some members of Paso Robles’s team have used their hard earned experience to land paying jobs. Hansen, for instance, works for AP Welding and Consulting, a company in Paso Robles, performing sanitary GTAW (gas tungsten arc welding) on wine-making equipment. “Iver will be starting a 5-year apprenticeship this fall with Boneso Brothers Construction of Paso Robles,” Pickard explained. Shane Terra works at Jim’s Custom Sheet Metal primarily building custom fishing boat control boxes, while Zac Alves works at PRW Steel Supply. Terra and Alves also work in Paso Robles.
The welding season is coming to a close, but the lessons learned at this type of competition will last a lifetime. “A lot of hands-on skills are developed through welding competition opportunities,” Pickard said. “They are directly tied to abilities and skills that can carry students into this industry while in high school or after. Currently three of the four students on the team work in industry-related jobs and are looking at a variety of avenues where welding is their career choice. ‘Soft-skills,’ like dependability, arriving on time and prioritization, get developed, too.”