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S. M. Wilson Inspiring the Future of Construction via SKILLED

in Companies/News


S. M. Wilson & Co. is immersing itself into classrooms across the bi-state region, encouraging pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students to discover fun and challenging opportunities in the construction field.

SKILLED, a three-pronged initiative, provides learning opportunities starting in pre-kindergarten and extending throughout a construction professional’s career. The “discover” arm of SKILLED supports students from all experience levels as they get a first-hand, creative peek into what it might be like to work in the skilled trades one day. Kristyn Newbern, client development director at S. M. Wilson, said SKILLED is the firm’s hands-on, up-close program to introduce young people from age 3 through 18 to a future career path in the industry.

“We’re actively talking with schools, teachers and superintendents in St. Louis County as well as surrounding counties in Missouri and Illinois,” said Newbern. “The classroom initiative is ever-evolving. Kindergartners are learning what a safety vest is, what’s on a toolbelt and how to recognize various construction vehicles. Middle school students are learning real-world construction challenges through group STEM activities. High school students are discovering specific career opportunities and touring active construction sites. Our employees are donating their time and energy to make this happen. It’s truly exciting to watch,” she added.

Inspiring the future of the skilled trades by making construction an approachable, fun and understandable opportunity for all ages is a key objective of SKILLED, according to Newbern. “Our goal is to enlighten students who might not yet have this perspective,” she said. “It has become a real value-added resource for our long-time clients and interested school districts.”

Hallsville School District near Columbia, MO – where S. M. Wilson is building a gymnasium and classroom additions – is an active participant in SKILLED. “Our first program with Hallsville took place in October,” Newbern said. “They selected 15 high school students with an interest in and an aptitude for construction. They spent time in our jobsite trailer where we introduced the project team, each of our career backgrounds and discussed the technical details of the construction project on their campus. Students then had an opportunity to interact with the entire construction team and tour the site. They’ve returned to the classroom but will come back in a month or two to see the progress as they continue learning about real-world construction challenges and solutions.”

Augusta Elementary in the School District of Washington, MO will feature SKILLED as part of its annual career day. Grades K-6 will rotate in sessions to participate in a STEAM activity simulating a construction project. “Each grade had the chance to build its own unique construction project,” Newbern said. “Even at the kindergarten level, there’s an opportunity for students to draw their project on paper, build and test it, then draw conclusions and present to their peers. Older students will form teams, selecting a baseball-like card and playing the role of a contractor, engineer or architect. SKILLED is introducing a wealth of STEM and STEAM education while getting kids excited about a career in construction.”

For more information on SKILLED, contact Newbern at or 314.633.9641.

50 High School Skilled Trades Teachers Semifinalists For 2019 Harbor Freight Tools For Schools Prize For Teaching Excellence

in Companies/News
Flat lay, set of construction hardware tools building, repair, painting accessories on wooden board background

Fifty skilled trades teachers and teaching teams from across the country were named today as semifinalists for the 2019 Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence. They and their high school skilled trades programs are in the running for a share of $1 million in total cash awards.

The semifinalists hail from 26 states and specialize in trades including manufacturing, welding, construction, automotive and agriculture mechanics. The teachers—some competing as individuals and some as teams—were selected by an independent panel of judges from among a field of 749 applicants. The list of the 50 semifinalists is available here.

“We never cease to be amazed by the talent, creativity and resourcefulness of skilled trades educators,” said Danny Corwin, executive director of Harbor Freight Tools for Schools. “This year’s semifinalists teach more than a dozen trades and have spent a collective 800 years in the classroom, and we couldn’t be more excited to honor their work.”

The Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence was started in 2017 by Eric Smidt, the founder of national tool retailer Harbor Freight Tools. The prize recognizes outstanding instruction in the skilled trades in U.S. public high schools and the teachers who inspire students to learn a trade that prepares them for life after graduation. Now, in the third year of the prize, more than 150 teachers have been recognized as winners or semifinalists. Winners are invited to attend an annual convening to share best practices for advancing excellence in skilled trades education.

“Skilled trades teachers help hundreds of thousands of students each year experience the satisfaction and sense of accomplishment that comes from learning a trade,” Smidt said. “These teachers, their students and skilled tradespeople everywhere, too often don’t receive the respect and gratitude they deserve. Without them, construction would halt, homes, cars and appliances would fall into disrepair, and our infrastructure would crumble. We are thrilled to be able to honor and elevate the importance of their work.”

The 2019 semifinalists now advance to a second round of competition, where they will be asked to respond to online expert-led video learning modules designed to solicit their insights and creative ideas about teaching practices. The contenders will be asked how ideas from the modules might be used to inspire students to achieve excellence in the skilled trades. Two rounds of judging, each by separate independent panels of reviewers, will narrow the field to the 18 finalists and, finally, name the three first-place winners and 15 second-place winners.

The 18 winners will split $1 million in prizes. First-place winners will each receive $100,000, with $70,000 going to their public high school skilled trades program and $30,000 to the individual skilled trades teacher or teacher team behind the winning program. Second-place winners will each be awarded $50,000, with $35,000 going to their public high school program and $15,000 to the teacher or team. Past winners have dedicated their winnings to modernizing their shops, investing in specialized tools, promoting their programs to families and purchasing equipment to prepare students for higher-level accreditations. Semifinalists whose school, district or state policy prohibits receipt of the individual portion of prize earnings were eligible to apply on behalf of their school’s skilled trades program. If they win, the entire prize will be awarded to the school.

Winners will be announced on Oct. 24.

Harbor Freight Tools for Schools is a program of The Smidt Foundation, established by Harbor Freight Tools Founder Eric Smidt, to advance excellent skilled trades education in public high schools across America. With a deep respect for the dignity of these fields and for the intelligence and creativity of people who work with their hands, Harbor Freight Tools for Schools aims to drive a greater understanding of and investment in skilled trades education, believing that access to quality skilled trades education gives high school students pathways to graduation, opportunity, good jobs and a workforce our country needs. Harbor Freight Tools is a major supporter of the Harbor Freight Tools for Schools program. For more information, visit us at and on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.

Electrical Connection Hosts Business Panel Discussion on Skilled Labor Development

in Associations/News

For Dennis Gralike, director of the IBEW/NECA Electrical Industry Training Center, the need to change the mindset of skilled labor development is abundantly clear at many high school career fairs.  “I’ll enter a gymnasium and find colleges set up on one side of the gym and everyone one else directed to set up on the other side,” notes Gralike.  “Then I’ll ask the career fair coordinator why colleges and the trade programs are separated.  After all, our program offers college credits and we train a lot of college students and graduates, all free of charge and with no student loans.”

Gralike was among four panelists in the March 27, 2019 St. Louis Business Journal “Future of Skilled Labor Development” Power Breakfast moderated by Publisher Robert Bobroff.  Bobroff said a record 240 people attended the event at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in Creve Coeur, Mo.  Other panelists included Bonnie Daniels, senior vice president, culture and people services, MiTekJeff L. Pittman, PhD, chancellor, St. Louis Community College; and Sandra Marks, senior vice president, Clayco.

All panelists agreed that collaboration and partnerships among community agencies, businesses and schools remains essential to skilled labor development.   But no industry is being more rapidly transformed by technology than the electrical and communications industry.   Gralike noted that the IBEW/NECA Electrical Industry Training Center is continually adapting its more than 70-course curriculum to meet those changes as it has for more than 75 years.  Through the Electrical Connection partnership, the training center is funded and operated jointly by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 1 and the St. Louis Chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA).

“The digital age, smart infrastructure, renewable energy, robotics, advanced manufacturing, integrated communications and so much more are not possible without the skilled electricians and communication technicians we train,” said Gralike.  “But there remains a significant stigma attached to construction work that puts off high school students and other career aspirants.  We have a more than 90 percent graduation rate that launches dynamic, well-paying engineering and building careers that power and connect our businesses and communities – and it’s free of charge!”

Gralike noted that Electrical Connection’s IBEW/NECA leadership is working to change the mindset on construction careers in several ways:

  • Investing in and supporting STEM education that connects science, technology, engineering and math to electrical careers.
  • Offering continuing education to advance pace setting skills, including 58 hours of college credits through education partnerships with St. Louis Community Collegeand most major university in St. Louis area. 
  • Educating career counselors and students about the dynamic changes in the industry with training center technology that includes a rooftop solar array and courses on Building Information Modeling and next generation electrical/communication installations, including green energy, smart building technology and advanced manufacturing.
  • Broadening outreach by partnering with community organizations to attract more minorities in the electrical trades.  More than 25 percent of apprentices at the training center are minorities.
  • Mentoring programs that strengthen career development and help aspiring entrepreneurs launch their own electrical and communications contracting firms.
  • Strategic outreach to engage business and civic organizations, including board service on the Hawthorn FoundationSt. Louis Regional Chamber, the Missouri Energy Initiative, theEconomic Development Center of St. Charles County and the Missouri Governor’s Workforce Development Task Force.

Electrical Connection members provide safe and reliable electrical construction, maintenance, repair and replacement services across Missouri, the nation and the world.  For more information visit

The UP Companies Sets Standards for Recruiting a Diverse Workforce, Promoting Skilled Labor Among St. Louis Minorities

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According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, construction jobs will grow faster than the average for all other occupations from 2014 to 2024. Despite the apparent abundance of construction work, St. Louis trades, unions and construction companies continue to struggle to find qualified, diverse workers.


Minority-owned The UP Companies (UPCO), which consists of Power UP Electrical Contractors and Square UP Builders, is taking several steps toward boosting diversity and making a generational impact on the St. Louis metropolitan area workforce by reaching out to minority students and hiring qualified minorities.


“We know that union membership in Missouri has declined from 15.5% in 1989 to 8.8% in recent years, and that the majority of union workers are between the ages of 45 and 64, so why aren’t more young minorities pursuing careers in the trades after high school? We are working diligently to change the perception of skilled labor,” said UPCO owner Michael Kennedy, Jr.


High school graduates who do not pursue a college education are more likely to seek employment in the trades, said Kennedy. In St. Louis City and County combined, 71% of individuals with just a high school diploma are minorities and women, and 29% are white men, according to the Coro Fellowship report.


Not all high school graduates go to college and there are plenty of skilled labor jobs currently available with competitive salaries and benefits, said Kennedy. A union apprentice can earn a yearly salary of $30,000 – $55,000, plus benefits and overtime pay, while a journeyman or foreman can earn upwards of $85,000 a year.


“With more young people pursuing college degrees after high school, less are showing an interest in learning skilled trades and joining unions, opting for other jobs that typically pay less and require less skills,” said Kennedy. “The construction consumer demand for quality, competitive pricing and a diverse workforce is increasing all the time. The industry needs more minority workers, particularly now when more and more Baby Boomers are retiring.”

UPCO has continued to realize the value in mentoring young minorities and is striving to give disadvantaged students in St. Louis City and County the opportunity for a lifelong, respectable career in skilled labor.


The UP Companies employs a diverse, skilled, union workforce that consistently meets or exceeds minority participation requirements on every project and provides sub-contractor services at a more competitive price. UPCO currently employs 75 union apprentices and has grown its workforce from an initial 30 to 220, which includes 20% minorities.


UPCO has initiated several programs aimed at recruiting a diverse workforce and encouraging careers in skilled labor among minorities. Company representatives regularly visit high schools, technical high schools, trade schools and universities throughout the St. Louis area to recruit minority students for training at the Carpenters Union and Electricians Local 57. The UP Companies even offers its employees incentives to seek out and hire qualified minority workers.

Once entered in the union program, UPCO ensures that the students get the “right start” as apprentices by providing them with tools and scheduling their job assignments near public transportation when needed. UPCO sponsors these young adults into the union where their educations are paid for through their benefits package.


For more information about career opportunities with The UP Companies, visit


The UP Companies (UPCO) is one of the region’s largest full-service, MBE-certified contracting companies. UPCO’s firms are Square UP Builders, a primary source of high-quality commercial and residential rough and finish carpentry and drywall services employing over 150 carpenters and laborers; Power UP Electrical Contractors, a leader in electrical systems design, installation and maintenance, and the largest minority-owned, full-service electrical contractor in the St. Louis region with more than 60 skilled union electricians; and Keep UP Commercial Services, a multi-faceted company providing grounds and building maintenance, construction and repair, and cleaning services to commercial property owners. For more information, go to or call 314.865.3888.

Boilermakers Seek Skilled Welders For Unique Work Opportunities

The International Brotherhood of Boilermakers announced  its Construction Division has an increasing need for experienced welders nationwide due to expanded project opportunities. The union is seeking skilled professionals interested in life-enhancing work experiences.

Headquartered in Kansas City, KS, and with 49 construction lodges across the United States, the Boilermaker organization plays an integral part in supporting America’s industrial infrastructure. More than 30,000 skilled construction Boilermakers – men and women – engage in building, repairing and
maintaining the nation’s power generation sector, oil refining, pulp and paper mills, steel mills and aluminum plants. The field offers a rewarding way of
life and unique opportunities for individuals that wish to improve their futures.

“Being a Boilermaker is difficult, but very rewarding work,” explained Roger Erickson, Administrator for MOST, the training and safety arm of the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers. “We’re incredibly proud that safety is the top priority on our work sites, and while we are looking for experienced welders, we will work with each recruit to meet our qualifications and complete our required safety training courses.”

Through MOST, members receive extensive on-going safety, leadership and skills training that contribute to the organization’s highly productive and efficient workforce.

Union workers as a whole make higher wages and enjoy more benefits, such as health insurance and retirement programs, than their nonunion counterparts. According to the AFL-CIO, on average, union workers’ wages are 27 percent higher and unionized workers are 60 percent more likely to have employer-provided pensions.

Retired Boilermaker Peggy Welborn (Local 69, Little Rock, Ark.) says the opportunities and benefits can be life-changing. “(As a Boilermaker,) you’re going to be dirty and tired, but the rewards are worth it. I made a good life for my son, and after 34 years I still loved my job. Not many people can say that.”

In addition to the tangible benefits, being a union Boilermaker offers camaraderie and a sense of belonging. Jonathan Nevedal, a Boilermaker graduate apprentice and the 2015 National Apprenticeship Competition winner (Local 169, Detroit, Mich.), says with the assistance of veteran’s program Helmets to Hardhats he found the right path to do something that has a familiar
feel to it. “I’m happy to be a union member. The brotherhood of the military is very similar to being a union member, especially with the Boilermakers.”

Experienced welders interested in becoming a Boilermaker should visit for more information and to register.

Castle Contracting Produces New Video to Humanize Construction Careers

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new video unveiled by Castle Contracting, LLC provides a personal perspective of working at the St. Louis-based civil construction company.

In the video, Castle Field Manager Roy Hardester shares details about his career path, daily role and personal experience working in construction. Hardester joined Castle as a laborer in 2009 and served as a foreman and superintendent before assuming his current role as field manager about four years ago. He also oversees the company’s emergency services team, which responds to water main breaks, flooding events and other unexpected incidents.

Produced in collaboration with St. Louis-based JM Films, the video will be used in Castle’s ongoing recruiting efforts as well as to informally introduce potential employees to the benefits of working at Castle, which will celebrate its 25th anniversary in 2020.

“With the skilled labor shortage continuing to challenge the entire construction industry, it’s important to provide people with a glimpse of the diverse construction careers available in St. Louis,” said Michael Pranger, vice president of operations at Castle Contracting. “We think the most effective way of introducing folks to construction is for them to hear directly from someone who has successfully built a rewarding construction career.”

Eighty percent of construction firms report they are having a difficult time filling hourly craft positions that represent the bulk of the construction workforce, according to the results of a 2019 industry-wide survey conducted by Autodesk and the Associated General Contractors of America.

View the video.

Photo Above: Ray Harderster

In Memoriam – Patrick Joseph Murphy, Sr.

in News/People
Patrick Joseph Murphy, Sr.

Patrick Joseph Murphy, Sr., born on September 30, 1940 and Baptized with the Hope of Christ’s Resurrection, passed away peacefully November 7, 2019.  Married for 53 years to Jean (nee Pape); loving Father to Patrick Jr. (Laura), Heather, Michael Shea (Laurie), and Sean Christopher; affectionately called Pops by his grandchildren Megan Murphy, Anne Marie Murphy, Michael Murphy, Patrick Murphy III, and Joseph Murphy; son of the late Jerry J. and Ruth C. Murphy; brother of the late Mary Fuegner (Rich); uncle, cousin, and friend.

A real character and full of life, he spent 58 years as a Vice President of the Company that he loved, Murphy Company Mechanical Contractor and Engineers, the largest mechanical contractor in St Louis.  He treasured his time working closely with the skilled crafts who also became his life-long friends.  A rancher at heart, he and Jean purchased a property in Beulah, Missouri in 2003.  “It’s a Boy” and “It’s a Girl” flags proudly raised whenever a new cow was born into the herd.

A perfect mix of his Irish and German heritage; hard working, dedicated, stubborn, always right, and quick to turn any situation into an opportunity for a story or joke.  He lived by the mantra LTD, “Listen, think, do”, which his children always heard him say anytime when an important decision was required.

Services: Monday November 11, 2019, Visitation 9:00 am, Catholic Mass 10:00 am, Ascension Catholic Church, 230 Santa Maria Drive, Chesterfield, MO  63005.  Internment for family at Calvary Cemetery.  In lieu of flowers, donations in Pat’s name to The St. Patrick Center, 800 N Tucker Blvd., St Louis, MO  63101 would be greatly appreciated.

First-Ever Log Splitting Contest & Holiday Build Battle

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The most wonderful time of the year is right around the corner, and historic downtown Hillsboro is gearing up for “A Storybook Christmas,” sponsored by Imagine Hillsboro. This one-of-a-kind holiday celebration combines timeless traditions with the newest trends to create a unique experience that is guaranteed to be fun for the whole family, and this year’s event will include a couple of new elements that will deliver a series of happy endings.

Now in its fifth year, the all-day event will take place on Saturday, Dec. 7, with festivities kicking off at 10 a.m., as downtown Hillsboro will come to life with carolers strolling down Main Street. New to the celebration this year, local manufacturer Atlas 46 is teaming up with Imagine Hillsboro, the City of Hillsboro and Hardcore Hammers to spread extra holiday cheer by hosting the first-ever Log Splitting Contest and Holiday Build Battle.

“A Storybook Christmas offers something for everyone – whether you’re ready to lace up your shoes for the Frosty 5K, hunt for clues during a festive scavenger hunt, discover quirky shopping opportunities or nosh on traditional holiday foods. Imagine Hillsboro and all of the volunteers work tirelessly to put together this festive celebration, making our city a different and lovely place to live and work,” said Jonathan Weyer, Community Planner for the City of Hillsboro. “We’re thrilled to partner with Atlas 46 to introduce a different sort of experience to this marvelous community event, and we’re hoping that everyone who joins us will have a merry little Storybook Christmas.”

Participants in the Log Splitting Contest will put their wood chopping skills to the test to determine who will be named the ultimate “Hardcore Splitter.” During the preliminary rounds, competitors will be given a Hardcore Hammers axe to use – a choice of a 4lb Ranger Axe or a 3lb Raptor Axe – to split various sized logs into 6″ pieces, then stack them faster than the competition to be on their way to claiming the $1,000 grand prize. The fastest participant in each preliminary round to split and stack 20 logs will advance to the finals, where they will be required to chop and stack an 18” log. In the holiday spirit of giving, the chopped firewood will be donated to local organizations in need through a collaboration with Lifeline Community Church and the City of Hillsboro. A special thanks also goes out to Bob Buda and the church for their time and effort in donating the trees and cutting them for the contest.

All participants must be 18 years or older and pay a $25 entry fee to be eligible to compete. Safety gear including glasses, steel toed boots or safety toe covers will be required. Area residents are invited to come out and cheer on their favorite team during the log splitting event, which will take place at 10 a.m.  outside of the Bank of Hillsboro. Free axe sharpening will be offered at the event, and other Hardcore Hammer items will also be available for purchase. Pre-registration is required to participate in the Log Splitting Contest, and the deadline to register is Dec. 1st. Participants can sign up in person at the Atlas 46 facility in Hillsboro, online at or on the events page at

The fun doesn’t stop there, as later in the afternoon, pre-selected teams will battle head to head to design and build the best holiday decoration during Atlas 46’s inaugural Holiday Build Battle. To be considered for this battle, interested teams will need to create a short video detailing why they should be given a chance to compete or fill out an application at the Atlas 46 facility in Hillsboro. A panel of judges will select the top three teams to participate in the Dec. 7 competition. Starting at 2 p.m., teams will have three hours to handcraft their holiday decorations using only the materials provided. Wood to be used during the competition will be supplied by England Farms in Fillmore, Ill., who also donated wood for the Monster Building Competition. The winner of this tinsel and tools throwdown will take home the grand prize of $500 and automatically be qualified for the chance to win even more prize money during the season finale of the Build Battles next fall. Details on how to participate can be found at

“We couldn’t be more excited to be a part of one of Hillsboro’s most cherished events and offer these fun, creative contests to put a unique twist on traditional holiday celebrations,” said Brian Carver, President of Atlas 46, which opened a manufacturing facility in Hillsboro in 2018. “We’re extremely proud to put on events like these that bring together members of the Hillsboro community – from DIYers to skilled tradesmen and women – to shine a spotlight on the world of manufacturing and introduce a little spirited competition to the holiday season.”

Following the completion of the Holiday Build Battle, friendly faces will line the streets as the twinkling glow of lights march down Main Street in the Lighted Christmas Parade starting at 6 p.m.

For additional questions or more information on the Log Splitting Contest and Holiday Build Battle, visit the events page at For more information on A Storybook Christmas, visit Imagine Hillsboro on Facebook.

With locations in Fenton, MO and Hillsboro, IL, Atlas 46 designs, develops, and manufactures innovative, premium workwear and gear for the construction, carpentry, electrical, maintenance, off-roading, DIY, and woodworking industries. For more information, visit or find Atlas 46 on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.  

Southern Illinois Builders Members Give Students Up Close, Personal Intro to Trades Careers

in Associations/News


During four days this week, more than 1,400 middle school and high school students from across the Metro East participated in the Southern Illinois Builders and Southern Illinois Construction Advancement Program Association’s 21st annual Metro Construction Career Expo.

The event, held at the Belle-Clair Fairgrounds in Belleville, afforded young people the chance for a hands-on experience courtesy of SIBA member union locals. From Oct. 28-31, students took their turn learning how to operate an orbital welder, tie rebar, stamp decorative concrete, walk a beam and operate a self-feeding screw gun, all under close supervision of skilled tradespeople. Students also learned how much money they can earn if they choose a career in the trades.

“It’s an exceptional opportunity for young people to learn exactly what each of the trades does and of the careers that are available to them,” said Donna Richter, SIBA chief executive officer. “Students are often pushed toward college degrees and aren’t aware of the viable financial, educational and experiential career paths within their grasp in the skilled trades. We’re here to share it with them, and to make sure they understand what a tremendous future they have waiting for them in the construction industry.”

Represented at the SIBA career fair were: Boilermakers Local 363, Bricklayers Local 8, Southern Illinois Carpenters Joint Apprenticeship Program, Operative Plasterers & Cement Masons Local 90, Electricians, Iron Workers Local 392, Illinois Laborers & Contractors Joint Apprenticeship & Training Program, Operating Engineers Local 520, Painter’s District Council 58, Plumbers and Pipefitters Locals 101 and 553, Plumbers and Gasfitters Local 360, Roofers and Waterproofers Local No. 2, Sheet Metal Workers Local 268 and Steamfitters Local 439.

Jamie McMillan, a journeyman iron worker/boilermaker and founder of KickAss Careers, spoke to each class of students at the start of their career expo session. McMillan is a motivational speaker who travels across North America encouraging more than 25,000 students annually to consider the opportunities that accompany a career in the skilled trades. McMillan’s life was transformed when she grabbed hold of an opportunity to secure a career in the trades.

“Iron workers put the bones into buildings and boilermakers build the organs and vessels of the building,” she said. “Your career is going to occupy one-third of your life. Make sure you find a career in which you love what you do. Life is like mountain climbing,” added McMillan, who is a mountain climber. “Pick your mountain and get to the top.”

Missouri High School Welding Teacher Wins Prize For Teaching Excellence

in Associations/News

A welding teacher from Sikeston, Missouri has won first place in the 2019 Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence, earning his high school skilled trades program $70,000 as part of $1 million awarded nationally.

Brent Trankler, who teaches welding at Sikeston Career and Technology Center (SCTC) in Sikeston, was surprised in his classroom by a representative from Harbor Freight Tools for Schools with the news that he and his school will receive $100,000—$70,000 for the school’s skilled trades program and $30,000 for him personally.

“Skilled trades educators are crucial to helping students stay engaged and motivated in high school,” said Danny Corwin, executive director of Harbor Freight Tools for Schools. “These amazing teachers connect students to promising careers, show them how to apply academics to the real world and help them feel pride and accomplishment—something they might not experience in all their classes. We make these awards because we believe in these teachers, we believe in these students, and we believe this vital sector deserves more support and investment.”

Two other $100,000 first-place prizes were awarded to Cesar Gutierrez, a precision manufacturing teacher at Desert View High School in Tucson, Arizona and Wendy Schepman, a landscape operations teacher at South Fork High School in Stuart, Florida. Each of the 15 second-place winners, hailing from across the country, were also surprised with the news they and their schools will receive $50,000. In addition to the more than $1 million in first- and second-place prizes awarded by Harbor Freight Tools for Schools, the company Harbor Freight Tools donated $32,000 to 32 semifinalists.

The Prize for Teaching Excellence was started in 2017 by Harbor Freight Tools Founder Eric Smidt to recognize extraordinary public high school skilled trades teachers and programs. Prizes are awarded by Harbor Freight Tools for Schools, a program of The Smidt Foundation.

“All of our roads and bridges, our schools and homes, and our planes and automobiles are built and are maintained by tradespeople,” Smidt said. “It is our dedicated skilled trades teachers, who inspire students to pursue these meaningful careers, that allow our economy to thrive and make so much of what we depend on possible. We are deeply honored to be able to shine a light on these extraordinary teachers today.”

An army veteran, Trankler is a model of lifelong learning for his students, having earned two bachelor’s degrees, two master’s degrees, and industry certifications including becoming a National Occupational Competency Testing Institute Welding Technology Subject Matter Expert.

“I think of welding technology as academics in motion,” Trankler said. “My course includes hands-on lab activities with over $350,000 worth of equipment that brings science, technology, engineering and math into focus.”

A teacher at SCTC since 2010, Trankler provides his students a curriculum aligned with the American Welding Society’s national skill standards and coursework that earns them transferable college credit at local technical schools like Northeastern Arkansas College, where Trankler serves on the curriculum review committee. Beyond his own classroom, Trankler supports local welding instructors by serving on their advisory committees and helping them align their programs with national welding standards.

The school’s prize winnings will support the skilled trades program being recognized, and the teacher’s or teacher team winnings can be used as they wish. The high schools of the remaining 32 semifinalists will each receive a $1,000 Harbor Freight Tools gift card to support their skilled trades programs.

The 2019 prize drew nearly 750 applications from 49 states and included three rounds of judging, each by a separate independent panel of experts from industry, education, trades, philanthropy and civic leadership. The field was narrowed this summer to 50 semifinalists. The application process, which included responses to questions and a series of online video learning modules, was designed to solicit each teacher’s experience, insights and creative ideas about their approach to teaching and success in helping their students achieve excellence in the skilled trades.

Photo Above: Brent Trankler

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