Steel Day showcases future builders

photo of a student welding at Puma Steel for the Steel Day competitionFor Chloe Pruitt, welding isn’t just a class at Kelly Walsh High School — it’s a career trajectory.

Pruitt, a 17-year-old from Casper, has been welding since her freshman year. It’s a natural choice, as her grandpa welds, and so do her dad and uncle. Now she’s ready to carry the torch to the next generation.

“I just found a knack for it and I practice all the time,” Pruitt said. “I love welding.”

The love for welding brought Pruitt to Cheyenne where she participated in the seventh Steel Day competition, a collaboration among Laramie County Community College, Puma Steel and the American Institution of Steel Construction. On Oct. 19, more than 150 high school juniors and seniors from all over the region came to LCCC’s welding lab for a preliminary round. Twenty finalists gathered at Puma Steel the following day for one more written test and weld, competing for $25,000 in scholarships and other prizes.

In his fourth Steel Day, LCCC welding instructor Chase Metzler said he knows the students enjoy having a chance to put their skills up against their peers. That competitive drive, he said, helps the students to develop their abilities.

“With competitiveness comes growth,” Metzler said. “Every day you go out in the workforce, you’re competing for your job. This builds work ethic in these kids.”

The high school students also get a chance to see the training facilities offered at LCCC and the real-world industrial setting of Puma Steel. While there, they can interact with professionals in education and industry, getting feedback on their work and information about careers in welding.

The industry partners not only have the chance to showcase the high-paying jobs they offer to the students — they also have the chance to see the quality work being done by the next generation of students, said Scott VanHorn, LCCC Trades & Technical Studies Pathway coordinator.

“This gives industry the opportunity to see the high quality of tradesmen and tradeswomen that are coming through our schools, and that quality has just gotten better and better each year,” he said. “This helps the industry prepare for the next wave of those career-minded professionals coming into their doors.”

In attendance during the finals was Gov. Mark Gordon, who said he recognized the big-picture importance of training the future builders of Wyoming. Today’s students, he said, will be tomorrow’s innovators.

“It’s not just workforce we’re developing,” Gordon said. “We’re developing ambitious folks who want to do the next big thing.”

Pruitt already knows what her next step is, as she’ll graduate from Kelly Walsh in May and make her way to LCCC in the fall. While she’s excited for what those next steps will hold, on Steel Day, her mind was focused on the competition.

“There’s always nerves, but I’m super excited coming in here and just hoping I do well,” Pruitt said.

Since 2009, hundreds of events have taken place around the U.S. as part of National Steel Day, an annual celebration of the structural steel industry sponsored by the American Institute of Steel Construction and hosted by its members and partners.

Go to l lccc.wy.edu/trades for more information about the Trades & Technical Studies Pathway at LCCC or contact Scott VanHorn at SVanHorn@lccc.wy.edu or 307.778.4360.