Workforce Development

Case Study and Lessons Learned: Puma Steel Welding Scholarship Competition

Looking for a great way to get the next generation interested in the trades? Host a welding competition for local high school students--a proven success among AISC member fabricators!

Students walk away from these competitions with new skills and lucrative career opportunities--and scholarship money to boost them along the way. The AISC Education Foundation will help you offer the competition winners tempting scholarship prizes by matching local donations up to $4,000 annually!

Here’s how fabricators at Puma Steel in Cheyenne, Wyo., made it happen (with lessons learned along the way).

Puma Steel Welding Competition

Program Origination

In 2017, Rex Lewis and the Puma Steel staff organized the first student welding contest in conjunction with SteelDays and the AISC David B. Ratterman Fast Start Scholarship program. Their initial plan was to award each of the top two students a $1,000 scholarship to attend Laramie County Community College’s (LCCC) welding program. Local interest in this program spread like wildfire, and donations amounted to $10,500--along with other prizes ranging from ball caps to welding gloves to high-end welding machines. Organizers awarded ten scholarships to local high school juniors and seniors for the 2018-2019 academic year.

Annual Competition Events

In the Cheyenne event, students compete in preliminary rounds at LCCC’s welding facility in the week leading up to SteelDays, during which the final competition takes place. The challenge: a simple ⅜” x 8” fillet weld on prepared coupons (submitted anonymously to a panel of judges once complete). The top competitors are invited to the final competition at Puma Steel during SteelDays.

On the morning of the final competition, competitors take a 15- to 20-question written test used as a tie-breaker, if needed. Then the competition begins! Up to five students weld at a time and submit their samples for anonymous review by a panel of judges, which for Puma Steel’s event includes two certified welding inspectors plus an independent welding inspector who serves as head judge. After judging is complete, competition hosts announce winners, award scholarships, and distribute certificates and prizes at an awards ceremony.

The day continues with lunch (courtesy of the event host, Puma Steel) and tours of the facility.

Donations: Scholarship Funds

Puma Steel solicits monetary donations from local businesses and industry partners to support this event. Monetary donors are instructed to send a check payable to the AISC Education Foundation.

The AISC Education Foundation is a 501(c)(3) organization and all donations are deductible as charitable contributions. Checks should specify the donated amount’s specific intended use, with the event location and date in the memo line.

Upon receipt of the check, the AISC Education Foundation sends a letter to the donor for tax purposes.

Donations: Other Prizes

Fun prizes help make these events as memorable for students as possible! We encourage donors to get creative with prizes like t-shirts, ball caps, and more. Welding equipment manufacturers and PPE suppliers have a unique opportunity to help out by providing welding gloves, helmets, torch sets, and even high-end welding machines. Competition organizers request that in-kind donations be sent straight to their facility.

Program Promotion

The team has learned to cast a wide net--especially in less dense regions of the country. Puma Steel targets local high school welding instructors in their promotion, and some students drive more than five hours to compete!

Social media also offers lots of visibility for this demographic. Many students in the target age range learn about similar opportunities through online event postings. Whether this is a Facebook event or a searchable event description on a member's website, it can be a huge boost to event attendance and success. (Speaking of boosting, it costs very little to make a post into an ad to reach a larger audience!)

Scholarship Administration

Event hosts supply the results to AISC after the competition, including each winner’s full name, home address, email address, phone number, high school name, year in school, competition rank, and scholarship amount earned.

Other Recommendations

It is important for the champions of this event to have support from company leadership and communication with their local community college to implement the scholarships. 

The competitors should sign a photo release.

  • Sample photo release language: By participating in the SteelDays Welding Competition, each participant irrevocably grants [host company name] and AISC a non-exclusive, unlimited, worldwide, perpetual, royalty-free, transferable license and right to use and authorize the use of the participant's submission including event descriptions, photos, and any other material or information in connection with this program for purposes of advertising, trade, and other commercial purposes. AISC will not share private information.

A Few Additional Thoughts

The Steel Fabricators of New England (SFNE) have created a successful welding program in conjunction with the local community college system in New Hampshire. It does not operate exactly like the Puma Steel competition but was adapted from it to meet specific regional needs. If you are interested in learning more, please let us know!