The trophy on display in Local 1’s New Hope training center may be small, but the accomplishment behind it – Brandon Peterson’s first-place finish in the Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers’ International Apprentice Contest – is as grand as they come.
Peterson, a 33-year-old apprentice tile setter from Ham Lake, advanced from local and regional tiling competitions to the international contest, held Sept. 10-11 at the International Masonry Institute (IMI) in Bowie, Md. There, he placed first, staking claim to the title of North America’s top tiling apprentice.
“It was kind of surreal,” Peterson said.
The IMI hosts the apprenticeship contest just once every four years. It’s timed to coincide with the BAC’s international convention, which draws union officers and delegates from across North America, as well as members of Congress and other dignitaries.
While delegates conducted business, 80 top apprentices got to work, competing in the BAC’s crafts, which include bricklaying, plastering, tilesetting, stone and marble masonry, terrazzo and mosaic work and PCC, or pointing, caulking and cleaning.
“Eighty apprentices competed in eight different craft categories,” BAC Local 1 President Michael J. Cook said. “The competition was intense. There were hundreds of spectators… But Brandon held his cool and kept his head down to complete his project in superior fashion.”
‘Are you kidding me?’
For Peterson, the competition consisted of a 40-question written exam and a common project, which apprentices had less than five hours to complete using a limited quantity of tile and other supplies.
Officials distributed specs for the project to apprentices the night before the competition. It involved mudding a shower floor, setting a curb and tiling two of the shower walls with a decorative, pyramid-like mosaic – and it looked unlike any job Peterson had tackled in his training or his work for Minneapolis-based CD Tile & Stone.
“Looking at it the night before, I was like, are you kidding me?” he said. “But once you sit down, it’s just like going to work.”
As the tiling apprentices tackled their assignment, six judges paced the aisles between their work spaces, watching, conferring with each other and jotting down notes. To Sam Greenwood, Local 1’s tile and terrazzo training coordinator, the apprentices looked like “caged animals,” set apart from the crowd and highly scrutinized.
“It was a little intimidating,” Peterson acknowledged. “The judges don’t talk to you. If you did something right or wrong, you don’t know. You just keep going.”
Greenwood attributed Peterson’s success to the apprentice’s meticulous approach.
“There were people who probably did as good a job as Brandon in setting the tile, but they missed something – missed a detail, missed something little,” Greenwood said. “That’s what separated Brandon. He literally followed [the instructions] just perfectly, and they judge every step.”
Motivation to learn
After finishing their work, Peterson and other apprentices had to wait to find out who won until the BAC’s banquet later that night. A celebration of the union’s 150th anniversary, the event drew more than 1,000 people, who watched as BAC international officers, including President James Boland, called Peterson up to the stage to accept his award.
Peterson is the first apprentice from Local 1 to place in the international competition. In fact, he and two others who competed in Bowie – tiling apprentice Jeremy Joa and PCC apprentice Mike Barthel – were the first from Local 1 to advance beyond regional competition.
Their accomplishments, Peterson said, reflect Local 1’s commitment to training and quality.
“People hire union because of the training we get,” Peterson said. “It’s not possible without guys like Sam or Robby (Luukkonen), my instructor – people you can look up to and who want to teach you. With guys like this, a training program and a company that’s willing to support it like CD Tile & Stone – you put those three things together and great things happen.”
Greenwood expects more great things from Local 1 apprentices when international competition resumes in four years, now that Peterson’s trophy is on display in the training center.
“It’s a tangible thing people can look at,” Greenwood said. “Knowing they’re going to be able to compete at some point gives these guys the motivation to learn and to be the best they can be.”