Sometimes it takes a competitive nature to make it to the top. But for Nick Peterson, it was just a matter of being the best he could be.
As a student at the 1993 international event now known as the WorldSkills Competition, Peterson won the bronze medal in Electric Welding. But just prior to the awards ceremony in Taipei, Taiwan, he was unassuming: “It’s great to be able to say that I was the best in the nation and maybe one of the best in the world. Even if I come in last, I can say that I’m the 16th best in the world.”
Peterson says he’s still not the competitive type, pointing out that he never won a national medal before qualifying for TeamUSA, the group chosen to go on to the internationals. Then, as now, he just gets things done to the best of his abilities.
He counts his TeamUSA experiences as pivotal to his career and continued involvement with SkillsUSA. In Taiwan, Peterson faced four days of competition wearing heavy welding gear, in the tropics, in August, inside a building without air conditioning. That was tough, and looking back at the amount of training and travel it took to get there, he still seems amazed at how he made it.
First, Peterson didn’t win a medal when competing in the 1990 and 1991 nationals but did well enough to go to the pre-trials. Twenty-four former national contestants went into a seven-month program, turning in international-style projects. Then, the best six were selected for the American Welding Society’s trials for the internationals, and Peterson won.
He trained at three more locations before representing the United States. “Somehow I made it through all that … Hobart [Institute of Technology] for two weeks, then Lincoln [Electric Co.] for two weeks, then it all culminated at Miller Electric in Appleton, Wis., for the two months prior to internationals,” he says.
As a TeamUSA member, Peterson was one of the first to receive a $40,000 scholarship from Miller Electric. “I had the opportunity to go to college and to have a scholarship to go to college,” he adds.
“I jumped on that. It was the best thing I ever did. I would have been a fool to say no. I went and got my welding engineering technology degree, a bachelor of science, from Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Mich. Miller likes to see its [scholarship] recipients go into welding engineering and related fields such as metallurgy.”
As a summer intern, Peterson was back at the SkillsUSA Championships in 1995, helping Miller with the Welding contest.
He later worked for Welding Engineering Supply Co. in Mobile, Ala., before his current job: district manager for Miller, covering the Arizona-Las Vegas territory.
Peterson officially joined SkillsUSA’s Welding contest technical committee in 1998, supporting Welding Engineering Supply at the time and now Miller Electric. When he moved to Arizona, he joined the Welding technical committee for the SkillsUSA state championships. This year, he will serve as chair.
Helping industry find the best
Peterson says he often hears about the shortage of good welders but thinks enrollments in welding may be on the rise.
“Lately, a lot of reality television has been doing some neat things for the welding industry,” he explains. “It has brought welding into the mainstream, like woodworking. People started doing woodworking in their homes; now they’re welding in their homes. It’s a good thing.”
When visiting companies, Peterson frequently is asked where to find good TIG welders. He points to SkillsUSA’s championships program. When a contest chairman recently had requests from some companies looking for TIG welders, the chair went through the scoring. Finding students who scored 90 percent or better on the TIG portion of the contest, the chair informed the competitors’ instructors of the opportunities.
“We’re trying to do the same thing in Arizona,” Peterson says. “We want more industry involved in our Arizona state Welding contest. We’ll tell them, ‘If you want to find a good welder, there are 80 kids every year going through our contest. Talk to these kids.’ We’re trying create a pool for employers to draw from. And, why not? No instructor is going to bring his worst student to the contest; he’s going to bring his best student.”
Developing the right employees
Peterson loves welding. Having an uncle who was a metal shop teacher helped shape his vocation. “He made amazing things like this cannon that shoots one-and-a-half-inch diameter cannon balls,” he says. “Cool stuff. When I was a young kid, we’d be in the garage welding on things, and being around that gave me an interest in it.” At Apple Valley, Minn., High School, he started taking metal shop in ninth and 10th grades, going on to Dakota County Secondary Technical Center.
“I thought, ‘I’m never going to compete,’ but my instructor, Gary Wallerich, said, ‘If you want an A, you’re going to have to go.’ I thought, ‘Oh, fine.’ I was not a competitive person; I never have been. I still am not. Even in the contests that I competed in, I wasn’t competing against anyone else — I was there to do the best I could and move on. I was forced into SkillsUSA, but once I was in, it was a great thing.
“I help at states, nationals and internationals to kind of pay back,” he adds. “SkillsUSA gave me opportunities that I would never have had, and I want to make sure this [Welding competition] keeps going. The people who started it all are getting closer to retirement every day, and we need another generation to help out. I don’t feel a sense of obligation; it’s just the right thing to do, and we need the people to help.
“We need organizations like SkillsUSA to make better employees,” he explains. “It makes the welding industry better and more educated and more skilled. I came from a household where I was taught the value of work, but a lot of people aren’t taught that. SkillsUSA is a great tool to do that. SkillsUSA is also a great tool to tie education and industry together.”
Peterson feels so strongly about business and industry partnerships with education that he’s joined SkillsUSA’s Youth Development Foundation to both have input and learn from other business leaders.
“You see the struggle all the time,” he explains. “Nobody can find good employees. Everybody’s talking about it all the time in every industry of every facet of every job that their companies have. At Miller Electric, we continue to employ the best available candidates through programs such as SkillsUSA. The government’s not listening, but SkillsUSA is, and we’re developing the right people.
“When a company wants to get involved, I say, ‘Excellent, good job. It’s worth every cent. This is your chance to find the right people.’”
As for students who hope to become that right kind of employee, Peterson suggests the same steadfast approach he’s always had. “Have a PMA — a Positive Mental Attitude — a good strong work ethic, and do the best you can. Focus on what you’re doing, not what everybody else is doing, and have no regrets.”