Merphie was the first non American to compete in the prestigious Craft Championships, held between March 15 and 19 at the Las Vegas Convention Centre.
“I did not know what to expect …I applied what I learnt and used my initiative. It was also my first time traveling so I had no friends. In the end, I was able to pull myself together, apply what I learnt and do what I had to do, to make Jamaica and Breadnut Valley Institute proud”, Merphie said.
A total of 109 students participated in the intense two day event, which involved young men and women competing in one of 13 craft categories, including: welding; carpentry; metal building; electrical; millwright; fire sprinkler; pipefitting; HVAC; plumbing; instrumentation; sheet metal, insulation and masonry.
Along with four other contenders, Merphie competed in a six hour weld-off, which included a written exam valuing 25%. The competitors were judged on their ability to quickly and effectively assemble their welding equipment and their effectiveness at pipe welding in particular positions.
Merphie, 22, was selected for the prestigious competition following a preliminary weld-off at BNVET in December 2005. Some 300 local welders from the National Tool and Engineering Institute; Breadnut Valley Engineering Training Institute; Portmore HEART Academy; Power Services Company Ltd. and Solid Rock Industrial Institute competed. Six welders were short listed and Merphie was selected by an auspicious team of judges, including American Welding Standard Certified Assessor, Astley Scott, who was Chief Judge.
Robert Green, Director of the Strategic Workforce Development Project at HEART Trust/NTA accompanied Merphie on the trip. Mr. Green said the concept enabled HEART Trust to gain international experience and to benchmark their craft training against world standards.
“Merphie’s triumph validates what we are doing at the Jamalco-HEART Breadnut Valley Engineering Institute” Mr. Green said.
Though very committed to his vocational training, Merphie is a very rounded young man who finds time to be involved in sporting activities including cricket and football and is a member of the Hunts Pen Police Youth Club.
“Being a player on the Hunts Pen Football team - a member of the Jamalco Football League - allows me to interact with people and gives me a sense of belonging,” he said.
Prior to his sojourn in welding, Merphie attended Mineral Heights Primary School, Garvey Maceo High and evening classes at Vere Technical High School where he sat CXC Examinations. But what led a child who always wanted to be an electrician to instead choose welding as a vocation?
“While in third form at Garvey Maceo Comprehensive, I was introduced to Electrical Installation,” Merphie explained. “I always wanted to be an electrician, but I got shocked when I was in third form and wasn’t so sure if it was still for me.” Having already chosen Electrical Installation, he continued with it, but soon lost the fire for it on learning more about the dangers associated with high tension wires.
When Merphie turned 15, the new spark in his life was a welding shop that a friend operated near to his house. “I did like the lights – and would always be down there playing. Even when I should be in bed, I was down there watching the torch lights. I also learnt on the streets that you can have [make] a good career out of it. I also live near to the plant [Jamalco] and I heard that there is a demand for welders.”
An ambitious and driven young man, Merphie enrolled at the Portmore HEART Academy, upon graduating high school. According to him, this career move was born of necessity, rather than an innate desire to pursue a career in welding. Although Merphie’s parents wanted him to further his studies, they just did not have the money. HEART/NTA provided a fabulous opportunity, since the Jamaican Government absorbs the cost of training, accommodation and meals for HEART Trainees in the Level One Welding programme.
His fascination with welding soon became a passion, and like never before, Merphie was sure what he wanted to pursue, at least for now. With his parents’ encouragement, Merphie enrolled in the Level One Welding Programme at the Portmore HEART Academy. He started the nine months programme on December 2001 and did he love it!
“It was an experience living away from home for the first time. I lived in a dormitory with 16 others”. Merphie successfully completed the Level One Programme on August 2002 and graduated in November 2002.
Having completed the Level One Programme, Merphie was idle at home for a while. Between September and November 2003, he became involved in the then Jamalco expansion programme by becoming a trainee of Chicago Bridge and Iron Company. Through that experience, he received training as a Class 2 Welder. But he was soon to be unemployed again. In a fortuitous moment one day in November 2004, the young man received a call from the HEART Trust/NTA informing him about the Level 3 Welding Programme at Breadnut Valley Engineering Training Institute. Merphie accepted an invitation to become enrolled in the programme in January 2005 and is now a fully competent Level 3 Welder.
Robert Green, Director of the Strategic Workforce Development Project at HEART Trust/NTA describes the welding programme at BNVET as competency based, where the trainee can exit at any point as long as he/she has achieved the desired level of competence.
Berry Moody, Fluor Americas Inc. Project Manager for the Jamalco Unit-3 Expansion Project, says the idea to enter a student from BNVET in the Associated Builders and Contractors National Craft Championships in the United States was spawned by Dickie Jones, Training Manager at Fluor’s Houston Office, who organized Jamaica’s involvement in the competition.
Mr. Moody, an engineer by profession, spoke glowingly about the facilities operated by the Breadnut Valley Engineering Training Institute.
“I’ve traveled a lot and it’s the nicest in the world.” Fluor Americas Inc. underwrote all travel and accommodation costs for Merphie and Mr. Green.
The Breadnut Valley Engineering Training Institute is a partnership between Jamalco and the HEART Trust NTA primarily to develop the required advanced skills for the JU3 Expansion Project, now taking place at the alumina refinery in Halse Hall, Clarendon.
The building housing the training facility is owned by Jamalco and is the former administrative office of the company’s Mines Department. When mining operations were moved, the space was converted into a training centre in a bid to prepare persons for the expansion. In setting up the facility, Jamalco undertook all capital costs while HEART/NTA secured equipment, with the understanding that both entities would share operational expenses.
Fluor is one of the largest engineering and construction companies in the world and is now carrying out expansion works at Jamalco.
The Jamalco-HEART Breadnut Valley Engineering Training Institute was opened by Prime Minister PJ Patterson on January 19, 2005.