Meet the CNM Student Trying for the Welding 'Olympics'

Andrew B. Kirby McKinley is competing to represent America at the WorldSkills competition
August 27, 2018

If all goes well, Andrew B. Kirby McKinley could be on a plane to Kazan, Russia a year from now.

He’d be traveling there as the one and only welding student from the entire United States to compete in the WorldSkills competition—a continuation of the National SkillsUSA competition that he competed in this summer. Thanks to a top-15 placing at Nationals, plus the fact that he’s under 23, Andrew qualified along with about 20 other welding students to apply for the international competition.

At the WorldSkills competition in Russia, he would join other American students representing their trades, and the American students would all be up against international competitors from around the world.

But before Andrew can get on that plane (or planes), he has a long road ahead of him. He has to weld seven different projects—using different kinds of metals including aluminum and stainless steel—over the next several weeks then submit them to national judges in October. 

Once he’s done, he’ll weld all those projects again, but this time much more quickly, then have his work judged once more. If the work from both rounds stands out, he’ll make the top six and head to a weld-off in Atlanta, Georgia. There, he’ll need to make the top three, which will send him to the final weld-off in Huntsville, Alabama. If he wins there, he’ll be named the U.S. competitor and fly overseas in August 2019.

“The competition is a lot of work, but it’s also a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so I told myself I might as well go for it,” says Andrew, 19.


Luckily Andrew comes in prepared. He received his associate degree in welding from CNM this past spring and can concentrate on the competition full-time before he looks for a job. During his degree program, he learned everything he’ll need to know and he’s also been exposed to competition at the National SkillsUSA event.

That said, this time around he’ll have to perform at an elevated level to try and get the welds as close to perfect as possible.

“The difficulty on these projects is extremely high,” says Trenten Moore, the CNM instructor who’s working with Andrew throughout the competition. “Andrew is being asked to do journeyman-level work, and that usually comes with four or five years of experience.”

Win, lose, draw, the experience will only benefit Andrew when he’s ready to look for a job. There’s a growing skills gap in the trades, and businesses are often clamoring to hire high-quality candidates like Andrew.

“If you look around, almost everything you use on a day-to-day business involves welding,” Trenten says. “From cars to the buildings we work in, they’re all dependent on welders and right now there’s a shortfall of welders who can do those jobs.”

Wherever he ends up, Andrew says he wants to be outside and he wants to be working on a project that contributes to the greater good.

“I know myself, and I know that I need to be out building things that will create a better future for everyone around me,” he says.