Alberta welder Alanna Marklund, the first Canadian apprentice to win the United Association’s prestigious Allyn Parmenter and George Bliss Award, enjoys the day-to-day challenges inherent in the trade.

“I like the challenge of the weld,” says Marklund, who is employed through the union at Aecon Industrial-Western Canada’s fabrication shop at Sherwood Park just outside the city of Edmonton.

“I like to get a stack of prints and work through them. I like being given a weld that has something complicated about it. I like to really challenge myself and see how well I can do.”

Marklund was one of the five Canadian apprentices, representing locals of the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry of the United States and Canada, who took part in August in an international apprentice competition in Ann Arbor, Mich.

The only Canadian in the winners’ circle this year, Marklund took home the Parmenter/Bliss Award, which recognizes an apprentice who demonstrates leadership and exemplifies the values of the union’s standard of excellence.

The 32 competitors were interviewed at the beginning of the week in Ann Arbor. Prior to their arrival, they had submitted written responses to more than a dozen questions, which also included suggestions on how to improve the apprenticeship process.

Marklund, who now has completed her apprenticeship and expects to obtain journeyman status within the next month or so, set her sights on a career in the trades after taking stock of the potential employment opportunities that existed in industrial Alberta.

“I took a welding course at high school in Grande Cache,” she says. “It was one of my favorite subjects. I figured there were so many people doing well in the trades in the province that I should give welding a shot.”

Marklund, 26, hasn’t looked back.

She landed a job at Aecon Industrial through Edmonton-based UA Local 488 in August 2012 and has been there ever since. Marklund became a UA member early in 2013.

“I pretty much do a little bit of everything at the shop,” she says. “I help out wherever is needed. During my apprenticeship, I have run most of the stations.”

Aecon Industrial-Western Canada provides a complete range of services — including pipe fabrication — to the oil and gas, petrochemical, pulp and paper, mining and power generation sectors.

Marklund, whose father is an electrician and whose younger sister is an automotive mechanic, is in a select group at the UA.

Statistics indicate that currently only 1.7 per cent of UA members in Canada, including both apprentices and journeymen, are women.

Down the road, Marklund would like to become a welding instructor. She has fond memories of her classroom studies at the Alberta Pipe Trades College, which offers apprenticeship training programs to both union and non-union students.

“That (teaching) would be a dream career,” she says. “I’ve had a lot of great journeymen teach me the tricks of the trade. I’d love to pass along that information to young apprentices one of these days.”

Marklund, welding champ at the UA’s Canadian national apprentice competition in Toronto in June, was the first female to compete in Ann Arbor. The event was held at Washtentaw Community College.

She found the experience an “awesome” one. She particularly enjoyed meeting fellow welders from outside Canada.

“We helped each other out and got along really well.”

Competition tasks were not appreciably different than those undertaken in Toronto, yet still challenging.

“I learned so much,” Marklund says. “I will definitely remember that week forever.”

The annual competition was held in conjunction with the UA’s week-long instructor training program. Each year, more than 2,000 instructors from union locals across North America and Australia participate.

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