“Imagine what our lives would be like without things like running water, electricity, safe homes and automobiles,” challenges Cheryl Mehrmann, director of brand activation for IRWIN® Tools. “That’s why (skilled tradespeople) are so important to keep our nation running strong.”
Recognizing the value that skilled tradespeople bring to their communities, in many forms of service, is a mission IRWIN Tools has been very public about since 2011, when it founded National Tradesman Day. Each year since, the company marks the third Friday in September as National Tradesman Day, through a number of promotional efforts with vendors that carry IRWIN’s family of hand tool, accessory, blade and bit brands.
But, in an effort to do more than just pay lip service to the annual commemoration for tradespeople, Mehrmann says the company visits many jobsites around the country every National Tradesman Day to provide free tools and personally thank the people working there.
Mehrmann says IRWIN representatives were struck by the reactions of the tradespeople they began to visit five years ago, and those impressions got the company thinking about opportunities for even broader exposure. “They were so appreciative of the acknowledgement of their work, that we decided we needed to expand our efforts.”
The company also is concerned about a growing deficit, nationally, of young people pursuing skilled-trade schools. “Many of these young students see a (four-year) college education as a safer method to gain employment across a broader range of careers,” Mehrmann says. “In reality, a student who completes a two-year trade school will have not only paid a far more affordable tuition fee, but will have learned the skills to be employed immediately following their graduation.”
That’s why in November of last year, IRWIN announced its “Nominate a Tradesman” contest in the hopes of finding the “ultimate” tradesperson. The contest, which ran from November 2014 through June 2015, sought nominations from the private sector for worthy candidates who exemplify high standards in their work and offer meaningful service to their communities. Each nomination required a 500-word essay from the entrant explaining why their nominated tradesperson makes a difference in his or her community.
Then monthly, one contest candidate was selected by a panel of IRWIN employees and customers and awarded an IRWIN tool bag and $250 worth of tools, including VISE-GRIP®, ProTouch™, SPEEDBOR®, QUICK-GRIP®, MARATHON® and WeldTec™ products. Three of those monthly finalists then were eligible for a grand prize of a 2015 Ford F-150 4×4 pickup truck. IRWIN received some 3,000 entries in total, Mehrmann reports, and each essay was scored based on the passion demonstrated by the contestant’s work and the impact he or she is making in the community.
“It was very difficult to select a winner, because so many of the stories we read were remarkable,” Mehrmann adds.
When the contest closed this summer, IRWIN announced its grand prize winner: Jen Netherwood, a carpenter of 11 years from Portland, Oregon. The other two finalists (not pictured) were Chris Hilbun, a general contractor from Fayetteville, Louisiana, and Joshua Randel, a Lake Charles, Louisiana, general contractor.
Netherwood’s essay explained that in addition to having been a girl’s soccer coach and camp counselor, she’s become a pre-apprenticeship instructor at a local women’s correctional facility in Portland. Under her guidance, the class framed, roofed, installed doors and windows and provided finish carpentry on a number of small dwellings. When her program lost funding, she collaborated with the Bureau of Labor and Industries, plus local community colleges, to develop and implement another pre-apprenticeship program for the prison that was free of corporate contribution.
In a press release announcing the contest winner, Rich Mathews, senior vice president of IRWIN Tools, says Jen’s dedication to her community and the positive changes she’s made in her industry are the reasons why she was selected for the grand prize. “We’re proud to have her as our first winner of this competition.”
Mehrmann furthers that sentiment. “Our experience with Jen revealed her as a kindhearted and humble professional. Once notified that she had won the competition, Jen was more excited to raise awareness for programs similar to hers, that help those in correctional facilities, than her own time in the spotlight.”
Friday, September 18, marked 2015 National Tradesman Day. The day before, Jen received an all-expense paid trip to IRWIN’s national headquarters in Huntersville, North Carolina, to receive her new Ford pickup. During that appearance, she shared this reflection about the contest:
“I’m really excited about this award, because I think that having a national platform like this, is really going to help me advance this message. And I think that some people who weren’t listening before are going to start to listen to the message about pre-apprentice training in men’s and women’s prisons.”
IRWIN has not announced a second annual “Nominate a Tradesman” contest yet, as specifics have not been determined. But, Mehrmann assures that honoring trade professionals “will continue to be a big part of our plan in 2016.”