Packer welding a test plate at the AWS Weld Trials for WorldSkills in Huntsville, Ala. Photo: Jeremiah Garcia.
Did you know that 20 hours of concentrated effort can change your life? It did for welder Jordan Packer of Provo, Utah. Packer medaled at the 2022 WorldSkills Special Edition welding competition in Cleveland after a staggering 20-hour competition. That outstanding performance wasn’t the result of luck; it came from skills that took years to develop with the support of school and industry trainers. That huge investment of time by Packer and his mentors indeed paid off — resulting in international bragging rights, a $40,000 scholarship, a stack of new industry contacts and a freshly launched business.
Packer’s methodical training for WorldSkills mirrors his thoughtful approach to life. He wasn’t handed the role of sole U.S. competitor; he had to earn that spot through numerous competitions that showed judges he had natural talent plus a steady dedication to his craft that would ensure success. Welders have to be good at so many things simultaneously: math, attention to detail, steady hands, good hand/eye coordination, physical strength and endurance to name a few. But the best welders have something more: a desire for excellence, an ability to thrive even in a high-stress environment and a gift for open communication allowing them to accept feedback and continuously improve.
At the WorldSkills event, Packer faced off against 20 competitors, each the best of the best from their respective countries. The competition spanned four days, allowing every competitor to demonstrate all aspects of their knowledge and skill. That level of competition was something Packer had never faced before, but he began seizing the moment well before WorldSkills. “I trained specifically for this competition since August of 2021,” Packer explains. “Before training began, I first had to compete in SkillsUSA and then be invited to the American Welding Society (AWS) weld trials in Alabama. Those weld trials are how they select the one welding competitor for WorldSkills.”
Packer, 21, didn’t just compete at the 2022 WorldSkills Special Edition in Cleveland: He medaled bronze! His top-three finish was the first American podium medal for welding in a decade. Packer scored 726 points out of a possible 800 and was just seven points away from first place — less than 1% from the gold medalist.
Wild About Welding
Packer’s skilled trades story began at age 14 when he fell in love the first time he struck an arc. Growing up on a farm, he took on the challenge of restoring his family’s 1941 Ford 9N tractor when he was just a freshman in high school. “I needed to do some welding on the tractor and begged my dad to teach me,” Packer explains. “I was immediately hooked, and that led me to sign up for a high school welding class.” Packer joined SkillsUSA in 2015 as a sophomore at Provo High School (Utah) and ultimately decided to pursue welding as a career. “As time progressed, I realized that I loved to compete.” He competed in Welding three years in a row at the state level. In 2021, he was the state gold medalist for the college/postsecondary division and competed at the 2021 national SkillsUSA Championships, later earning an invitation to the AWS Weld-Off to try for a spot on the 2022 WorldSkills USA team.
The Weld-Off was held at Alabama Robotics Technology Park in Tanner and consisted of four modules to complete in 18 hours over three-and-a-half days. To prepare for the competition, Packer practiced nearly 75 hours a week to master gas metal, gas tungsten, flux cored and shielded metal arc welding, all while balancing his school and family life.
Once he was officially named the WorldSkills USA welding competitor, Packer had to put that life on hold, as “ordinary college student” no longer described him. “My daily life was welding and sleeping,” he says. “I was welding up to 18 hours a day … but not earning a dime.” He needed to quickly become an efficient expert of high-quality welds, because he knew the odds were against him. “I would be competing against people from other countries who trained for the past five years,” he says.
In the end, Packer has good reason to be proud of his competition performance. In the 46 years of WorldSkills welding competition, there was never a competitor who attained perfect scores on all of their x-ray testing until this year. “I was the one who achieved it, and I will continue to strive for that level of quality in each and every job I do,” Packer says. However, he is very quick to share the spotlight with others. “The team around me, they were hyped up and excited, just knowing they helped prepare me. This competition was for the best student welders in the world, and you have to train harder than normal Olympians.” Unlike Olympic athletes, welders like Packer only get one shot — a single event — to compete on the world stage.
Understanding the Assignment
All the years of work would come down to 20 hours in a welding booth, but Packer already had one advantage: He understood the assignment. “If you mess up, there aren’t any second chances.” Despite the pressure to perform, Packer was calm when he boarded the plane for WorldSkills. “I knew I had done everything in my power to prepare and truly felt that I was meant to be competing,” he says. Once there, it wasn’t just the welding but the international experience that made the whole week exceptional. “Being introduced to so many cultures was incredible. The competitors were all extremely happy to be there and I have many new friends across the globe.”
Asked how he felt when he was called up to receive his medal, Packer is reflective.“It was emotional. I was proud of how I performed. It made me happy to see the U.S. flag on the podium knowing that the team and I made that happen. This experience was a life changer. The people I met and the things I learned will serve me going forward. I hope to use this momentum to propel myself to the next level.”
As they always do, numerous SkillsUSA stakeholders came together to support this SkillsUSA champion, and Packer expresses thanks to those mentors and trainers from education and industry who supported him. “My gratitude is beyond expressing. I saw what each supporter contributed and it would not have been possible without so many people working together. AWS helped Packer with his training schedule and funded flights, hotels and food throughout his journey. Lincoln Electric hosted the WorldSkills event at their state-of-the-art Cleveland facility and donated all of the wire, rod and consumables for the event. Currently a student at Utah State University (USU) Eastern finishing his associate degree, Packer also credits the school’s staff for his success. “I would not be here without the incredible staff at USU Eastern, especially Austin Welch, Jake Clement and Jeremiah Garcia. They pulled many late nights to ensure that I had everything I needed. Your inner circle determines your success, and these were my three since day one. I am proud to call USU Eastern my school.”
Packer made friends for life through his experience and connections with the industry he is just entering. “I have an immense number of new contacts. The networking and having these industry connections can only help me in the future.”
So, what was his favorite WorldSkills moment? “My favorite moment was watching my vessel get tested,” Packer explains. “Vessel testing is the big deal, even though it’s not necessarily what wins the competition. With the pressure tests, everyone is all over your work and you never know what’s going to happen. You can do it right and it could still leak,” he admits.
Skill Takes Time
Packer says he learned a lot about himself through the experience. What he learned through all the training and self-reflection may seem simple, but it’s pretty deep. “The bigger the risks, the more you’ve got to push yourself. Skill takes time, and you have to be willing to give your all and be uncomfortable to grow. That’s how I got here. You can be given opportunities, but to get the ones worthwhile, you need to work for them. Push yourself to succeed and push past where things are easy and comfortable to reach your highest level.”
Now that the competition is over, Packer has started working while finishing his final semester at USU Eastern. He is considering schools where he can continue his education for a bachelor’s in welding engineering. Prizes for his WorldSkills win — other than the world medal and international bragging rights — included a $40,000 scholarship from Miller Electric which will help with his education goals.
“I hope to raise up the welding community as a whole and show those new to the field — and those not even in the field yet — that welding is an exciting career that can get you to places you never dreamed you could be,” Packer says. “I know the world will change. Skills will change. But I’m just getting started.”