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ATLANTA — Six months after winning a bronze medal in the Heavy Vehicle Technology division at the World Skills competition, Ryan Meppelink received a rousing ovation at American Trucking Associations’ Technology & Maintenance Council annual meeting Feb. 24.
“I am still a little baffled that many people stood to recognize what we had done. I feel completely honored,” said Meppelink, who was recognized with his instructor, Tom Wozniak.
The student, from Zeeland, Mich., and teacher were reunited for the first time since Kazan, Russia, when Meppelink scored 728 points out of 800.
Meppelink was bested by gold medal winner Paulo Fratta of Brazil (745) and silver medalist Jack Dupuis of Canada (736). Fifteen technicians competed.
Meppelink, 21, garnered the Best of the Nation award for the highest score among the 20 youths who represented the United States in various categories. Dupuis won Best of Nation for Canada’s team.
Since returning home, Meppelink has graduated from Ferris State University one semester early and started a full-time job as a diesel technician at Inontime, an employee-owned transportation, logistics and warehouse company in Zeeland that serves the Great Lakes region.
He told Transport Topics the past six months have been hectic.
“I graduated from college back in December, relaxed a little bit, and tried to cool the jets,” he said. “We’ve been working full time just trying to gather some experience. It’s been a wild ride, but it’s time to turn some wrenches and learn the industry.”
While Meppelink is one of the best young diesel and heavy equipment technicians in the world, he elected to start his new job working overnights.
“It’s been a little rough. I did do a little night work when I was going through high school and my early years in college,” he said. “It’s not been bad. I enjoy the time to think. It’s quiet, but it might not be for everyone.”
While Meppelink cannot return to World Skills as a competitor, Wozniak will be there as a U.S. coach. The Madison Area Technical College diesel instructor is working to find another strong candidate for the 2021 event in Shanghai.
“The candidates have already won and have gone to the national competition in Louisville [Ky.], and they have actually medaled in the national events. These individuals are no strangers to competition,” Wozniak said. “All I’m doing now is polishing the edges of that individual. And we’re focusing them more on the stuff they will see in this competition. I’m looking for an individual that wants to put forth the effort and win this competition and really put the United States on their back and say, ‘I’m going to win this competition.’ ”
The competition in Russia was the first for Meppelink and Wozniak. With that experience, they believe that will make the 2021 candidate stronger.
“I know what to expect now, and getting that experience under my belt will really help when it comes to China,” Wozniak said. “
Meppelink also is planning to help the U.S. World Skills team, offering his experience and insight to the person who is selected next year.
“I hope to be a resource, I’m willing to talk, make phone calls, make trips to wherever is necessary,” he said. “I want to be a good resource for the up-and-coming competitor. I want somebody else to experience what I did and ultimately compete at the level I did, and carry the flag.”
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Wozniak and Meppelink also are serving as advocates for the trucking and diesel technician industry, promoting the benefits for young adults and veterans, especially those who have worked around trucks, to consider this field as a career.
“Everyone is hurting for technicians,” Wozniak said. “There is a shortage. We know there is a shortage. We are trying everything in our power to attract talent in this industry.
“This is a great industry, I’ve been involved it all of my adult life. You can make an excellent living in this industry.”
Meppelink is spreading the word to young people, especially as the industry becomes so reliant on computers, sensors and circuit boards.
“What we’re dealing with today is so technologically advanced. You have to have the ability to work with computers as well as working with your hands. It’s not a job. It’s a career,” Meppelink said. “You get into this field, and you start working, but I really try to sell the points that make it an interesting and fun career for me to pursue.
“If you feel rewarded by solving challenges and problems and you’re not afraid to work with your hands, there is nothing wrong with working in the skilled trades.”
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