A recent CNM graduate is going for the gold and hoping to compete in what’s known as the Olympics of welding.

It’s a competition that happens every two years and if he makes it, he would be the first welder from New Mexico to do it. 

Andrew Mckinley, 19, says a high school welding class in Mountainair solidified his fascination.

“I really enjoyed it so I wanted to make a career out of it,” McKinley said.

Before he goes into welding full time, McKinley is vying to represent the U.S. in the World Skills Competition in Russia next year. 

There are competitions for more than 50 trades, everything from hairstyling and landscaping to carpentry and welding.

“I would be getting to compete against people from China, Russia, Korea,” McKinley said.

It’s a journey that started with an in-house competition at CNM. 

“They actually get a set of materials, they get a blueprint and they actually build to the blueprint specifications and tolerances,” said instructor Ron Hackney.

After winning that, he competed on the state level, then qualified for nationals. His national ranking qualified him to compete for a spot at worlds. 

“I have five projects that I have to do right now,” McKinley said.

His instructors say McKinley commits about 40 to 60 extra hours of welding each week in preparation for the competition.

“Every weld is scrutinized by a committee because they are trying to find out who is the highest skilled welder in the United States to compete for international levels,” Hackney said.

According to his instructors, McKinley is the first CNM student to try to qualify for the international competition.

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity…I might as well try it,” McKinley said.

McKinley is one of 24 welders across the nation that will submit projects to national judges. They’ll pick six finalists in October, then hold weld-offs to see who will go to Russia next August