Varied Trade Knowledge Leads to Career Success

The recession brought about a lot of change in the construction industry. In addition to a shift toward a more conservative way of doing business, many skilled craft professionals found themselves with a  need to change their skill sets. Take Chad Bass and Brandon Hartford for example. Both were skilled craft professionals working for companies that couldn’t stay afloat in the recession. Facing unemployment, they took matters into their own hands, broadening their skills to find success in other construction trades.

Bass and Hartford eventually found themselves with an opportunity to compete in Associated Builders and Contractors’ (ABC) National Craft Championships, an intense two-day event where craft trainees from ABC chapter and member firm training programs across the country compete in one of 13 competitions representing 11 crafts. 

The Value in Hard Work
At age 21, Bass faced a decision familiar to many young people: Go to school or go to work. He opted to join the construction industry and began learning various trades. He quickly realized going on to higher education wasn’t his only option, and construction presented an opportunity for a successful career.

“When you choose a career, go to school or learn a trade, you need to do it with all you’ve got. You need to focus on it, make goals for yourself and reach those goals,” Bass says. “You don’t have to go to school to make it.”

He started his own window insulation business, which eventually closed under the weight of the recession. Unemployment didn’t suit Bass, an exceptionally hard worker who is mechanically inclined, so he began working as an apprentice pipefitter for San Antonio-based Zachry Industrial, Inc.

Chad Bass (far right)“Pipefitting is the best line of work I’ve ever done. It pays very well and there’s a lot of work available,” Bass says. “The field is so broad and I can work in a lot of different areas.”

Bass’ peers at Zachry quickly discovered his talent and knew he would be an excellent fit for the National Craft Championships. To prepare, a jobsite foreman with expertise in pipefitting began holding classes two nights a week for eight weeks. Bass learned as much as he could from the foreman, reading books and practicing his test-taking skills. He also began building jigs similar to what he would encounter at the competition.

Once he arrived at the National Craft Championships in San Antonio last April, Bass realized exactly what he was in for.

“It’s a much bigger event than I thought it was going to be,” Bass says. “I was nervous because there are cameras and people making videos and they set you up in the middle of the civic center for everybody to watch.”

However, once he became more comfortable, he was able to show off the skills he had worked so hard to perfect. He suggests this year’s competitors do the same when they step into the convention center in Birmingham, Ala.

“Take your time, be confident and focus on what you’re doing,” Bass says. “You’re there because someone thought you could do it. You already proved you have the skills and deserve to be there.”

Though he did not place in the National Craft Championships, Bass expects to reap the benefits of competing throughout his career. He also continues to work hard to prove that Zachry’s high expectations for him were spot on.

“The competition will be in my mind all the time,” Bass says. “It makes me push myself harder to do something that most guys can’t do.” 

Unexpected Success
Hartford was a carpenter in the residential construction industry for many years before being laid off due to the economy. Unsure of where to go next, Hartford contacted a friend at Cianbro Corporation, Pittsfield, Maine, who helped him land an interview with the company. During the interview, Hartford discussed how his carpentry skills and work ethic could be transferred to another trade, so Cianbro offered him a pipefitting job last April.

“I prefer working in a nonresidential environment,” Hartford says. “Some of the boilers I worked on are 10 to 14 stories high. I like the scale of it.”

Brandon HarfordThough Hartford was aware of the ABC Maine Chapter’s Annual Craft Championships, he initially did not want to compete. However, his training instructor saw promise in him and continued to push him in that direction. It wasn’t until the day before the competition that Hartford decided to drive from his hometown of Bangor, Maine, to the competition in Augusta, Maine. His training instructor’s persistence paid off, because Hartford won first place in the pipefitting competition.

“You could have knocked me over with a feather when I heard I won,” Hartford says. “I’m really looking forward to competing in Birmingham; it looks like it’s going to be a lot of fun. I get a chance to show what I can do as a pipefitter and to show that Cianbro’s great training program can make someone this knowledgeable in less than a year.”

To prepare for the National Craft Championships, Hartford will continue attending pipefitting classes with Cianbro. Then he will complete a week of one-on-one training with an instructor to prepare for the hands-on portion of the competition.

While slightly nervous about heading to Birmingham, Hartford is confident in the training he will receive and is looking forward to showing off his skills on the national stage.

“With winning the Maine competition, I’ve got a little button on my chest that states, ‘I’m at the top of my class,’” Hartford says. “I’m excited about just being in the national competition. I’ve heard nothing but good things and I look forward to it all.”

Hartford expects the honor he already has received from the Maine Chapter—and the fact that he made it to the national competition—to help him on his journey as a pipefitter, as well as to prove that he can handle more work with Cianbro.

“It feels really good to have won,” Hartford says. “I’m hoping for good things to come about.” 


Jessica Porter is staff writer of Construction Executive. For more information, email porter@abc.org, visit www.constructionexec.com or follow @ConstructionMag.