ABC’s Craft Champions Show What It Takes to Compete Among the Best

A crew of America’s most accomplished craft trainees and apprentices traveled to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to compete for top honors at Associated Builders and Contractors’ (ABC) National Craft Championships (NCC), held during the association’s Workforce Conference, March 3-6. 

By making it through a series of rigorous local competitions, these 187 men and women proved their chops to participate at the national event, where the real pressure was on. The NCC included 15 competitions in 12 crafts: carpentry, electrical (residential/commercial and industrial/commercial), fire sprinkler, HVAC, instrumentation fitting, insulation, masonry, millwright, pipefitting, plumbing, sheet metal and welding (pipe and structural).

NCC was first held in 1987 as a way to celebrate craft training—and considering the standing ovations from the crowd of attendees and the enthusiasm displayed by the competitors, it’s clear the event is still doing its part to demonstrate the pride of the merit shop and the passion generated by a career in construction.

This year, the NCC featured a few new elements. ABC partnered with the Florida Masonry Apprentice and Educational Foundation to offer a masonry demonstration. Also, the event featured a new team competition, with three teams of journey-level craft professionals from five different crafts working to complete a joint project. As always, competitors first took an intense, two-hour written exam and then competed in daylong, hands-on practical performance tests that were evaluated by a panel of volunteer judges.

None of this would be possible without the dedication of the NCC committee, which is composed of volunteers from leading merit shop construction firms who plan all year long for the two-day competition—managing site logistics, sponsorships and donations of materials, and sorting out everything from power tools to nuts and bolts. 

Below, the 2015 NCC winners talk about what it’s like in the heat of the competition, why they chose to pursue their respective craft, what they enjoy about the work they do, their favorite projects and their advice for others considering a construction career.

Gold: Mark Rineer, ABC Keystone Chapter, Wohlsen Construction Company
Silver: Daniel Clark, ABC Northern Ohio Chapter, Wojcik Builders, Inc.     
Bronze and Safety: Brian Hall, ABC Eastern Pennsylvania Chapter, Klover Contracting, Inc.

“I chose to pursue a job in the construction field because I enjoy working with my hands and being able to look back at the end of the day and see the things I have built. I specifically chose carpentry because I always enjoyed building things out of wood when I was younger and wanted to pursue my hobby to become a professional carpenter.” —Brian Hall, Klover Contracting, Inc.

“I really enjoy the diversity of the job and always taking on new tasks, acquiring new skills and learning different ways to complete the job. The best part of the job is completing a task, taking a step back and feeling a sense of accomplishment on a finished product. It is also a great feeling when a supervisor or coworker shows an appreciation for the work that you’ve done.” —Mark Rineer, Wohlsen Construction Company

Gold: Varand Ghazarian, ABC Los Angeles/Ventura Chapter, LAC USC
Silver: William Wayne Figgins, ABC Virginia ChapterBeckstrom Electric
Bronze: Shawn P. Flanagan, Gaylor Electric
Safety: Andrew Golder, ABC Eastern Pennsylvania Chapter, The Tri-M Group, LLC  

“My advice to others who are considering construction as a career would be: Go all in. Do whatever your boss wants you to do, take any classes that you can, show up to work with a good attitude every day and put your best foot forward. Always be ready for work.” —Shawn Flanagan, Gaylor Electric


Gold: Jesse D. Babington, CECA-South Carolina, Watson Electrical Construction Co. LLC
Silver: Pete Rauls, ABC of Wisconsin Apprenticeship & Training Trust, Faith Technologies Inc.
Bronze: Russell H. Johnson, ABC of the Carolinas, Watson Electrical Construction Co. LLC
Safety: Joseph Emil Zazo, ABC Greater Michigan Chapter, Trahan Electric Incorporated 
“I enjoy the complexity in my work. Every day brings a new challenge. It’s a growing field, and as long as there are buildings being erected, there will always need to be electricians.” —Russell Johnson, Watson Electrical Construction Co. LLC

Gold: Jordan Bretey, American Fire Sprinkler Association, Rapid Fire Protection
Silver: Robert Taylor, ABC Baltimore Metro ChapterAdvanced Fire Protection Systems, LLC
Bronze: Johnathon Dover, ABC Florida Gulf Coast Chapter, Cox Fire Protection
Safety: Jason Rogge, Florida Automatic Sprinkler Training, Inc. (FAST), Wiginton Fire Systems

“I chose to enter a career in construction because I have been building all my life. I am good with my hands, and the fire protection industry is a strong industry that saves money, property and most importantly, lives. I enjoy watching the blueprint become reality and working with everybody as a team to make it a great place for the occupants.” —Jordan Bretey, Rapid Fire Protection

“There are not many things that feel better than completing a project and being able to step back and admire your work!” —Robert Taylor, Advanced Fire Protection Systems, LLC

Gold: Ty A. Balmer, ABC Keystone Chapter, W.C. Eshenaur and Son, Inc.
Silver: Daniel Mercier, ABC of Wisconsin Apprenticeship & Training Trust, AMA Heating & A/C, Inc.
Bronze and Safety: Parker Reed Lumley, ABC Cumberland Valley Chapter, RW Warner, Inc.

“My advice to the next generation is: Be willing to learn about everything, never be afraid to try something you’ve never attempted before, and don’t get intimidated by the job at hand.” —Ty A. Balmer, W.C. Eshenaur and Son, Inc.

“My favorite days in the field are when I take service calls and make my customers happy.” —Daniel Mercier, AMA Heating & A/C, Inc.

Gold: Cody Petersen, Interstates Construction
Silver: Gerald Wayne Vick, III, ABC Pelican Chapter, ISC Contractors, LLC
Bronze: Marlen Harris, ABC New Orleans/Bayou Chapter, Triad Electric & Controls
Safety: Gerald Wayne Vick, III, ABC Pelican Chapter, ISC Contractors, LLC 

“In this industry, don’t be afraid to ask questions because without questions, you won’t gain knowledge and experience.” —Gerald Wayne Vick III, ISC Contractors, LLC

Gold: Mark Koch, ABC Greater Michigan Chapter, G.E. Insulation
Silver: Noel Ocasio, Starcon International Inc.
Bronze: David J. Wright, Starcon International, Inc.
Safety: Randall Kubin, ABC Greater Houston Chapter, Brand Energy Solutions

“Do your best work all the time, and people will notice.” —David J. Wright, Starcon International, Inc.

“I prepared for the National Craft Championships by studying things that I do on a daily basis, as well as the challenges that we occasionally encounter in my trade. Personally, it meant a lot to be able to compete in the craft competition, knowing that what I have learned has given me skills that equal the best in the industry.” —Mark Koch, G.E. Insulation

Gold: Maxwell Bond Kelley, Florida Masonry Apprentice and Educational Foundation, Kevin J. Brandel Masonry Construction
Silver: Abner Torres, Florida Masonry Apprentice and Educational Foundation 
Bronze: Gatien Cesaire, Florida Masonry Apprentice and Educational Foundation, Modern Plumbing Industries

Gold and Safety: Chad Bemis, Cianbro
Silver: Paul Temple, Cianbro
Bronze: Brian Loeb, ABC Texas Gulf Coast Chapter, McGill Maintenance Partnership, Ltd.

Gold: Jeremy Fisher, TIC - The Industrial Company 
Silver: Sean Aho, Gould Construction Institute, DECCO, Inc.
Bronze: Eric Neal Capps, Zachry Industrial, Inc.
Safety: Laramie W. Griffin, Jr., ABC Pelican Chapter, Performance Contractors, Inc.   

“In construction, I enjoy that yesterday is never the same as today.” —Jeremy Fisher, TIC - The Industrial Company

Gold: Matthew Elliott, ABC Southern California Chapter
Silver: Bryan Weaver, ABC Southern California Chapter, Warren Weaver Inc.
Bronze: Manuel L. Garcia, ABC New Mexico Chapter, National Heating and Ventilating
Safety: Morgan Parks, ABC of Iowa Apprenticeship and Training Trust, ACI Mechanical
Gold: Brandon Oettchen, ABC of Iowa Apprenticeship and Training Trust, B&G HVAC
Silver: Kevin Strahler, ABC San Diego Chapter, West Coast Air Conditioning Co.
Bronze: Nicholas L. Miller, ABC Keystone Chapter, James Craft and Son, Inc.
Safety: Frank Hernandez, Construction Education Foundation, TDIndustries

Gold: Waylin Lynn Brandon, ABC New Orleans/Bayou Chapter, River Construction
Silver: Joshua White, TIC - The Industrial Company
Bronze: Timothy Nelson, Cianbro
Safety: Francisco Ochoa, Construction Education Foundation, TDIndustries        

 “The thing that I enjoy about this industry is working with people who help me and give me pointers on the work we do.” —Francisco Ochoa, TDIndustries

 “I like that the work is hands on and that what I do contributes to the strength of pipe, buildings and docks.” —Waylin Brandon, Cianbro

Gold: Brandon Moore, ABC Greater Houston Chapter, Jacobs
Silver: Joseph H. Matherne, III, ABC New Orleans/Bayou Chapter
Bronze: Joshua Prater, Construction Education Foundation, FSG Electric
Safety: Shawn Davis, Starcon International, Inc.  

“There is a certain beauty to welding. Once that hood drops, nothing else in the world matters. It’s just you and the metal before you, concentrating on the goal of making a perfect weld with a certain amount of skill, hard work and practice achieving it. Every project has its own memories, but the parts that stick with you long after the job is finished and you’re onto the next thing are the skills you gain and the friends you make.” —Brandon Moore, Jacobs

“I really love when a good group of workers gets on the same page and the job goes smoothly, safely and with as few problems as possible. My advice to others considering a career in this industry would be: Choose a craft that you enjoy and give it 100 percent. If you do, you can provide a good living for yourself while doing something you enjoy.” —Joseph H. Matherne, III, ABC New Orleans/Bayou Chapter

Gold: ABC Iowa Apprenticeship and Training Trust
Pipefitting: Ben Mollhoff, ACI Mechanical, Inc.
Millwright: Ryan Knisley, Keen Project Solutions
Insulation: Mike Bradley, Iowa Insulation, Inc.
Electrical: Bryan Miller, Price Electric
Carpentry: Mitch Plambeck, Frye Builders & Associates Inc.

“I enjoy coordinating with my coworkers as well as meeting workers from other trades. The daily interaction with new people keeps the work fresh, and it allows me to network.” —Mike Bradley

“My most memorable moment in the industry was during a 10,000-square-foot school addition project, when a masonry company told me that I’d built the best foundation wall they have ever set block on.” —Mitch Plambeck

Silver: ABC Ohio Valley Chapter
Pipefitting: Robert M. Kelley, TP Mechanical
Millwright: Steve DeAtley, United Group Services
Insulation: Brandon Russell Cross, All American Insulation
Electrical: Robert A. Davis, Carey Electric
Carpentry: Joshua Terlau, Building Crafts Inc.

“Always have a positive attitude and be willing to work with others. Take pride in all the work that you are doing.” —Brandon Cross 

“As long as you work hard, pay attention to details and apply yourself, you will go far with any employer.” —Joshua Terlau

Bronze: Zachry Industrial, Inc.
Pipefitting: Chadwick Bass
Millwright: William Jeff Garner
Insulation: Fidel Rueda
Electrical: Francisco Barragan
Carpentry: Jose Montejano

“Pipefitting takes brains and muscle to do the job well. Pick a craft that is a good fit for you, and treat it with respect. It’s a career, not just a paycheck that you’re earning.” —Chad Bass

The 2016 National Craft Championships will be held March 1-4, 2016, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in conjunction with ABC’s 2016 Workforce Conference. The goal is to bring even more top-notch competitors together for a chance to garner national recognition, as well as generate more event coverage to help educate the public about fulfilling career opportunities in the construction industry.
  • Register a competitor. Participation in the National Craft Championships is not limited to ABC chapter-sponsored training programs. All eligibility requirements can be found on ABC chapters and members must complete an intent-to-compete form specifying the number of competitors per craft who are planning to compete by Dec. 4. The cost per competitor is $250. Competitors must arrive in Fort Lauderdale on Tuesday, March 1, 2016, and may depart the afternoon of Friday, March 4, 2016.
  • Volunteer as a judge. Judges must have recognized experience and expertise in their craft. They must be onsite the day of the hands-on performance test from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. and must attend an orientation session Wednesday, March 2, 2016, at 4 p.m.
  • Become an event sponsor. National Craft Championships sponsorship opportunities can be tailored to meet a company’s goals. Sponsors interested in donating a combination of cash and materials or tools for the hands-on performance tests must commit to providing the ABC requested quantities to ensure each competitor in a craft works with the same materials/tools. Sponsor benefits may include logo placement, advertisements and exhibit space.
  • Spread the word. One of the easiest ways to support the National Craft Championships is by sharing news and information about the event with colleagues, employees, project partners, local schools, social media networks and other media outlets. 
For more information, visit, email, like or follow @ABCNational.

Compiled by Lauren Pinch, managing editor of Construction Executive. Photos courtesy of Kevin Dietsch.