Where Skill Meets Ambition

ABC’s National Craft Championships Shine a Light on the Industry’s Top Performers and Vast Career Opportunities


You have only six hours to complete the project. You’re working against the clock and against your competitors, and the judges are watching your every move. You’ve only had one night to consider what your scope of work might be. The cameras are rolling. This is it. At Associated Builders and Contractors’ National Craft Championships (NCC), the pressure is on.

During the first week of March at the Greater Fort Lauderdale Broward County Convention Center, a field of more than 200 craft trainees competed for top honors in 15 competitions representing 13 crafts. The competitors first took an intense, two-hour written exam, followed by hands-on practical performance tests in carpentry, electrical-industrial, electrical-residential, fire sprinkler, HVAC, instrumentation fitting, insulation, millwright, pipefitting, plumbing, sheet metal, pipe welding, structural welding, masonry and a journey-level team competition. The written exam counted for 25 percent of each competitor’s score, and the practical demonstration counted for the other 75 percent. 

Now in its 29th year, this flagship event showcases that skilled craft professionals are the backbone of construction businesses and an essential asset to the national economy. Press coverage from the NCC communicates that a career in construction is a great choice and that there is a growing demand for skilled labor across the country.

For these competitors, being invited to vie for top honors represents the pinnacle of achievement. They are going for the gold, the bragging rights and the recognition. They are the mentors and role models for future generations.

This talented pool of craft professionals arrived at the 2016 NCC from all walks of life—some wide-eyed and new to this kind of exposure, and others calm and collected. Some are pursuing a second career path, while some are barely old enough to vote. Some had followed a traditional apprenticeship track, while others had recently left an unfulfilling office job. But all had one thing in common: They completed the event feeling confident they’d chosen the right career.
Felix Arroyo, an electrician with Cox Electric, Seffner, Fla., has worked in the industry for five years. The son of a single parent, he realized that he’d have to work hard for anything he wanted in life, and that everything of value must be earned. In middle school, he started repairing car audio systems for extra money, which sparked an interest in the electrical trade, and he began pursuing training in high school.

“Being able to go to the 2016 NCC was the highlight for me,” he says. “Knowing that I was competing against the best in the United States was valuable in itself. It’s important to the tradesmen to know their hard work is recognized and important for the growth of the community.”

Gold medal winner Lindsey Irvine, now a pipe welder with JV Industrial Companies, La Porte, Texas, for the past year and a half, graduated from college with an associate’s degree. Then, after working as a shift manager at a fast food restaurant for about a year, she decided to join a welding program. She calls it one of the best decisions she could have made in life. “I lucked out with an amazing teacher, Scottie Smith. He had connections with different companies, so we were almost guaranteed a job as long as we had the right attitude and skill.”

Mario Munoz, now an electrician with Helix Electric, Cerritos, Calif., was working as a banker when the recession hit. His entry into construction is a serendipitous one. While taking a lunch break during a day-long unemployment benefits reapplication process, a quirk in his navigation system pointed him toward the local ABC chapter. That day, after the unemployment seminar, Munoz headed straight to ABC’s office and applied for its training program.

“The rest is history,” he says. “The highlight of the NCC was entering the main stage and having hundreds of people clap for us. I felt like what I was doingmattered, and it motivated me to compete at my best.”

Munoz says the competition has value for the industry long after ABC’s annual Workforce Week, when NCC takes place. “Outsiders are able to see what ABC is capable of, and it allows us to build a reputation,” he says. “It also motivates the youth to enroll in trade programs, which keeps the construction industry sharp. Finally, the event brings many companies together under an umbrella of common goals. This creates networking, sales, jobs and even friendships.”

Salvador Mellado, a workforce development manager in the Houston office of Performance Contractors, Inc., serves as an NCC sponsor and mentor for several structural welding competitors. He has been working in the industry since 2008; prior to that, he was in the sales and finance field.

As the story goes: “I noticed one of my client’s paycheck stubs, and I asked him what he did for a living. Two weeks later I was on my way to California to start my new career.” Mellado started off as a boilermaker helper, then switched to millwright, civil engineering and rigging until he found his passion in pipefitting.  

 “At that time, I was not aware of the incredible education opportunities ABC offers,” Mellado says. “Now I’m in workforce development, and one of my goals is to inform as many people as I can how they can better their lives through construction and education.”

In Fort Lauderdale, the highlight of the competition for him was observing the practical exam. “Every competitor had a spark in their eyes. They were full of excitement and determined to show the nation they are the best at what they do,” he says.

Leadership Perspectives

Pulling off a high-caliber, well-executed competition takes a committed crew of volunteers whose passion equals that of the competitors. The NCC Committee—which includes many long-time volunteers as well as some recent past competitors—rallies year after year to set up a village of competition stations that span the massive exhibit hall. Each of the NCC project managers creates a project plan for each craft. Months of planning and labor are dedicated to the event, and then almost in the blink of an eye, it’s time to pack everything up again for the next year.

NCC Committee Chair Mitch Clark has been in the industry for 35 years and been a part of the NCC for 18 years. When he’s not focused on managing the event, he serves as an HVAC project sales representative for Comfort Systems USA Southwest, specializing in commercial and industrial properties in the Phoenix area.

He has seen the competition grow leaps and bounds to become ABC National’s most significant yearly event. “It’s exciting to see these competitors of all ages and abilities, and the different crafts that come into this event and watch them blossom,” Clark says.

 Jim Elsey, general manager of pump manufacturing company Summit Pump, Green Bay, Wis., has served as a judge of the NCC millwright competition for 10 years. His experience in the industry dates back much further—he began his career as a mechanical and nuclear engineer for the U.S. Navy, and then worked for Ingersoll Rand where he supervised millwrights.

“I came to hold a lot of respect for that profession and that trade. I admire the precision with which they work with micrometers, lasers, gauges and alignment equipment,” Elsey says. “These guys take great pride in what they’re doing.”

Elsey then worked with GE for nearly 20 years designing equipment, pumps and compressors before he joined Summit Pump. When a colleague had to drop out as an NCC judge due to a double knee operation, Elsey stepped up to the plate, not knowing what he was getting into.

The challenge turned out to be right up his alley. “Once I finished my first event as a judge, I thought, ‘OK, I’ve got this,’” Elsey says. “It takes me back to my roots. I always tell people I do it because I’m giving back to the trade. It’s a way to encourage young people to know they’ve made a good decision in their chosen profession.”
The need for millwrights has grown significantly as the economy recovers and experienced professionals retire, and he wishes to keep up the caliber of the trade through events like the NCC.

Why Construction?
The ultimate goal of the NCC is to elevate the profession in the minds of parents, educators and the general public.

“So many parents will say you can’t be anything unless you go into a traditional four-year college,” Elsey says. “But some people just aren’t made for college. There is no shame in that. Whether you’re a plumber, electrician, carpenter or mason, if you do it right, you can make a doggone good living. You can make more money than someone who has a liberal arts degree,” he says. 

“I try to reinforce this in my professional network. People need to stop saying someone is ‘just a carpenter’ or ‘just a mechanic.’ A good tradesperson can make $90,000 to $100,000 a year.”

Anyone is trainable for an excellentcareer path in construction, no matter their background, Elsey says. Employers need to think creatively to encourage folks to consider the profession even if it doesn’t fall in line with their previous education track.

“When I go see my customers, in my daily work, we talk about how to find good people. And I always say: I hire for attitude first, and the rest can be trained.”

Mellado instills this same mindset at Performance Contractors.

“The opportunities for a successful career and an outstanding livelihood are endless,” Mellado says. Anyone can come into our industry and, with hard work and dedication, can become as successful as they want to be.

“I have heard too many times: ‘If you don’t want to go to college, work construction.’ That is erroneous. Education starts when you come into the industry. We must continue to push certification through education, and continue to develop innovative programs to supplement the existing craft training that we have available now.”
Also, the public relations campaign must start with very young students; by high school and college age, many people have already excluded construction as an option.
 
“Every contractor and craftworker can invest in the youth—be involved with local school programs, competitions, students and their parents. We can show them that construction is not a job, it is a career,” Mellado says.

Another reason to promote careers in the industry is purely practical: money.

“I would recommend a career in the construction industry for the financial security,” Munoz says. “Although popular media and history books take a jab at the construction industry by saying it’s volatile, the ability to remain employed consistently is up to each individual. I take my training in school and on the job very seriously and strive to become better each day. As such, I’ve been rewarded with constant employment even in times of construction drought. The construction field as taught by ABC is definitely merit-based and rewards the ambitious.”

Munoz says exposing parents and children to the construction industry makes a lasting impression. “Families are a great motivator. If a family is involved in the student’s education, whether they are a competition spectator or helping in the school itself, the added motivation is a catalyst for success.”

The millennial workforce—the generation that should be targeted for construction jobs—tends to be more open-minded than the baby boomer generation about where, when and how they work. This translates well for the construction industry. Travel, flexibility, lack of debt, on-the-job training and entrepreneurship are all selling points for younger trainees and employees.

“I think anyone looking for something besides an office job needs to check out construction,” Irvine says. “It allows me to work outside with my hands, and traveling allows me to see many great people and places. It also pays more than most jobs.”

Teachers and mentors play an essential role in encouraging students.

“I think we need to have more teachers in schools with a passion in their field getting students inspired like I was to become a traveling pipe welder. Also, companies should keep implementing programs for consistent education for new craft professionals to polish their skill,” Irvine says. 

Elsey takes that to heart. Even though judges can’t communicate directly with the NCC competitors during the big event, all the volunteers have a chance to congratulate the winners at the end and encourage them to carry the positive message home to their companies and peers.

“I tell them: ‘You’ve made the right decision to do this.’ If you work hard at this, and hone your skills, you can make a good living—and make yourself invaluable,” Elsey says. “Maybe even more importantly, you’ll build a rewarding and interesting career.”

Clark says the competitors have a duty to self-​promote and market their success stories beyond the NCC event itself. “I suggest they stay involved in their local and community groups to continue training. Talk to your younger peers and family members as they are leaving high school or considering vo-tech training. Tell them about ABC.”

In short, the craft skills shortage is real, and everyone must be a spokesperson.

“We are short a million craft professionals in this country. For our nation to grow, we need to get more people involved in the training programs out there—both online and through ABC’s chapters. We need to keep that pipeline full,” Clark says.  


HOW TO GET INVOLVED
The 2017 National Craft Championships (NCC) will be held Feb. 28–March 3, 2017, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in conjunction with ABC’s 2017 Workforce Week.
  • Register a competitor. Participation in the NCC is not limited to ABC chapter-sponsored training programs. All eligibility requirements can be found on nationalcraftchampionships.org. 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. 1. Competitor registrations are due Jan. 6, 2017. 
  • 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 and available to attend an orientation session.
  • Become an event sponsor. NCC 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 NCC 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 nationalcraftchampionships.org, email nationalcraftchampionships@abc.org, like facebook.com/ABCNational or follow @ABCNational.

 
Lauren Pinch is managing editor of Construction Executive. For more information, email pinch@abc.org or follow @ConstructionMag.

 
And the Winners Are…

ABC congratulated the winners of its 2016 National Craft Championships during the March 4 Careers in Constructions awards ceremony held during the association’s Workforce Week in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

CARPENTRY
Gold: Juan Palafox
Employer: Joeris General Contractors
Sponsor: ABC South Texas Chapter

Silver: Justin Hillegas
Employer: Klover Contracting, Inc.
Sponsor: Klover Contracting, Inc.

Bronze: Matthew Stock
Employer: Wohlsen Construction Company
Sponsor: ABC Keystone Chapter

Safety: Matthew Stock
Employer: Wohlsen Construction Company
Sponsor: ABC Keystone Chapter

ELECTRICAL-INDUSTRIAL/COMMERCIAL
Gold: David Blickenstaff
Employer: Prime Electrical
Sponsor: ABC of San Diego

Silver: Clayton Moss
Employer: Helix Electric
Sponsor: Helix Electric/ABC Nevada

Bronze: Eli Hannoy
Employer: Gaylor Electric, Inc.
Sponsor: Gaylor Electric, Inc.

Safety: Eric Lopez 
Employer: Lectrfi, Inc.
Sponsor: ABC Los Angeles/Ventura Chapter

ELECTRICAL- RESIDENTIAL/COMMERCIAL
Gold: Jonathan Christenberry
Employer: Gaylor Electric, Inc.
Sponsor: Gaylor Electric, Inc.

Silver: Christopher Thompson
Employer: Beck’s Hybrid
Sponsor: ABC of Indiana/Kentucky

Bronze: Grant T. Farrimond
Employer: Watson Electrical Construction Co., LLC
Sponsor: Watson Electrical Construction Co., LLC

Safety: Jose Gaspar
Employer: Cox Electric
Sponsor: ABC Florida Gulf Coast Chapter

FIRE SPRINKLER
Gold: Nathaniel Lee
Employer: Cox Fire Protection
Sponsor: ABC Florida Gulf Coast Chapter

Silver: AJ Black
Employer: Wiginton Fire Systems
Sponsor: Florida Automatic Sprinkler Training, Inc. (FAST)

Bronze: Douglas Nelson
Employer: Cox Fire Protection
Sponsor: ABC Florida Gulf Coast Chapter

Safety: Jarred Sutliff
Employer: Cen-Cal Fire Systems Inc.
Sponsor: American Fire Sprinkler Association

HVAC
Gold: James Lamonte
Employer: Collier’s Heating and Air Conditioning
Sponsor: ABC of Indiana/Kentucky

Silver: Austin Ettredge
Employer: TD Industries
Sponsor: Construction Education Foundation

Bronze: Cody Brown
Employer: Polk County Heating & Cooling
Sponsor: ABC of Iowa Apprenticeship & Training Trust

Safety: John Masgalas
Employer: Remco, Inc.
Sponsor: ABC Keystone Chapter

INSTRUMENTATION FITTING
Gold: Ben McDermott
Employer: Interstates Construction Services
Sponsor: Interstates Construction Services

Silver: Ryan Phillip Diez
Employer: Triad Electric and Controls
Sponsor: ABC Pelican Chapter

Bronze: Derek Ray
Employer: ISC, LLC
Sponsor: ABC Pelican Chapter

Safety: Ben McDermott
Employer: Interstates Construction Services
Sponsor: Interstates Construction Services

INSULATION
Gold: Jacob Nelson
Employer: Iowa Insulation Inc.
Sponsor: ABC of Iowa Apprenticeship & Training Trust

Silver: Ryan Isbell
Employer: L & C Insulation
Training Sponsor: ABC of Wisconsin Apprenticeship & Training Trust

Bronze: Eric John
Employer: Starcon International
Training Sponsor: Starcon International

Safety: Ryan Isbell
Employer: L & C Insulation
Sponsor: ABC of Wisconsin Apprenticeship & Training Trust

MASONRY
Gold: Jerome Brown
Employer: Central Broward Construction
Sponsor: Florida Masonry Apprentice & Educational Foundation

Silver: Jabari Francis
Employer: Boston Block         
Sponsor: Florida Masonry Apprentice & Educational Foundation

Bronze:
Thomas Kemp
Employer: Central Broward Construction
Sponsor: Florida Masonry Apprentice & Educational Foundation

MILLWRIGHT
Gold: Douglas Thompson
Employer: Cianbro
Sponsor: Cianbro

Silver: Michael Hachey
Employer: Cianbro
Sponsor: Cianbro

Bronze: Jacob Henson
Employer: RPM Services, Inc.
Sponsor: ABC Texas Gulf Coast Chapter

Safety: 
George Cisneros, Jr. 
Employer: Turner Industries
Sponsor: ABC Pelican Chapter

PIPEFITTING
Gold: Paul Bryan
Employer: MW Mielke, Inc.
Sponsor: MW Mielke, Inc.

Silver: Jonathan Isaac
Employer: MW Mielke, Inc.
Sponsor: MW Mielke, Inc.

Bronze: Travis Asher
Employer: United Group Services
Sponsor: United Group Services

Safety: Keith Phelan
Employer: Starcon International Inc.
Sponsor: Starcon International Inc.

PLUMBING
Gold: Travis L. Greenway
Employer: Worth & Company Inc.
Sponsor: Worth & Company Inc.

Silver: Christian Rohland
Employer: JPI
Sponsor: ABC Southern California Chapter

Bronze: Daniel Harbison
Employer: Budiac Plumbing, Inc.
Sponsor: ABC of Wisconsin Apprenticeship & Training Trust

Safety: Travis L. Greenway 
Employer: Worth & Company Inc.
Sponsor: Worth & Company Inc.

SHEET METAL
Gold: Daniel West 
Employer: Kruck Plumbing &  Heating Co. Inc.
Sponsor: ABC of Iowa Apprenticeship & Training Trust

Silver: Gerardo Diaz
Employer: Certified Air Conditioning
Sponsor: ABC of San Diego

Bronze: Tom Burns
Employer: American Heating
Sponsor: ABC Pacific Northwest Chapter

Safety: Gerardo Diaz
Employer: Certified Air Conditioning
Sponsor: ABC of San Diego

WELDING-PIPE
Gold: Lindsey Irvine
Employer: JV Industrial Companies
Sponsor: JV Industrial Companies

Silver: Cameron T. Brafford
Employer: The Robins & Morton Group
Sponsor: The Robins & Morton Group

Bronze: Adam Davis
Employer: Cianbro
Sponsor: Cianbro

Safety: Janay Jerry 
Employer: KBR
Sponsor: KBR

WELDING-STRUCTURAL
Gold: Michael Noschese
Employer: Performance Contractors Inc.
Sponsor: Performance Contractors Inc. and ABC Greater Houston Chapter

Silver: Jose Morua
Employer: Jacobs
Sponsor: ABC Greater Houston Chapter

Bronze: Thomas Emery
Employer: LPR Construction Co.
Sponsor: LPR Construction Co.

Safety: Trever Broderick 
Employer: Manhattan Mechanical Services
Sponsor: Manhattan Mechanical Services

TEAM COMPETITION
Gold: ABC of Iowa Apprenticeship & Training Trust

Silver: Cianbro/Starcon International

Bronze: 
ABC Illinois Chapter