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The Craft Professional of the Year Award is sponsored by NCCER and Tradesmen International.

Ron Cayton’s experience in the merit shop, one that has defined him for life, will be familiar to most of those in the construction industry. “I started at the bottom as a helper and came up through the ranks with hard work and dedication,” he says. 

Cayton, a general superintendent at Gaylor Electric’s Mooresville, North Carolina location, has not just profited from the merit shop, however. He has lived by it and bestowed its values on others. 

“Over the past 34 years, I have put an unwavering emphasis on mentoring and educating younger generations of the craft,” he says. “I want them to know that their opinions matter, and I can help provide them with what they need to be successful.”

This sentiment is just one of the reasons Cayton has been chosen as the winner of ABC’s 2020 Craft Professional of the Year award, which is bestowed on a person who excels in the field, demonstrates passion for the trade, and exhibits outstanding leadership qualities as well as a commitment to safety, education and the merit shop philosophy. 

CHOICE IN THE MATTER

Central to his career almost since birth, the merit shop (and the electrical field) was introduced by his family. 

“I think the biggest deciding factor for me was my father,” Cayton says. A lifelong merit shop electrician himself, he shared his love of the field with his son and was honest about what difficulties the trades might contain. With uncles and cousins in the industry as well, Cayton was surrounded by construction professionals. Ultimately, the potential for growth within the trades tipped the scales, and he signed on after graduating high school. 

“I was 18 years old and getting up at 4 a.m. to work 8-10 hours per day. It was important to see myself growing, taking on more responsibilities, and earning promotions and raises,” Cayton says.

Decades later, Cayton isn’t disillusioned with the industry—in fact, he’s found new ways to appreciate it as a seasoned craft professional. “I’m a living example of how, after starting at the bottom, hard work and determination can take you to the top,” he says. 

DEDICATION AND LOYALTY

As a seasoned general superintendent, Cayton possesses an immense amount of construction leadership experience and specializes in large, multi-year, multi-million-dollar work. In 2018, Gaylor Electric was awarded a $750 million-dollar, one-million-square-foot, confidential data center. With the electrical construction value estimated at $180 million dollars, a team of highly skilled craft professionals were brought together to manage this massive project. Among those high-performing leaders was Cayton. 

“I never imagined that I would have the opportunity to supervise a crew of over 480 electricians,” he says. “It was a pretty proud moment in my career.”
When it comes to technology, the construction industry has come a long way. 3D modeling, virtual design and fabrication have entirely changed the field since Cayton started working in the industry. “Processes are changing, and you have to be willing to evolve,” he says. “Having the mindset of ‘this is how I’ve always done it’ doesn’t get you anywhere in this industry.”

But through it all, Cayton says the traits that have set him apart from everyone else are a dedication to the craft and a loyalty to the merit shop philosophy. “I’m a very company-first person,” he says. 

That policy is not an exclusive one, either. “One thing my company respects about me is that I am very open and willing to be part of a person’s career and to give them the tools they need, whether that’s help, information or something else,” Cayton says. 

The information he imparts is a blend of traditional craft regulations along with lessons he’s learned and ideas he’s been taught. “They have to be open-minded,” Cayton says. “Craft professionals are craft ‘professionals’ for a reason—either they are already where they want to be professionally, or they are steadily working to get there. So, they have to be able to listen to and understand what people, above and below them, are trying to say.”

TO FLY OR NOT TO FLY

“I don’t fly hot,” Cayton says. This is more than a safety issue or a motto—it’s a mentality that has shaped much of Cayton’s teaching advice. Whether it’s his students he tells to take a day to think or even reminding himself on occasion, allowing negative feelings to rule the day isn’t Cayton’s style. 

“A lot of these projects are fast-paced, and we have deadlines to hit; there are strict schedules in place and it’s very easy to become heated if something is missed,” Cayton explains. 

The alternative? Wait. “I have a lot of respect for Michael Fort, chief values officer at Gaylor Electric. He taught me that, before I reply to an email or respond in a meeting that isn’t going my way, I should remember to W-A-I-T,” Cayton says. The acronym stands for What Am I Thinking or Why Am I Talking. If the answer doesn’t align with big picture goals, most of the time it’s best left unsaid. 

The results? “I have carried that with me and preach that to the people under me a lot,” says Cayton. “I text it to them if a meeting is getting hot, and you can just see a smile spread over their faces.”

SHARING THE SPOILS

Gender equality is a topic that Cayton feels has a permanent foothold in the industry. “Journeyman needs to be reworded to ‘journeyperson,’” he says. “A lot of women are in construction now, with 15 to 20 working independently on a project of mine right now. Those hardworking women deserve the title.”

Cayton and his wife, Tonya, have been married for almost 27 years. Their two boys, Blaine (17) and Seth (13), attend school and play golf, but Cayton isn’t pressing them on when they might adopt a trade. “I like watching them enjoy themselves,” he says. “You don’t get those years back.”

As for his wife, he believes that the “merit shop” applies to her, too. “She has been with me through it all. Every morning, four or five o’clock, she was up before me. Whether it was to start her day with me, make sure I had packed a lunch or to kiss me goodbye, she was always there” he says. “In my eyes, this award is for the both of us.” 

TO INFINITY AND BEYOND

With the merit shop so heavily involved in his past and his present, Cayton’s future will certainly continue the trend. While his hope to “remain a valuable resource within Gaylor Electric” is sure to come true, this craft professional’s value to the industry will also prevail through the projects he has completed, the people he has affected and the values he has propelled to new heights. 

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