Chuck Goodrich, president of Indiana-based contractor Gaylor Electric and chair-elect of the Associated Builders and Contractors, which represents mostly nonunion construction firms, describes his company’s participation in the group’s national apprentice craft competition as a “rite of passage in demonstrating our commitment to helping people be their best.”
With skilled and motivated employees ever harder to find and retain in construction, other ABC member firm bosses likely have the same idea in encouraging workers to compete. This year’s event, held last March in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., included more than 200 apprentice and journey-level craft workers showcasing their skills in 15 competitions across 13 different trades. It has been held for nearly three decades.
“Events like the craft championships are a great way to raise the profile of careers in construction and gives both Gaylor Electric and our employees the opportunity to see how our craft professionals stack up against the best of the best from across the country,” says Goodrich. “It’s a way to show off the investment we have made in our employees and to reward them.”
He says the two-day competition for apprentices includes an intense written exam and a daylong hands-on performance test in each of the crafts, including carpentry, electrical, fire sprinkler, HVAC, instrumentation fitting, insulation, millwright, pipefitting, plumbing, sheet metal, welding and masonry. There also is a journey-level team competition. The practical demonstration counts for 75% of each competitor’s total score.
The qualifying state contests and the national competitions “attract local career and technical education teachers and students as well as local elected officials and other leaders who have direct and indirect impacts on our workforce,” says Goodrich.
The outreach has boosted the event’s diversity, with Lindsey Irvine, an apprentice welder from Baker, Fla., becoming the first woman to win a gold medal in pipe welding. Goodrich says apprentice winners have gone on to reach career heights, noting that one of his firm’s past winners is now a vice president and that another, who won his apprentice medal 27 years ago, was named ABC’s 2016 national instructor of the year.
It didn’t seem to take Jacob Nelson long to ace his craft. After winning in the Iowa state round, the just-graduated apprentice insulator took the gold medal at ABC’s National Craft Championship—one of six state-based apprentices to compete nationally.
Skill in the trade appears to run in the family: Nelson’s brother Andrew also won the gold at this year’s ABC national event as the insulation journeyman on a five-craft team event. Both Nelsons are employed by Iowa Insulation Inc. Of his win and industry future, Jacob Nelson says, “I will continue to do the best job I can and see where I go from there.”
ENR: How did it feel to compete at the national level?
Nelson: Exciting. I was nervous and exhilarated at the same time. I was proud to be there and to represent my company.
How do you see the construction competitions as a tool to boost workforce recruitment?
I see it as a way to showcase the trades, to show people that there are other options besides going to college and going into debt. Personally, I entered my trade school and started making a good wage right away. My schooling and training was paid for as I went.
Why is skills boosting critical to jobsite productivity and safety? How has the competition helped you in your own work and in working with others?
It allows you to step onto a jobsite with the knowledge that you can handle anything the job can throw at you. That, in turn, allows you to work smarter and faster.
Fourth-year carpenter apprentice Juan Palafox helped ABC’s South Texas chapter to reach a craft competition milestone that had eluded it in 17 years of participation: He won the chapter’s first gold medal in carpentry. Competing against six others in the trade, Palafox completed construction of a small house in six hours using blueprints, which were given at the start of the competition, but with no time to preview or prepare. The competitors’ structures had to include stairs, crown molding, baseboards and rafters. “Competing at the national level felt amazing,” says Palafox. “I never thought I would compete in something so big.”
ENR: Why did you participate in the ABC competition? What’s the benefit?
Palafox: I decided to compete in the ABC competition to show my skills and dedication to the carpentry craft. I see this benefiting me in my career because it demonstrates my ability to work in the trade and also shows what I’m capable of doing and that I can move up in my field.
What are your career goals in the construction industry?
My goal is to be a superintendent one day.
How do construction competitions boost workforce recruitment?
I see the construction competitions as a tool to boost workforce recruitment by giving the new generation the opportunity and the ability to prove their skills.