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Birmingham Hosts National Craft Championships

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2 Days, 11 Crafts, 13 Competitions, 150+ Competitors

April 29 through May 2, approximately 156 craft trainees journeyed to Birmingham to compete for top honors in the National Craft Championships, an annual competition that draws some of the most talented craftspeople in the country and illustrates the significant role craft skills training plays in the industry.

“Having the National Craft Championships in Birmingham two years in a row allows us the opportunity for the second year to be phenomenal,” said ABC of Alabama President Jay Reed. “With the experience and having last year’s event under our belt, we were able to build on our strengths and weaknesses to ensure success. I applaud the national staff, contractors from Alabama, the city of Birmingham and Jefferson County for all of their hard work and dedication given to showcase what truly makes our construction projects successful: our craftspeople.”

Held as part of the ABC’s Workforce Development Conference, the National Craft Championships requires participants to compete in an intense, two-hour written exam, as well as a daylong, hands-on practical performance test in the competitor’s respective category: carpentry, electrical-industrial, electrical-residential, fire sprinkler, HVAC, instrumentation fitting, insulation, millwright, pipefitting, plumbing, sheet metal, welding-pipe and welding-structural.

“The National Craft Championships are a great opportunity to show off our industry, and it’s an event that keeps growing and gaining momentum,” said 2014 ABC National Chairman Dan Brodbeck, president and chief executive officer of Compass Partners, LLC. “The competitors are obviously committed to the industry and what they do. They understand the real need for trade workers, and they spend a lot of time and put a lot of heart and soul into what they have done to get there.”

Carmon Colvin of Bright Future Electric served as a judge for the Electrical competition and was impressed with this year’s crop of young talent. “All the candidates were very talented,” he said. “The particular competition I judged was very complex and several of the contestants did really well. It was really encouraging to see the level of knowledge the competitors had, especially considering the age group.”

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The National Craft Championships was originally designed to celebrate and recognize craft training construction and ABC’s dedication to training and education. The event was first held in 1987 with just a few participants and only four craft competitions. Now, more than 25 years later, approximately 1,500 men and women have competed in what has become one of the industry’s most renowned and respected craft skills events. “For years, people’s perceptions have been that construction is digging ditches and hammering nails,” said Mittie Cannon, director of training and workforce development with the Power and Industrial division of Robins & Morton. “It’s really about individuals who are using high tech skills, advanced technology, mathematics and science—all of the academics that a graduate from any major university would use in every day application. At the end of the day, when a welder is welding using physics, mathematics and advanced technology, no matter how you slice it, it’s still academics, just in a different application. So that’s what the National Craft Championships is really about, showcasing these very talented and very bright individuals who are using the same type of academic skills that a college graduate would use. We are very proud of that.”

Traycie Kimbrell, an HVAC technician at Premier Service in Tuscaloosa, competed in the HVAC competition. Although he didn’t place, Kimbrell thoroughly enjoyed participating in the event and getting the chance to talk to and learn from so many others in his trade from around the country. “One of the best parts about the event was meeting the other competitors,” Kimbrell said. “It was good to talk to them about similar jobs we’ve done and getting tips on how they do certain things. I have already been able to apply some of those tips to my job and it has been very helpful.”

In addition to offering craftspeople an opportunity to hone and then showcase their skills, the competition also provided numerous companies a chance to set up booths and highlight their work to attendees. “We probably had 200 high school students stop by our booth and ask questions, pick up literature and look at photos of the type of work we do,” said Allen McCain of Bright Future Electric. “It was good exposure for our company. We hope to recruit some future employees out of that.”

Mary Power, construction coordinator at Goodgame Company, Inc., managed her company’s booth at the event and echoed McCain’s optimism about discovering future talent during the annual event. “We know in the next five to 10 years we will need a new crop of employees to come in and replace some of our veterans who might move on with their lives by then,” she said. “So we know we need to attract young professionals to come in and learn and gain experience from those veterans beforehand. Having a booth at the career fair let us get our name out there for potential employees to see what our trade and company is all about.”

While a great recruiting tool for employers, the National Craft Championships also benefits young attendees as they are given a first-hand look at so many prospective career choices in an industry that needs young talent. “If I was a young person who didn’t know for sure what I wanted to do with my life and had any inclination to go the craft trade route, seeing the competition would more than likely have secured the deal for me,” Power said. “I would have walked out of the event knowing what I want to do in my life.”

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