FB_IMG_1427060349763croppedBy Chris Stearns, Welder Apprentice at LPR Construction Each year the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) hosts its National Craft Championships to celebrate the training and education efforts of member contractors. Craft trainees from programs across the country come together to compete in the two-day event. More than 180 participants competed in this year’s event, and I was lucky to be one of them. Day 1 Today was the first day of the National Craft Championships. We met our fellow competitors and were introduced to our project managers, who escorted us around the convention center and briefed us on the upcoming events and protocol. We were then led out to the opening general session where we were greeted by about 300 people. They were taking our pictures and smiling, cheering and whistling. I felt like a rock star, and we hadn't even done anything yet. We sat down and went through all the usual stuff, ABC thanked their sponsors and thanked the competitors for participating in the event. The keynote speaker for the event was John Ratzenberger, who most people remember as the mailman from the TV show “Cheers.” During his speech, he couldn't stress enough that the world would essentially cease to function without those of us in the skilled trades who spend every day building and maintaining America. Afterwards, we took our written exam. The exam used questions from NCCER’s curriculum, which I was pleased about since I had read those books cover to cover. Post exam was the site orientation and a reception in the exhibit hall. At this point, we were told the terms of our competition, such as what our practical test will cover, how it will be scored and how we are expected to behave. After seeing our exam booths, we were cut loose for the day to mingle in the exhibit hall. This is where I got to use my natural beauty and chivalry to score some swag. I met Steve Greene, vice president of NCCER, and walked around to a few of the booths. Both Miller and Lincoln Electric had booths set up. It was fun to pick their brains and just dork out about welding for a few minutes. I enjoyed the opportunity to do a little bit of networking and talk to some other professionals who are just as enthusiastic about their crafts as I am. Day 2 Today was the practical test, I was extremely nervous when I showed up, but I kept telling myself that welding is something I've been doing for the last two years, and this test is just like anything else I've done. I ate breakfast and took a few minutes to mentally prepare myself. At 8 a.m. the air horn blew and from that point we had three hours to weld a 3G and 4G open root coupon. Part of our test was to fill out a job safety analysis (JSA), which was worth more points depending on how descriptive you were. I took about 15 to 20 minutes to write it out and then continued onto my plates. The test coupons were provided and already had a machined bevel on them, which was nice. I did the 3G first, the root went in well and my cap looked good. One thing I really enjoyed was that the competition was open to the public. The booths were made of translucent weld screen, so the entire time I could see people walking by and taking pictures. I just did my best to ignore them and kept working. The root on my 4G coupon was pretty sloppy, and I knew I was going to get a few points deducted for that, but the rest of the weld looked great. I finished the coupons with about 20 minutes to spare, so I called the judge over to inspect while I added a few items to my JSA and waited for lunch. After lunch, we came back to do a little project with oxyfuel cutting. We had one big piece of plate we had to use to cut out several smaller shapes. Knowing how to read prints definitely came in handy for that. Without getting into too much detail, one plate was a simple rectangle, another was a larger square with some shapes in specific spots and the third piece was a fabricated three-dimensional shape. I made a huge mistake during this part because I didn't lay out all the pieces first, so when I got to final fabrication I didn't have enough material to finish. Rather than giving up, I grabbed a drop off the floor and welded it back onto the plate to make it large enough. It was the Frankenstein of fabrication, but at least I made it work, and I finished with only one minute to spare. After the events were complete, we had a short debriefing, and it was time to clean up. Today was awesome, there’s nothing like competing against other people in a craft that you love. Tomorrow we have one final assembly where they announce the winners. I’m truly looking forward to seeing who takes home the gold. Even if it’s not me, this was still a great experience, and I am grateful that I was offered an opportunity such as this. I am a CHAMPION! Day 3 NCC MedalistsToday was the awards ceremony. I was especially nervous at this point because we still didn’t know who the winners were. The ceremony started off with the national anthem and the awards for team competition, then the awards for Craft Instructor of the Year and Craft Professional of the Year. Finally, we were all called up to the stage, and they began to give out medals to the craft competitors. There was one competitor from each group who was chosen by the judges. This person demonstrated excellent safety practices during the practical test. The bronze, silver and gold medals were then handed out for each category, and all three winners received cash prizes, Hilti tools and a pair of Keen boots. It was exciting to see some of these guys and girls – who I got to know personally over the last couple of days – walk up to receive their awards. I can only imagine how they felt at that moment. All the competitors were incredibly skilled in their crafts, and even the ones who did not place were still amazing craft professionals. Even though I didn’t win, and I’m a little bummed about that, I am honored that I was chosen to do this. Next year I hope to compete in the pipe welding competition. I also plan to mentor someone to compete in the structural categories, so if any apprentices are reading this, I will be keeping an eye out for potential champions!

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About NCCER

NCCER develops standardized construction and maintenance curricula and assessments with portable credentials. These credentials are tracked through NCCER’s National Registry which allows organizations and companies to track the qualifications of their craft professionals and/or check the qualifications of possible new hires. The National Registry also assists craft professionals by maintaining their records in a secure database.