Welders Vie for Top Honors at the National Craft Championships

Written by: Eddie Guerra

Recently, some of America’s most talented individuals got together under one roof and competed for top honors. No, I’m not talking about the Super Bowl or the Oscars. You see, the gathering I’m talking about didn’t happen in a massive stadium in Houston, or a glitzy auditorium in Los Angeles. Instead, it took place in a sprawling assembly hall in sunny South Florida, host of this year’s National Craft Championship (NCC). Organized by Associated Builders and Contractors Inc., the NCC is an annual competition designed to showcase the skills of students, apprentices, and trainees across the country. The competition reflects the diverse career paths offered by the construction industry, allowing participants to compete in any of 13 distinct crafts, including residential and commercial electrical work, carpentry, masonry, plumbing, pipefitting, and welding. As Jeff Leieritz, Senior Media Relations Manager for ABC Inc., explained: “In the end, this competition is all about recognizing, and investing in, the workforce of the future for our industry.”

The welding portion of the event consists of two different competitions, structural welding and pipe welding. The first day of the competition consists of a written exam that accounts for 25% of a competitor’s overall score. The practical performance test takes place on day two, and makes up the remaining 75% of the overall score. This is the hands-on, meat-and-potatoes part of the competition that the participants live for. Here, they carry out craft-specific tasks as they work to complete a project over the course of 6 hours. Each performance test is carried out and judged differently, but they are designed to gauge the knowledge, workmanship, and safety habits of each competitor

Both structural and pipe welding competitors were required to weld coupons with the SMAW process, using E-6010 electrodes for the root pass and E-7018 electrodes for the filler and cap. Structural welding competitors had to weld 3/8 inch carbon steel plates in the 3G (uphill) and 4G positions. They also had to handle an oxyfuel cutting rig. Pipe welding competitors welded 5-inch schedule 80 pipe in the 2G and 5G (uphill progression) positions.

Bill Cherry, Project Manager for the Structural Welding competition, described it as a great way for established professionals to contribute to the development of industry newcomers. “When you see someone come here and turn that into bigger and better things, it’s the greatest feeling in the world.” Holley Thomas, one of the structural welding judges at this year’s event, is living proof of this. She took home the top prize in structural welding at the 2010 NCCs, and is currently a Certified Welding Inspector working for KBR, Inc.

Israel Picon Jr. with NCC judges and representatives.

These competitions are a way of taking the industry’s pulse, as well as get some insight into its future. While the world of welding is generally seen as an experienced man’s game, it might be headed for an infusion of youth. Leading that movement might be Israel Picon, Jr., the high-schooler that took home the top prize in the structural welding competition.

Israel, a senior at Dr. Kirk Lewis Career & Technical High School in Pasadena, Texas, jumped at the chance to compete at the national level. He knew that doing well in this competition would provide a boost for him. And it has. Performance Contractors, the organization that chose him to compete at the NCC, has already offered him a job. “It feels good that companies already know my name”, he said.

Israel’s hard work paid off, and he attributed his success in part to his studious nature and knack for preparation. “I was ready for everything. Everything that I studied ended up being on the [written] test. I went hard with the books!” However, he admitted that the competition wasn’t exactly a cakewalk. “The hardest part was the welding itself. There was lots of pressure, especially going against the best of the best. I knew I only had one shot. If I messed up once, it was all over.”

Israel knows how hard it can be to get noticed in today’s job market, and sees his victory at the NCC as a way to stand out from the crowd. “I know this will open many doors for me.” Ultimately, he was able to stay cool under pressure and take home the top prize while competing against others older and more experienced than him.

His advice for anyone looking to follow in his footsteps?

“Don’t get nervous, and don’t doubt yourself. Just do your thing.”

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