On March 16, Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) transformed the exhibition floor of the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center in San Antonio, Texas, into what could pass as the studio set for a reality TV competition show as 176 of the nation’s best carpenters, electricians, pipefitters, plumbers, welders, and other construction craft apprentices faced off in the 33rd annual National Craft Championships.
The competitors, who advanced from state and regional contests to make it to the national event — the first since 2019 due to the pandemic — completed a two-hour written exam before taking part in a six-hour practical assessment that tested their skills in 12 specialized crafts, including welding and pipefitting. For the team competition, four-person groups completed a series of tasks focused on electrical, plumbing, sheet metal/ HVAC, and carpentry.
To accommodate the 14 individual and one team competition — which took place simultaneously — the convention center’s exhibition space was sectioned off per discipline. Each area was stocked with the supplies, tools, and structural frameworks needed by the competitors.
“The competition design mirrors the day-to-day responsibilities of the craft professional,” said Greg Sizemore, ABC’s vice president of health, safety, environment, and workforce development. “The event space is literally turned into a construction job site, including the same noises, safety processes, and pressure the workers face daily,” he told Convene via email. “Add in one additional element — spectators.”
The championships’ format has long been popular for attendees of the event, which includes spouses, children, parents, other relatives, and friends of the competitors, because they are able to safely walk between the areas to watch their family member or friend compete, he said. Spectators get to see sparks fly behind the red tarps enclosing the welding area, watch electricians work at individual stations built side by side by side, and witness plumbers fit a circuitry of pipes together, among other activities.
Project managers for each of the 12 crafts design a new challenge for the competitors every year, according to Jarrell Jackson, director of the National Craft Championships. Experienced ABC members who are specialists in the respective craft judge the competition.
Competitors earned gold, silver, or bronze honors, as well as an award for safety practices. Find a list of winners at convn.org/abc-competition.
Curt Wagner is digital editor of Convene.