On May 1 and 2, nearly 1,000 people will gather at the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex for the National Craft Championships (NCC), an annual event that draws the construction industry's top apprentices and trainees and pits them against each other over the course of two days.
The young men and women who are competing in 13 different categories represent more than five million welders, pipefitters, electricians, millwrights and other craft professionals who are responsible for constructing and maintaining power plants, manufacturing facilities, roadways, bridges and dams across the United States.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), construction is one of the nation's largest industries, adding 4.8 percent to the Gross Domestic Product. And, as the economy gains momentum, the BLS predicts that more than 1.5 million new construction jobs will be created by 2016.
The NCC is an intense two-day experience. It begins with an in-depth, 2.5-hour written exam and continues the next day with a six-hour hands-on performance test.
To prepare for the NCC, competitors begin training nine to 12 months in advance. They dedicate countless daytime and evening hours working one-on-one with instructors, learning from jobsite foremen, reading and studying textbooks, taking sample tests and practicing techniques. In addition, many competitors consult with previous winners to secure their first-hand insight and advice.
The NCC is hosted by the Associated Builders and Contractors to call attention to the construction industry and the 21st century job opportunities that are available. Today's construction careers often involve high-tech equipment and many require technology, computer and math skills.