West Michigan focus on craft trades leads to apprentice’s bronze finish in national competition

Wade Wiltenburg is already making a name for himself nationally in the trades.

The Grand Rapids Community College student in a Workforce Training apprentice program earned a bronze medal in a national competition featuring nearly 200 of the nation’s top-performing craft professionals.

Wiltenburg, an electrical apprentice from Coopersville, placed third at the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) National Craft Championships in Kissimmee, Florida. Wiltenburg represented both his employer, Buist Electric, and the Western Michigan ABC chapter in the 34th annual competition.

“I’m leaving the competition with a new motivation and respect for the trades,” says Wiltenburg. “I competed with the best in the country this week, and that inspires me to keep trying to be the best I can be.”

Wiltenburg faced 38 competitors from across the country during the two-day competition, which included a two-hour online exam and a six-hour practical performance test.

“We are so proud of Wade representing Buist Electric and electrical apprentices in West Michigan,” says Matt DeVries, personnel director at Buist Electric. “He started with Buist at 16 years old and is the perfect example of a student who, with the right training, education, and mentorship, can have a successful career in the trades. We hope Wade's story and accomplishments inspire future students to join our industry.”

Highlighting craft skills training

Established in 1987, the National Craft Championships (NCC) celebrate and recognize upskilling in construction, and draw some of the country’s most talented craft professionals and highlight the important role that craft skills training plays in the construction industry.

Electrical apprentice students showcase their in-demand skills in competition. (WM Chapter ABC)

The NCC featured the nation’s top-performing craft professionals, including carpenters, electricians, pipefitters, plumbers, welders, and more, all vying for top honors in 16 competitions with skills on display in 12 crafts. NCC also featured a team competition with journey-level craft professionals from different crafts working to complete a joint project.

“ABC’s premier skilled trades competition showcases the best construction craft professionals in the industry,” says Milton Graugnard, 2023 national chair of the ABC board of directors and executive vice president of Cajun Industries in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

“Western Michigan’s craft students brighten the future of the merit shop industry, build America stronger, and highlight the countless career opportunities available in construction. From all across this great country, these craft professionals traveled to Florida to demonstrate their superior skills, education, and safe work practices,” Graugnard says.

Exemplary craftsmanship

Wiltenburg qualified for the national competition after earning top honors in the Electrical Craft Competition, an annual ABC Western Michigan and GRCC event.

The individual chapter and national events highlight the achievements of the men and women who represent the future of the electrical trades in commercial construction.

It’s designed to showcase their exemplary craftsmanship and commitment to excellence, explains Greg George, president of ABC Western Michigan.

"This competition demonstrates the immense potential for success in the construction industry, and confirms that the future of electrical work is in great hands,” says George.

Apprentices and contestants

All contestants are fourth-year apprentices enrolled in the GRCC Workforce Training Electrical Program and are current employees of ABC-member companies.

The competition includes a written exam measuring industry knowledge followed by the hands-on portion, installing an electrical service under tight time constraints.

Apprentices earn credit at GRCC while working for a participating employer.

Judges from top electrical firms graded contestants on safety, layout, compliance, appearance, and quality of workmanship.

Each year, the first-place winner at the chapter level goes on to compete at the ABC National Craft Championships during the ABC National Convention in March.

“GRCC loves supporting this competition because we get to see our students advance in their careers after they have finished our program,” GRCC Job Training professor Doug Wiersma said.

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Read more articles by Shandra Martinez.