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What does it mean to be a champion of your craft? For more than 170 individuals who advanced from various regional competitions to participate in Associated Builders and Contractors’ (ABC) 31st annual National Craft Championships (NCC), being a champion means keeping a cool head, thinking on your feet, feeling inspired by the energy of your peers and serving as an example to future generations.

Meet some of the top talent who traveled to Long Beach, Calif., in March to demonstrate their skills in 15 competitions representing 12 crafts, including carpentry (residential-commercial), fire sprinkler, HVAC, instrumentation fitting, insulation, millwright/industrial maintenance mechanic, pipefitting, plumbing, sheet metal and welding (pipe and structural). 

Each of these winners, who come from all walks of life, exemplify how unique construction career paths can be. And their stories show how many career opportunities are possible for those who are brave enough to step outside their comfort zones, tough out challenges and work hard to improve their skills every day.

Jason Brown
Silver—Electrical: Commercial/Industrial
Sponsor: Arizona Builders Alliance
Employer: Delta Diversified Enterprises

Jason Brown knew he wanted to compete in the NCC ever since his first year of apprenticeship, and even before his name was called in Long Beach, he felt pretty certain he would earn a medal. “I knew I did a really good job, but there were some really great competitors there, so I didn’t want to be too confident,” he says. 

Born in Wyoming, Brown and his family relocated to Arizona when his father retired from the U.S. Air Force. Upon graduation from high school, he enrolled in a few business management courses at a local community college, but he hadn’t really found his calling yet. At age 19, looking to make a little extra money, he took a job assisting on a few projects for his best friend’s father, who ran a one-man electrical shop.

“Construction wasn’t something that was in my brain at the time,” Brown says. “But literally within the first week of helping him out, it just clicked. I decided it was exactly what I wanted to do, and I decided I wanted to know more.”

Through another family friend, he discovered that a large commercial industrial company (Delta Diversified) was hiring, and he has worked there ever since. He’s now in his fourth year of apprenticeship, working as a team lead on electrical projects that encompass everything from fire alarms to communications and power system installations. 

What he likes most about his job is the camaraderie that comes with working side by side on a common goal. 

“There’s a lot of pride in doing what we do. It’s crucial work. It can be exhilarating. Electrical is the lifeblood of the world. Without electricity, where would we be? I enjoy being able to harness that energy while working with teammates who share a like mind,” he says. 

The growth opportunities in his field are apparent, and he anticipates a loyalty to his career and his employer. Being an NCC winner enhances that loyalty and desire to succeed among his fellow crew members. “I see myself growing at this company once I finish my apprenticeship,” he says. 

Matthew Bryan
Sponsor: MIELKE Holdings LLC
Employer: MIELKE Mechanical Inc.

Matthew Bryan comes from a legacy of NCC winners at his company, Mielke Mechanical, Inc., and his performance in Long Beach didn’t disappoint.  

As a trainer, he’s an ideal role model for those considering a career in construction—instilling merit shop principles during his daily work life. “We have a culture that promotes quality in everything, innovative thinking and teamwork, all the while focusing on our core principals of safety, employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction,” he says. “I can’t say enough about our pipefitting apprenticeship program; simply put, it’s world class.” 

Growing up in a big family in Mentor, Ohio, a suburb east of Cleveland, he never saw himself in the trades. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps for four years following high school, and afterward he earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Kent State University.

He began working in accounting and finance roles for a few years, but that path changed about three years ago, when his brother (a Mielke Mechanical employee and a 2016 NCC gold medal winner in pipefitting) reached out about an opportunity for college graduates with business and engineering degrees to complete Mielke’s traditional pipefitting apprenticeship program. Bryan was able to learn the business from the ground up, fostering a greater understanding of his craft and the leadership skills needed for upper-level management.

“I left my job and jumped at the opportunity, and I couldn’t be happier,” he says. “I get to work with my brain and my hands. I enjoy utilizing cutting-edge technology to get jobs done with greater efficiency, without sacrificing quality. And I enjoy the sense of pride and accomplishment when turning over a job to an owner that is ecstatic with the final product.”

Last summer, he was proud to work on a job for PPG Industries in Barberton, Ohio—the first project on which he was awarded a large amount of responsibility as a lead fitter. “We really covered a large array of pipefitting practices on that project. It forced me to use my critical thinking skills on a daily basis. It showed me you can’t be a one-trick pony if you really want to be effective at this job,” he says. 

Bryan—a family man, golfer, snowboarder and fantasy footballer, as well as a diehard Cavs, Indians and Ohio State Buckeyes fan—recommends a career in construction to just about anyone who is up for a challenge. 

“No matter your background, I promise it’s not what you think it’s going to be. It will challenge you greatly, but if you rise to the challenge, the reward is definitely worth it.”

Dustin Froehle
Sponsor/Employer: Insulation Contractor Services Inc.

For Dustin Froehle, quality and creativity are the name of the game. He chose a career in construction because he enjoys creating a unique product and working with his hands. 

Froehle had many other jobs prior to turning to the construction industry. First a janitor, then working in a distribution department for a large insurance company, and then as a landscaper, he eventually found his niche in mechanical insulation. He credits a family friend for getting him interested in insulation. 

“The first day on the job, I was paired with a journeyman insulator. We were insulating a large chilled water tank in a commercial building. It was then that I saw the possibilities that mechanical insulation could provide. I loved the precision that this trade demanded,” Froehle says.

He has now been with Insulation Contractor Services Inc. for “a proud eight-plus years.” 

Froehle says the NCC was instrumental in catapulting his career to the next level. “Because of the intense competition and quality of the competitors I was up against, I now have the confidence to tackle anything that comes my way,” he says. He sees endless opportunities ahead, including project management, estimating and energy appraisals.

One of the most memorable projects of his career was working on the Iowa State University Powerhouse. It challenged everything he had learned through his apprenticeship and taught him how to overcome obstacles that were beyond his control. 

“If you enjoy working with your hands, being creative, learning new skills and constantly changing work environments, I would strongly recommend a career in the construction industry,” Froehle says.

Kris Froehle
Sponsor/Employer: Insulation Contractor Services Inc.

Kris Froehle tried his hand at a fair number of jobs before finding his way to the construction industry. From lawn care to car sales and working as a press operator for a newspaper, nothing seemed to be quite the right fit. The final straw came when he was working as a bill collector for a large financial institution, which, as he put it, was not a fun job to say the least. 

“I finally had enough, going home every day feeling like a horrible person.” 

He knew his cousin, Dustin Froehle (another NCC competitor), had just started a new job. He gave him a call, asked what he was doing and if he liked it, and listened to Dustin share what it was to create something with his own hands. By the end of the call, Kris was all in.

He called Dustin’s project manager at Insulation Contractor Services, Inc. to speak with him about a job opportunity, and in a short time he was out on the jobsite, installing insulation in an eight-story new construction building. 

“I was hooked,” Froehle said. “Working with my hands and having that feeling of accomplishment at the end of the day is what I was looking for.” 
When it came time to register for this year’s NCC, Kris and Dustin Froehle were personally selected by Matt Santiamagro, owner of Insulation Contractor Services, to go to Long Beach. 

“Not everyone has the opportunity to take part in an event like the NCC,” Kris says. “I know I’m good at what I do, and this experience only reinforces that. My work ethic will further my career more than anything—but the silver medal won’t hurt at all.”

Rigoberto Garcia
Bronze—Electrical: Residential/Commercial
Sponsor: ABC Los Angeles/Ventura Chapter
Employer: Santa Clarita Electrical Inc.

Rigoberto Garcia was a bit intimidated to compete against the nation’s top apprentices, and so when his name was announced as a medalist in Long Beach, he was a mix of surprised, happy and excited. 

He wasn’t exposed much to construction as a child, but soon after high school, a friend introduced him to ABC’s electrical training program, and he was sold. He decided to enroll right after graduation. Now, as an electrician with Santa Clarita Electrical Inc., he is busy working on upgrades and renovations to military bases, schools and theaters. 

“What I enjoy the most is when we complete the project and see everything functioning,” Garcia says. “It brings the building to life, especially when it’s the lighting. It gives me a sense of pride to know that we did the work and the building is ready to be occupied.”      

His favorite job is the one where he first applied his skills as an installer: a large assisted living center called MonteCedro in Altadena, Calif. 

“All the coworkers and managers got along well, and we managed to finish the project on time. I was lucky enough to be one of the last guys to leave the project and got to see it working. This project is where I started to learn how to read blueprints and understand what branch circuits are.”

His advice to anyone interested in construction: “Do not hesitate. Just get started. Construction gives you a skill that many people don’t have. Plus, building new projects or upgrading projects is always in high demand in the city.”

Jenny Gilliland
Electrical: Commercial/Industrial
Sponsor/Employer: Interstates Construction Services

Jenny Gilliland was helping a friend with a kitchen remodel when she met a female electrician who came to work on the project. Gilliland, who at the time was making barely enough money to support herself and her young daughter, was in awe of the woman’s career. 

“This woman was under 30, had a home she was buying, a nice car and a few animals. She was living comfortably,” Gilliland said. After finishing up the kitchen remodel, she decided it was something she wanted to do long term so she enrolled at Iowa Central Community College in Fort Dodge, Iowa. 

Gilliland graduated in 2015 at the age of 27 and began working with Interstates Construction Services, which has an independent training program that follows the NCCER curriculum. Students go to the training center every six months to review and test on the six chapters they have completed. 

“The last one we had gone over was motor controls, and the hands-on task was to complete a circuit on a board. I completed it efficiently with the skills I had learned in trade school and through my field experience,” Gilliland said. She was then chosen to compete in the NCC.

She says the most valuable takeaway from her Long Beach experience was the networking opportunity it presented, helping to expand her career options and build her résumé. 

“I appreciate that ABC is attempting to change this college-only trend that is happening in our country and encouraging people to look at the trades as a viable option,” she says. 

Gilliland met her husband in trade school and they were married after graduation in August 2015. They have two children and are expecting a third in September. “I love my job, and I am happy that I am able to help support my family financially and with great benefits.”

The satisfaction of a job well done is what keeps her excited about her career, and for Gilliland, a safe job is a job well done. 

“Interstates is great about keeping me safe while pregnant, but also allowing me to do the demanding work I do as an industrial electrician with small restraints, such as no heavy lifting,” she says. 

Interstates just reached 1 million manhours without a recordable injury for the second time, setting it apart from many other contractors. 

Geoff Lippert
Sponsor: ABC Indiana/Kentucky Chapter
Employer: Ellis Mechanical & Electrical

Geoff Lippert has always been very mechanically inclined. He went to the University of Evansville to pursue a career in engineering, but college just didn’t provide him with the hands-on outlet he needed.

He got involved in the food service industry and worked for Texas Roadhouse for about seven years before getting into the mechanical trades. He ran kitchens, managed service departments and did just about anything else that needed doing. He loved the people, the cooking and the problem-solving, but the lifestyle was hard. Working nights, weekends and holidays eventually got to him and he left. 

Lippert had no experience in the trade, but he knew that he could do anything if given the opportunity. 

After accepting a position working in Ellis Mechanical & Electrical’s shop, he promised his boss it would not be a permanent position. But one project led to another, and through research, hard work and continuing education, he has worked his way up to become a mechanical and plumbing piping superintendent.

Lippert competed in ABC’s regional plumbing craft competition and beat out several others with more experience in the trade, securing himself a spot in the NCC. He said the win has given him a whole new level of confidence in his career by putting him up against the best of the best in his trade. 

“I know I will continue to excel should I choose to continue to work hard, learn and apply myself. I have goals for my career, but most of that is in God’s hands. The NCC has and will continue to open up doors, but hard work and dedication will no doubt pave the road for a great future,” he says.

Lippert encourages anyone considering a career in the skilled trades to jump in. “Don’t be shortsighted. Don’t underestimate yourself, and don’t be afraid to learn something new.”

Jesus Longoria
Sponsor: ABC Texas Gulf Coast Chapter and Merit Shop Training
Employer: RPM Services Inc.

When Jesus Longoria was little, he spent a lot of time playing in the shop behind his grandparents’ house. “As I got older, I went from handling the tools to actually working with them,” he says, sharing how his childhood in Bay City, Texas, planted the seeds for a career in construction. “I’ve always been mechanically inclined.” 

After a layoff from working on a nuclear shutdown project, Longoria saw an ad for a millwright jumpstart program offering to train rotating equipment mechanics at a local college. Although he didn’t qualify for a grant, Longoria paid out of pocket—an investment that quickly proved worthwhile. He performed so well in the program that a supervisor from RPM Services asked him to start working soon after his graduation. 

The construction industry, particularly the millwright craft, allows Longoria to utilize his skills and find variety in his daily work at RPM’s prefabrication shop.

“It’s interesting to take apart the machines and see how they work and what goes into them,” he says. Currently, he’s helping build a 32-foot long lift pump with a diameter so large a person can stand inside it. 

His advice to others considering a career in construction: “If you have the mechanical ability to do it, and you like doing it, no matter how hard it gets, don’t let anything get you down. You can excel with it and keep going.” 

Austin Tingler
Sponsor: ABC Indiana/Kentucky Chapter
Employer: DEEM LLC

People are what Austin Tingler enjoys most about the construction industry. “I like the different people you meet every day on every job. That person could become my new best friend, or it could be someone who could help me with a future job, or teach me a skill that I don’t have,” he says. 

After all, Tingler found his way into the construction industry through a friend who boasted about the high income he’d been earning in the residential sector. With no experience, Tingler enrolled in the Central Nine Career Center in Greenwood, Ind., for his junior and senior year in high school to learn and test out various trades. He began with electrical rough-in for houses and then moved over to HVAC, where he exceled. 

DEEM LLC hired him shortly after graduation and he has worked for the company for the past six years.  

“I enjoy the day-to-day changes and different challenges I have to face—trying to figure something out that not everyone else knows how to do,” Tingler says. He’s currently working on a remodeling project to create a new banquet center attached to a hotel, where he’s coordinating with crews to add split systems, run control lines, set the units and perform additional duct work. 

While he’s traveled all across the region to Ohio, Maryland, Tennessee and West Virginia, he prefers the smaller jobs closer to home that offer variety and a quick sense of completion.

His advice to others trying out a career in the industry: Have fun with your work, and if you don’t like one trade, try another. “I always tell people, if you don’t have fun at work, what is it? Then it’s just work,” he jokes.  

Jared Valence
Gold & Safety—Pipe Welding 
Sponsor: ABC New Orleans/Bayou Chapter and Pala-Interstate
Employer: Pala-Interstate

Welding is in Jared Valence’s blood. He was raised around welders and has always loved the trade. While his path to the industry wasn’t exactly a direct route (prior to welding, he worked on tug boats and had a job as a diesel technician), he was eventually drawn in when he started working as a welding helper. During that time, he took note of the numerous opportunities in the industry. He decided it was time to make the move, and a good friend helped him get a job with Pala-Interstate in St. Rose, La.

“I knew I could make a good living and a career out of this craft,” Valence says. “Welding is one of the highest paid crafts, and with me being very competitive, I want to bring welding to the next level.” 

With three years under his belt at Pala-Interstate, Valence decided to compete in the ABC New Orleans/Bayou Chapter’s in-house welding competition. He placed first in pipe welding. “By winning, I was invited to attend the NCC, and my company supported me.”

Valence did not disappoint at the national level. “Placing first at the NCC gave me more confidence in my abilities as a welder. It will push me forward to earn my certification. It taught me to be consistent and let my work speak for itself.”

Though he appreciates the art of welding, the spirit of competition and making a great living, those aren’t the only positives he attributes to his welding career. Valence appreciates seeing projects through from start to finish. 

At the end of the day, Valence says, “Welding takes a lot of stress away when the hood is down.” And to others considering a career in the trade, his best piece of advice is simply: “Be the best, and give it your all.”

Miguel Villa
Safety—Carpentry: Residential/Commercial 
Sponsor: ABC Northern California Chapter
Employer: Anderson Pacific Engineering Construction Inc.

“Love what you do.” It’s a simple message, but it’s the one Miguel Villa lives by at work every day. Since childhood, he has worked with his hands, building things and taking things apart just to learn how to put them back together. 

While his entry into the construction industry seemed only natural, it was far from a straight-line journey. Growing up, he held jobs as a cook and a dishwasher, which made him realize he did not want to be in the food service industry. He wanted more; he wanted to make a difference. 

He began his career in construction in 2004 as a roofer, but in 2008 Villa was arrested for a crime he had committed almost 10 years earlier. “I was young and had no real path and no family. In 2010, I was released from prison and in search of a job, I tried looking in the roofing industry, but it was fruitless,” Villa says. 

Villa took jobs in food service again as a part-time cook and dishwasher, but he was barely making ends meet. Knowing of his interest in construction, his probation officer gave him a flyer with information on his local ABC chapter. At the time, Villa didn’t have a computer or a smartphone, but he went straight to the city library, printed and filled out the carpentry training application and mailed it in. 

He completed the training and was hired by Anderson Pacific Engineering Construction, Inc. in 2016. Villa’s favorite part of his job is seeing the smiles on happy customers’ faces. For him, carpentry is not just his job. He recently completed a service project with his church to build a home for a family in Mexico. He also appreciates that he can pass along his carpentry skills to his children and leave a legacy. 

“Competing in the NCC was the most exciting thing I’ve ever done. It was nerve-wracking and stressful, but also so much fun,” Villa says, attributing a huge jump in self-confidence and enhancement of his carpentry skills to the NCC. He sees great potential for career advancement, and he believes the competition has given him the confidence to purse those opportunities. 

“I truly love what I do, which is why I have the  #lovewhatyoudo decal on my truck. I want to give thanks to God, my family for their support and ABC for giving me a lifeline when every other industry gave me their backs.” 


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