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Houston-area Craft Professionals to Compete in ABC’s National Craft Championships in Long Beach, CA

Last week, Lauren Harrell, Marketing Coordinator for Associated Builders and Contractors of Greater Houston, and I spoke together with four craft trainees and apprentices and one welding teacher from the Houston area who will travel to the 2018 National Craft Championships next week.  Each of the competitors we spoke with is sponsored by the Construction and Maintenance Education Foundation (CMEF), the educational affiliate of ABC Greater Houston.  They have each received CMEF Training either at a CMEF sponsored college campus or at the CMEF training facility in La Porte, Texas.

Alexander Serrato works for Turner Industries.  When Harrell asked him why he decided to compete in the National Craft Championships, he said that he had been welding for four years, and had been hired by Turner Industries last June, just after he graduated from high school.  He said that he was grateful that they are giving him this opportunity to go to California and represent the company.  He said, “It’s a blessing – first and foremost – and I’ve just got to give it my all, and hopefully, you know, I’ll give out a good [award] for them.”

Serrato started taking classes at San Jacinto College while he was still in high school, graduating with his college certification before completing his high school diploma last year.  He said that when he was a freshman in high school, his older brother told him about the opportunity to learn how to weld at the then new CTHS.  Serrato stated, “As a young kid, we don’t know what we want.  He just told me to get into welding, and I look up to him, so that’s what I started getting into.  I went to CTHS, and that pretty much changed my whole life.”

Serrato’s older brother had not been in the welding program in high school; instead, he had taken the electrician courses.  After high school, however, he decided that he wanted to be a welder, so he went through the welding program at San Jacinto College, and is now a successful welder who is trying to advance to become an operater.  Serrato: “I’m just stuck to welding.  I am good at welding, so I am going to stick to it.”  Serrato hopes to one day own his own welding business.  He is currently a tacker at shop and is looking forward to being a combo-welder out in the field.

Harrell asked how Serrato hoped the competition might benefit him.  Serrato said that he expected that he and the other welders representing CMEF and Houston would be some of the younger competitors, yet “once they see us welding, it will be a whole different story.”  He said that he believes that the competition will be a good experience – it will allow him to “see what is out there,” and will hopefully allow him to bring back a good “paper” for his company.  Serrato will be competing in the Pipe Welding competition.

Bernardo Perez is a senior at Kirk Lewis Career and Technical High School (CTHS) in Pasadena, Texas.  Perez heard about the welding program at his school from a friend.  He found that as he practiced and learned more he got good at welding.  “Every day I kept learning more and more, and I practiced over and over.  I kept getting better, and I just want to keep practicing.”  He hopes that the National Craft Championships will give him experience which will prepare him for a future in welding.  I asked him what he likes best about welding.  Perez answered, “It’s challenging.  It’s not easy, but I turn it into fun.  I challenge myself, and I try to do my best.”  He hopes to get a job where he can build a career from the bottom up.  “First, I would like to start at the bottom as a helper and then work my way up to a combo-welder.  Towards the end of my career, I would like to teach welding.”

Luis Mijangos is also a senior at CTHS.  He is the first person in his family to pursue welding.  Mijangos studied business for his first two years of high school, but he didn’t like it, so he entered the welding program at CTHS after learning about it from welding instructor Zeek Garcia.  Mijangos hopes to one day be an underwater welder working in the oil and gas industry, and then become an inspector after that.  I asked what he liked best about welding.  Mijangos: “Simply knowing the fact that most of the buildings in the U.S. – all of the buildings have been welded.  It’s knowing that we are a big part of the community is something.  It’s a good feeling.”  Mijangos is looking forward to competing against other people at the NCC.  He said that the experience of competing against other people besides his high school piers will make him better at welding.  In addition to his training at CTHS, Mijangos attended San Jacinto College where he has already completed his combo-welder certificate.  He will be competing in Structural Welding next week in Long Beach.

Colton Lowery is also a senior at CTHS.  Lowery and the other high school competitors are part of the first class to graduate from CTHS after attending all four years there since the school opened in August 2014.  He thought that welding seemed like a career which could “take me a long way.”  He heard about the opportunities at the high school from his counselors in middle school.  When I asked what he hoped his experience at the NCC would be like, Lowery replied, “Fun!  [I hope to] really get to enjoy it, to get out there and do what I love to do – which is welding.”  He went on to say that he loves the “hands on” aspect of welding.  When Lowery is welding, he feels that he is the only person in the world, depending only on himself.  Lowery hopes to work one day on an off-shore oil rig.  “It seems cool to me to fly out there on a helecoptor, land on an oil rig, go to work for a couple of weeks, and fly back.”  At the NCC, Lowery hopes to meet new people and discover new career options to consider – options that would take him to different states and possibly even to different countries.

David Gutierrez is a welding instructor at CTHS.  He grew up in Pasadena near the refineries, so he always knew that there were career opportunities there.  He became a welder and worked in the industry for seven years before he became a teacher.  He said that welding is a good career choice because it is everywhere.  He said, “You can find it in your chair, you can find it in your car, you can find it in the refineries, so it’s a very good industry to get into – most likely you will have a job if you are good at what you do.”

The Associated Builders and Contractors of America (ABC) hosts the National Craft Championships (NCC) each spring.  This year, craft trainees from chapter and member training programs will compete for the gold in 15 competitions, representing 12 crafts.  The NCC is planned and conducted by ABC’s National Craft Championships Committee.  This committee consists of contractor representatives and ABC chapter and national staff.  This year’s competition will be held in the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center in Long Beach, California just south of Los Angeles.

Watch excerpts from our interviews in the following 3-minute video, read Construction Citizen’s coverage of last year’s competition, and look for more articles about the 2018 ABC National Craft Championships in upcoming posts here on Construction Citizen.