Andrew Kuhns sees the 2021 Elite Trades Championship Series (ETCS) at the Music City Center in Nashville as another chance to celebrate electricians and their skills.
For Ty’Quez Faulkner, who’ll be competing in his third IDEAL National Championship as part of the ETCS and his final one as an apprentice, it’s the last chance to compete on a team with his father.
For both, though, the opportunity to showcase “a fantastic career choice” to a new generation of electricians is the biggest bonus.
The tape-delayed television broadcast of the event, with ServiceTitan as a sponsor, will be shown on Fox Sports in early 2022, providing that opportunity.
The competition, which started as the IDEAL National Championship five years ago, added the U.S. Auto Tech National Championship and became the Elite Trades Championship Series this year, building on the success of the original competition.
The goal is to grow into a multi-trade championship platform that celebrates and grows awareness of the trades in general. But it has its roots in the electrical industry.
The idea came from a similar event in Australia, the Sparky Olympics. A former IDEAL CEO took that concept and brought it to North America.
The 2021 electrical competition begins Wednesday, Dec. 15, at the Music City Center, in person for the first time in two years. The 2020 event was moved to a virtual format because of the pandemic.
The individual finals for professionals and apprentices will be held Friday, Dec. 17.
“We created the IDEAL National Championship to give back to the trade, and to promote the trade,” Kuhns, a marketing manager and 20-year veteran of IDEAL Industries, said. “It's unique. We're the only one doing it in the industry right now. It's a fun part of the gig, that's for sure.”
For Faulkner, it’s even more than that.
Born in the trades
Some people don’t have to be introduced to the trades. That’s what happened with Faulkner.
“I was pretty much born with a pair of pliers, almost,” Faulkner said. “My dad's an electrician, so I can remember being a real young kid, maybe 6, 7, I would go on jobs with him during the summers. He'd have me under crawl spaces, running wire with him, and putting together receptacles from a young age.”
But it wasn’t a straight line here. Faulkner originally wanted to go to Georgia Tech and become an electrical engineer.
“Doing research, I learned all they do is pretty much sit at a desk,” Faulkner said. “And that just terrifies me.”
His interest in the IDEAL National Championship started with an assignment in a class that was part of his apprenticeship.
“It was a conduit bending lab, and they had a little board set up. Our assignment was to go through it at least once, just to do it,” Faulkner said. “I was pretty fast at it, so I just kept at it and I got real fast at it.”
This is Faulkner’s third time in the competition – in person in 2019 in Orlando, in virtual competitions designed for the pandemic in 2020, virtually a year ago, and as a team competitor in Nashville in 2021.
Some qualifying for Nashville took place at conventions and contractor events, and at Lowe’s stores as part of a partnership. But a lot of the interest has been generated at trade schools, where about 65% of the qualifying took place.
“They like for us to come in,” Kuhns said. “The apprentices really eat this stuff up. They're a little bit more competitive. The seasoned pros are a little bit more difficult to get to compete, because not everybody has a competitive nature.”
For Faulkner that’s not a problem.
ETCS competition format
IDEAL, along with event organizer INTERSPORT, an award winning marketing agency based in Chicago, starts building toward the competition early in the year, working with trade schools and shops across the country to get a flavor of what’s done in a variety of areas.
Commercial and residential elements are included in the event challenges.
“We try to get contests that will reflect a well-rounded electrician,” Kuhns said. “We really try to show off the complete skill set of the electrician.”
The competition is in three divisions: Professional, Apprentice, and Team, which is a pairing of a pro and an apprentice.
The Team competition is Wednesday, Dec. 16, with Apprentice and Pro individual qualifying on Thursday, and the finals for both divisions on Friday night.
The prizes are substantial: $600,000 total, with $60,000 for the Pro winner and $40,000 for the champion Apprentice. The winners of the Team competition get $40,000, too. There are also prizes for the winners’ companies and schools.
Competitors won’t get their first look at the challenges beforehand, and they could include tasks electricians perform every day, or just occasionally.
“Can they bend conduit? Can they troubleshoot an electrical circuit and faults? Can they find problems with an electrical outlet?” Kuhns asked. “Can they do four-way switches? Can they do three-way switches? Can they look at the motor on a jacuzzi and get it to work?”
Stamina and agility will be tested. So will knowledge of code.
“All sorts of unique tasks and asks,” Kuhns said.
That, plus unique opportunity.
There’s more to it …
There were 30,000 electricians in the qualifying rounds, judged for speed, technical excellence, and a little bit more.
“We try to identify some colorful individuals, too,” Kuhns said. “Some electricians may not be the fastest, but they may represent IDEAL well. They may be funny. They may have integrity. They maybe support the trade.”
In short, they might be what’s needed to get others interested in a hands-on career path.
“Nowadays, we don't have enough electricians,” Kuhns said. “Anything we can do to focus on the trade and then bring people in who may be on the fence, that's great.
“If IDEAL can create excitement around the trade, that would hopefully encourage people to take this career path instead of more of a traditional path through college.”
That’s what happened with Faulkner, even if it wasn’t a straight line. After disdaining the “terrifying,” desk-bound life of an electrical engineer, he did a job shadow with a physical therapist and “didn’t really like it.”
He job-hopped among construction trades before coming back to the electrical industry.
“Eventually I'm like, if I'm going to work with my hands, I might as well do what's kind of familiar to me and do electrical like my dad,” Faulkner said. “He suggested I go to the apprenticeship, and that's what I did.”
Goals for ETCS are clear
Faulkner said he hopes to leverage that relationship with his dad and his competitive nature for one more go-round as an apprentice.
“I've always had a little competitive edge to me,” he said. “I have a good amount of siblings and me and my little sister growing up, everything was a contest with us.
“I think I get it from my dad too, because he's very competitive.”
In this case, that’s good. Lamon Faulkner will partner with his son in the team competition in Nashville.
Ty’Quez Faulkner, who works for commercial-focused 1Electric in the Atlanta area, finished 23rd in the Apprentice competition in 2019, and second (out of three teams) with a professional Erik Bradenburg from Arizona in a Pro-Am invitational competition in 2020. This will be his father’s first competition.
Faulkner and his father don’t work for the same company, so this will be a throwback to his younger days.
“We don't really work together super often, but when we do, we're very much in sync,” he said. “I'm thinking we'll mesh well together and just that father son bond will help us.”
The goal for 2021?
“First place, of course,” Faulkner said. “We’re going to have a wonderful time either way, not just me and him but also meeting some of the other electricians out there.”
He also hopes to add to their ranks.
“Schools will push college so much and put that on a pedestal, and college is not for everybody,” Faulkner said. “People need to realize that some of these trades are a fantastic career choice.”