IBEW members Benjamin Budd, left, Corbin Rios, center, and Michael Yass were among the winners of the 2018 Ideal National Championship held in December near Orlando, Fla.  

IBEW electricians from New York, Illinois and Minnesota swept the top honors at the third annual 2018 Ideal National Championship, held Dec. 1-3 near Orlando, Fla.

Representing the Minneapolis JATC at the Ideal National Championship and placing first in the apprentice teams division were Minneapolis Local 292 members, from left, Patrick Flanery, Kate Flanery, and Jeremy Welle.

The competition, sponsored by the tool and supply company Ideal Electric, judged union and nonunion journeymen and apprentices on skills such as installation, grounding, and torqueing.

Working individually and in teams of three, contestants competed for bragging rights as well as for cash prizes — all while using Ideal’s tools, of course. The company also gave special awards for sportsmanship as well.

“These competitions are a lot of fun for everyone who participates, but I’m always proud to see the outstanding skill on display from these talented IBEW men and women,” said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson. “We know we’re the best-trained electrical workers in the industry, but our brothers and sisters in this competition prove it year in and year out.”

Claiming victory in this year’s professional team category were Lisle, Ill., Local 701 member Clay Noga and Elgin, Ill., Local 117’s Will Barnett and Greg Anliker. The contest’s rules require that all members of the professional squads work for the same contractor — in this case, Elgin-based Kellenberger Electric.

“[The competition] gets better ten-fold every year,” Noga said. “It’s a fantastic experience overall.”

Five professional teams from the U.S. and one from Canada were tasked with trying to completely wire a framed studio apartment mockup in one hour.

It’s a fierce competition, Noga said. “You’re giving 120 percent. It’s just go, go, go.”

No team finished in the allotted time. “But we got the closest,” Noga said, estimating that his crew could have gotten the job done if they had had another 45 seconds or so.

Weighing speed, craftsmanship, and safety, the judges declared the Kellenberger team the winners, netting them a $60,000 prize to be split evenly among the three team members.

Anliker also competed as an individual professional, a category in which he placed second in 2017. Through a bracket-style elimination process, the IBEW member defeated 63 other union and nonunion electricians to win himself an additional $75,000 prize.

“I almost felt like I did better last year,” said Anliker, laughing.

Anliker said that he plans to put most of his combined winnings away into savings, but he admitted that he is considering splurging a little on a paramotor — a fan-powered parachute aircraft — just for fun. His teammate Noga, a hunting enthusiast, said he would probably spend some of his share of the prize money on a new crossbow.

Erik Martin, a member of Minneapolis Local 292, came in third among individual professionals in the 2018 competition — and won $10,000 — after placing eighth in that category the year before.

“It’s a blast,” said Martin, who demonstrated such skills as bending pipes, installing switches, and troubleshooting. “Each competition is a little more difficult. I’m looking forward to keeping it going.”

Martin, like many of his fellow competitors, brought family members with him to Florida to cheer him on. Ideal provided bleacher seating for the supporters and created a general game show atmosphere for the contest, complete with large video displays, strobe lights, and fog machines.

“It’s really intense,” said Watertown, N.Y., Local 910’s Benjamin Budd, who placed first in the individual apprentice category and picked up a $30,000 prize. “Ideal does a good job of keeping up the suspense.”

Last year’s first-place winner, Long Island, N.Y., Local 25’s Michael Yass, followed Budd at a close second place to become $20,000 richer.

“As a tradesman, it’s nice to be recognized,” said Yass. “Having my wife and kids on the sidelines really helped keep me going.”

Rounding out the IBEW sweep in this category and winning $10,000 was Wichita, Kan., Local 271’s Corbin Rios.

“Every round gets harder and harder,” said Rios, the 2016 individual apprentice champion.

The competition in Florida was the culmination of a series of local and regional events held throughout North America over the previous 10 months, pitting thousands of union and nonunion electrical workers against each other to whittle down each category’s size.

From left, Lisle, Ill., Local 701’s Clay Noga and Elgin, Ill., Local 117’s Greg Anliker and Will Barnett took first place among professional teams at the 2018 Ideal National Championship.

Coming in first among teams of apprentices was a crew from Minneapolis Local 292: Kate Flanery, her brother Patrick (a member of the 2016 winning apprentice team), and Jeremy Welle, who was on last year’s winning team.

Derrick Atkins, the training director at the Minneapolis Joint Apprentice Training Center, said that determining which three apprentices work best together was crucial.

“We get the apprentices together and they practice, and they rely on what they know and what they’ve done to get through,” he said.

Atkins said that his team also prepared for the finals by watching video from previous years’ competitions, to try to get a sense of what the judges might be looking for.

“There is some luck to it, too,” he admitted. The Minneapolis members specialize in residential work — and it happened that for Ideal’s final competition, the apprentice teams were required to wire a mockup of a living room.

Welle, who evenly shared the team’s $30,000 top prize with the Flanerys, found the competition to be a lot of fun. “Most of the time, you don’t get to interact with so many people from around the country,” he said.

Ideal started the annual event to help generate greater interest in the electrical trade, a field that the U.S. Department of Labor estimates will have nearly 70,000 openings in the coming years as greater numbers of older electrical workers retire.

Dozens of cable and broadcast television stations in the U.S. have scheduled a showing of the half-hour highlight show from the 2018 competition. To find out whether it’s airing near you, visit idealnationals.com. The website also has information about the local and regional qualifying rounds for the 2019 competition, which get under way in March.