IBEW apprentice and journeyman wiremen once again took several top honors at the annual Ideal National Championship, held Nov. 4-5 in Tampa, Fla.
|Milwaukee Local 494 member Tom Kennedy came in first place in the journeyman category at the seventh annual Ideal National Championship in November in Tampa.
|Jordan Finfrock of Portsmouth, Ohio, Local 575 took top honors in the competition’s apprentice category. Finfrock’s father, Chris, and brother, Riley, also competed.
|Des Moines, Iowa, Local 347 journeyman Alec Perkins, left, and Syracuse, N.Y., Local 43 apprentice Tom Ladd placed second in the pro-am category.
|Friends and family members cheered on competitors during the weekend’s events.
Organizers estimate that more than half of those competing in Florida were IBEW members — including Milwaukee Local 494’s Tom Kennedy, who won the journeyman category along with a $60,000 cash prize.
The wireman competition, which gets recorded for an eventual television broadcast, is produced by electrical toolmaker Ideal Industries to reach viewers who may be considering a career in the trade. The event, Kennedy said, “is a great example of what goes on in the field every day.”
In the months leading up to the championship, nearly 35,000 union and nonunion electricians competed in qualifying rounds throughout the U.S. and Canada. These rounds helped whittle the field down to the more than 140 men and women who arrived in Tampa not only to showcase their inside wireman skills on framed mockups of small homes during tightly timed heats, but also to take home some of the more than $180,000 in cash and prizes.
“No matter how much you prepare, there’s things that don’t go as planned, so you see the obstacles and overcome them,” said Kennedy, who has been an IBEW member since 1991 and is now a full-time instructor at Milwaukee’s Joint Apprentice Training Committee center. This was his second time competing in the nationals.
The second-place winner in the journeyman category was Greg Anliker of Elgin, Ill., Local 117, who has been a regular participant — and, more than once, a winner — since Ideal began the competition in 2016.
For the 2022 event, challenges ranged from routine circuit breaker box wiring to installing an electric vehicle charger, a hot tub and a solar panel, with judges watching for things such as accuracy, workmanship and safety, all in line with the National Electrical Code.
“They’re judging code compliance and quality of work, not just who’s fastest,” Kennedy said. “The clock is just there to play with your head.”
The national competition combines the thrill of a live sporting event with the pressure of television cameras that are constantly roving and watching contestants’ every move, all for a TV show that aired on the CBS Sports channel in December.
On the event’s first day, journeymen and apprentices were split into two groups each. While one group would receive a pre-event briefing and then head to the convention center floor to compete, the other remained under a strictly supervised sequester, to help keep competitors from gaining an unfair advantage by watching and learning from the other group’s work.
By mid-afternoon on the first day, increasingly challenging contests had helped slash the journeyman and apprentice fields to 30 each. By day’s end, two more 45-minute rounds trimmed the groups to 10 each.
The 2021 event in Nashville featured, for the first time, a pro-am teams competition, which was announced in advance to give journeyman-apprentice pairs a chance to practice working together. In Tampa, no pro-am had been officially scheduled; rather, organizers surprised competitors by announcing that a five-team, one-round pro-am heat would take place the following morning. A drawing paired select journeyman and apprentice semifinalists who had performed well but had not advanced.
Taking home second place in the pro-am category — along with a $5,000 cash prize — was an IBEW team: Alec Perkins, a journeyman wireman from Des Moines, Iowa, Local 347, and Syracuse, N.Y., Local 43 apprentice Tom Ladd, whose face-down name card had been picked up by Perkins.
“Everything kind of just clicked” on Saturday morning, said Perkins, who had competed in the Ideal Nationals twice before as an apprentice. “We didn’t really talk till our briefing. We were mostly calm about it.”
“We tried to connect a little bit, maybe for an hour,” Ladd said. “We chatted about strengths and weaknesses. We both understood everything, and we communicated great.”
On the convention center floor, Perkins said he worked out with Ladd how to best divide the work. “Tom knocked it out of the park,” Perkins said. “Our teamwork was good. We just jumped in.”
“I thought it was a blast,” Ladd added.
Later, another round of apprentice and journeyman competitions took each of those fields down to five contestants.
After one final contest, the competition’s winners and runners-up were announced during a Nov. 5 award ceremony.
The winner in the apprentice category was Jordan Finfrock of Portsmouth, Ohio, Local 575, who said the contest challenged his skills.
“I’d never hooked up a hot tub before,” said Finfrock, who still made it look easy as he worked. This was Finfrock’s second win in the apprentice category; he also took home the top prize at the 2019 competition. Finfrock has since completed his apprenticeship and is now a journeyman wireman.
The electrical trade was not Finfrock’s first career choice, he said. “I started doing welding and hated it, so I decided I was going to try electric,” he said.
Finfrock’s Local 575 was well represented in Tampa: His father, Chris, a journeyman, and his brother, Riley, a fourth-year apprentice, along with another apprentice, Devin Silfer, all competed at the nationals.
Elliott Philips, a member of Wichita, Kansas, Local 271, came in second place in the apprentice finals, taking home $20,000.
Like most of his fellow IBEW competitors, Finfrock plans to compete again in 2023. “We always have fun,” said Finfrock. “Friends get to see each other every year there.”
Local 347’s Perkins agreed. “You develop friendships and stay in touch,” he said. “There’s lots of good networking. It’s an amazing event.”
This time around also marked the return of electricians from Canada to the competition since before the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, with nearly a dozen making the trip to Tampa.
Organizers describe the Ideal nationals as a celebration, honoring the electrical trade and the men and women who work in it by showing their work as both rewarding and exciting.
“One thing about the event is that there’s no ill feeling between union and nonunion,” Local 494’s Kennedy said. “We’re all there to improve our skills and show our love of the trade.”
“While no job is completely recession-proof, the skilled trades provide better job security than others during an economic downturn,” said Ideal Electrical North America Vice President and General Manager Carmen Cardillo. “You can make an excellent living in the trades without incurring student debt along with the satisfaction of knowing that you’re contributing something vital to society.”
Founded in 1916, Ideal is a family-owned business that has become well-regarded for its electrical tools, testers, and wire connectivity.
Live streams of the 2022 Ideal nationals can be viewed anytime at facebook.com/IDEALindustries.