AUGUSTA — Over the sounds of welding torches, hammers and robotic lifts, Jackson Fortin talked Friday about what he hopes will be a promising career of building houses.

Fortin, a junior at the Mid-Maine Technical Center in Waterville, was one of more than 1,200 students at the 18th Annual Crafts Championships at the Augusta Civic Center.

“I really like construction, so the nailing stations and doing measurements are my favorite,” Fortin said. “The lifts here look pretty cool, too.”

Fortin was speaking of the two large scissor lifts taking several students at a time — secured in safety harnesses — more than 20 feet above the civic center floor. It was one of the areas that was most popular among the attendees, said Hope Perkins, president and CEO of the Maine chapter of Associated Builders & Contractors.

“This is my 11th year, and it grows every year,” Perkins said. “Some of these kids are from families of contractors, and it’s what they’re doing in their schools.”

Throughout the daylong event, students from across the state worked on projects inside the civic center and outside on welding trailers and line trucks. Students showcased their talents and skills by participating in a variety of competitions and activities, including hammering nails, installing light switches on a mock wall, pouring concrete and cement and welding two pieces of steel.

At the welding station, Rob Piccirilli, a district sales manager at Maine Oxy, said the activity gives students a chance to try their hand using a welding torch and helmet in a controlled environment.

“It’s one of the easier (welding) processes, and it gives them some exposure,” Piccirilli said. “They all seem to be enjoying it.”

In the center of the main civic center floor, judges were watching about 10 budding electricians as they spent about three hours working on a mock interior wall. The judges, including Rusty Travers, were looking for neat workspaces, proper safety techniques and the ability to follow directions and adhere to construction codes.

Anthony Warner, a home-schooled student from Portland, was watching with interest because he hopes to begin a career as an electrician upon completing his high school education. Warner, 17, said he wants to work with smart-home technology, because home automation is the future.

“Using a smartphone or tablet to control most of the electronic devices in your home is going to be common soon, and I love computers and technology,” Warner said. “But installing light switches or thermostats, whether controlled by hand or a smart device, is the same.”

Rick Forbush is a territory sales manager for Leviton Manufacturing Co., the nation’s largest electrical wiring manufacturer. He said smart homes and smart technology are the future, and the industry is starting to catch up.

“All the devices these kids are learning how to install install the same way,” he said. “There’s a fear factor because of connected technology, so the progress isn’t moving as fast as we’d hope.”

Outside the civic center, boom trucks, line trucks and excavators were set up as students took turns operating the equipment. A representative from Cianbro said the students weren’t having much success picking up a rubber ball with the excavator and putting it into a bucket.

“I don’t know too many of my peers that would be able to put the ball in the bucket,” Warner said. “I tried, but it isn’t as easy as it looks.”

Perkins said the event includes more than 84 instructors and 27 members with hands-on activities for students. Colleges and trade schools were promoting their programs, and many companies were handing out business cards by the hundreds.

Langford & Low Construction in Portland held a hammering competition in which four students simultaneously hammered four nails into four places on a large wooden display. Foreman Lawrence Campbell said despite what people might think, being good with a hammer isn’t about how hard you hit the object or how strong a person is.

“It’s about persistence and not giving up,” Campbell said. “It says a lot about a person.”

Noah Forget, a 10th-grader at Oxford Hills Technical School, took his turn on the wall and said he just enjoys hammering and nailing.

“In my class, all we do is hammering, and it’s the best thing to learn,” he said. “Hammering is about holding the hammer correctly, and I saw some people up there holding it by the head.”

The winner of the hammering contest — fastest to hammer all four nails wins — received a $50 gift card to Home Depot. Briana McCarthy attends a job training program in Lewiston and said she wasn’t going to try hammering, but she was attempting to get some classmates to give it a shot.

The event gives students the opportunity to see how much they can learn and accomplish, should they choose a career in construction. It’s a big day for the industry, too, as more than 1,000 potential employees are showing off their skills and abilities to prospective employers.

“It’s always an exciting day for Maine’s construction industry, and given the shortage of workers in the trades, it’s even more important than ever before.” said Brad Stout, chairman of ABC Maine.

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ


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