Behind the Scenes of AOY
IEC National’s annual Apprentice of the Year (AoY) competition is the biggest event IEC apprentices prepare for all year. It’s a grueling three-day competition involving early mornings, long days, and timed events judged with watchful eyes. If that doesn’t sound stressful enough, it takes two and a half days and about 60 volunteers to prepare the competition area. Many of these volunteers work in an expo hall without air-conditioning, using microfiber shop rags to wipe away sweat as they unpack large wooden crates and inventory parts. Others build or tear down competition areas. Some carefully judge contests or troubleshoot technical issues. One thing is for sure: AoY would not be possible without our volunteers. This is their story.
Typically, many key volunteers arrive on Day 1 and half of the day is spent unpacking wooden shipping crates and inventorying parts required for the Motor Control portion of AoY. Usually the expo hall has not switched on the air-conditioning and we spend most of the time wiping sweat from our foreheads while organizing relays, push buttons, screws, conduit, and wire. Mike Gunter from IEC Atlanta is the inventory work horse. He is the human Energizer bunny with a Georgia country drawl. If you volunteer with him, he will put you to work. It may involve climbing into shipping crates, relocating materials, cutting wire, or counting parts. If he’s busy, you’re busy.
In addition to physical work, Day 1 is also spent reviewing and finalizing the ladder logic exam and roundrobin exercises, which include conduit bending, the productivity challenge, and troubleshooting. There are many trips to the copy machine and local coffee shop.
We begin early on Day 2. Again, no air-conditioning, but at this point everyone is used to it. It’s part of the job, right? Brad Stevens from IEC of Utah oversees the building of the productivity structure by local expo staff.He keeps people in line and accountable, always pushing for perfection.
By this time, AoY Coordinator Raul Vasquez of IEC San Antonio is owning his role. He’s morphing into an orchestra conductor, taking all of the competition’s moving parts and creating one cohesive event. He’s in problem-solving mode and flitting around the expo hall with a focused gaze, confirming everyone has what they need to complete their tasks. Although he’s pulled in multiple directions, he always returns as our dedicated team leader.
It’s another early morning fueled by massive caffeine consumption, but today the loading dock doors are mostly closed, and cool air is starting to fill the expo hall. Today we finish filling the competitors’ material boxes for the Motor Control contest. In order to complete this task, there may have been a trip to The Home Depot for extra parts and a pit stop to the Dairy Queen next door. Volunteers need their Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Blizzard (as do IEC National staff).
Power drill batteries need to be charged, so we set up a charging table which is nothing more than several power strips linked to one another. Twenty-one power drill batteries are being charged at the same time, and a duplicate battery sits nearby waiting its turn. The electricians among us have jokes about this. Truth be told, there is never a shortage of laughs.
We are also filling competitor gift bags with donated items from many of IEC’s industry partners. There is always chatter among the volunteers about how the competitors are hitting the lottery with all the donated tools and other goodies they receive from Graybar, Greenlee, Klein Tools, Milwaukee Tool, Southwire, and The Home Depot.
It’s almost showtime for the competitors and every IEC volunteer needs to be on his or her A Game – no exceptions. Once the competition begins, volunteers take their places for the next three days and do their best to keep AoY running smoothly. Some of us run around making copies or grabbing coffee. Others answer questions or problem-solve. Many of us serve as judges or industry experts. In the end, we’re all a team striving for the same thing: a competition our apprentices can be proud of.
Chrissy is the director of curriculum development for IEC National.