BIRMINGHAM, ALA. -- On May 1 and 2, nearly 1,000 people will gather at the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex for the National Craft Championships (NCC), an annual event that draws the construction industry's top apprentices and trainees and pits them against each other over the course of two days.

The young men and women who are competing in 13 different categories represent more than five million welders, pipefitters, electricians, millwrights and other craft professionals who are responsible for constructing and maintaining power plants, manufacturing facilities, roadways, bridges and dams across the United States.            

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), construction is one of the nation's largest industries, adding 4.8 percent to the Gross Domestic Product. And, as the economy gains momentum, the BLS predicts that more than 1.5 million new construction jobs will be created by 2016.

"Today's construction industry offers young people a vibrant and rewarding career path," says Mike Uremovich, a construction industry leader who's also chairman of the Trimmer Construction Education Foundation. "New jobs are being added every day so we're actively looking for bright, motivated individuals who we can mentor and train."

The NCC is an intense two-day experience. It begins with an in-depth, 2∏ hour written exam and continues the next day with a six-hour hands-on performance test.

To prepare for the NCC, competitors begin training nine to twelve months in advance. They dedicate countless daytime and evening hours working one-on-one with instructors, learning from jobsite foremen, reading and studying textbooks, taking sample tests and practicing techniques. In addition, many competitors consult with previous winners to secure their first-hand insight and advice.

"Whether or not a competitor wins, just getting to the national level is a significant accomplishment and something that will benefit them throughout their career," says Uremovich. "The competition showcases the rewarding careers that are available in the craft industry. Baby Boomers are retiring in large numbers every day and construction occupations are projected to grow 11 percent through 2016 so we need to bring younger workers into the pipeline."

The NCC is hosted by the Associated Builders and Contractors to call attention to the construction industry and the 21st century job opportunities that are available. Today's construction careers often involve high-tech equipment and many require technology, computer and math skills.