January 9, 2023
By Blake Marchand
The 2022 IDEAL National Championships were held this past November in Tampa, Florida. If you missed Electrical Industry New Week’s recap of the event you can find the article HERE. It was an exciting event for the Canadian contingent because this year’s IDEAL Nationals was the furthest any Canadian had made it in the event. Canada was represented in the third round/semi-finals by Lance Giesbrecht on the Professional side and David Collier on the Apprentice side.
This article is a discussion with Lance Giesbrecht on his experience at the 2022 IDEAL Nationals. Lance is the owner/operator of ELG Electric out of Goderich, Ontario. He has represented Canada at the IDEAL Nationals multiple times. We will also be sharing the experiences of David Collier and Todd Fraser in future articles.
In additon to the added stress of competition, atmosphere, and cameras, the Canadians had the additional hurtle of having to navigate the differences between the National Electrical Code (NEC) and Canadian Electrical Code (CEC), which can throw a wrench into the interpretations of what each task requires. Below, Lance explains some of the instances where the difference had an impact on the competition.
Below is a Q&A with Lance, his responses are in plain text, while I add some context here and there in italics.
What were your main takeaways from the IDEAL Nationals experience?
As usual, just an absolutely amazing event. This year’s competitions were amazing, given the time, the tools, and scope; they were set up perfectly. Such a great sense of community among everyone working there, visiting, competing etc., and the comradery among the competitors is amazing. Such a great group and time!
Being down at the event myself I could see the camaraderie/community between the competitors. Not just during downtime but also during the competition. Competitors were quick to help one another out, share interpretations of the tasks, shout advice from the sidelines, get a judge’s attention on behalf of another competitor, and other stuff like that. Giesbrecht was certainly included in that type of camaraderie as a vocal supporter of his fellow electricians in the competition from both sides of the border.
What was your favourite IDEAL Nationals moment/highlight?
This is a tough one. There are honestly so many! If you have seen me talk about the Nationals at all you know that I wait impatiently every year for qualifiers to start, I practice and compete tirelessly to win qualifiers and be the fastest in “Central Canada”, all just so I can get down there! Just to see my IDEAL family and to make my Canadian IDEAL family proud!
I suppose my favorite moment this year would have to be hearing my name called for advancement to the 3rd round! This was unexpected! I felt I had dropped the ball a bit in round 2. But was extremely proud to make round 3. To have a Canadian make it to round 3 for the first time, and for that Canadian to be me, I was overwhelmed with excitement and pride! I am still riding that high nearly a month later!
As I mentioned earlier, Lance was one of two Canadians to make to the round three/semi-finals and this was the first event Canadians made it that far. And as Lance alludes to, he didn’t quite complete the task in the second round, but his work was clean and what he did finish was done to spec, which allowed him to break through.
The competitors who were knocked out of the IDEAL Nationals in the semi-finals were randomly paired up for a team competition.
Was the competition portion what you expected? Were there any unique challenges? How did you approach the work/Did you have a gameplan going in?
The competition was exactly what I expected and much more in many ways. It is always a pleasure to see how the great minds at IDEAL Industries come up with new and better challenges for each round and season.
For me, Round 2 was a definite challenge, the differences between American code (NEC) and Canadian code (CEC or OEC) are quite drastic. Their trade practices are even quite different, so we have to adapt quite quickly once we get the scope of work each round and try to navigate the task accordingly.
I went into each debrief with just the intent of doing what I could as fast as I could. I wasn’t going to sacrifice my work ethic or safety etc. just to gain time. I kept a level head during all of my competitions, I made sure to keep my work area as clean and tidy as possible, and always watching for camera personnel and judges while using ladder and material, to me this is of the utmost importance!
Additionally, I always try to do a quick walk through, before the timer starts, of my material, my work area and my tools. By this point you usually have a general idea of how you’re going to attack the challenge, now you just need to make the finite decisions of how to do it!
Going into the second round and the semi-final, did your approach change at all?
NO. I find that I am a pretty consistent worker. Because of the previous years I had the pleasure to compete, I know what’s expected of me. At this point in the game, I don’t think you should or would want to change up your approach. Doubting yourself, your process, or your instincts at this point wouldn’t help. After all, I’ve made it this far… just by working hard and taking pride in my trade! Now, it’s game time!
What are some of differences between the NEC and CEC that had an impact on the competition?
1. Panel orientation (USA mains have to be at top, and panel has to be mounted vertically).
2. Grounding and bonding methods.
3. Crossing of main feed conductors and branch circuit conductors in panels.
4. Materials used for certain jobs in the US are not rated for the same task here in Canada.
5. Trade practices are very different:
Example 1: the US uses flat 14/3NMD90, in Canada we use twisted or round cable.
Example 2: Especially in Chicago area (due to the Chicago fires..!) They run EMT (Steel thin wall conduit) in the walls of their homes to mechanically protect the wires. Having to bend or connect EMT in walls is an art, dealing with wooden studs and keeping a stright line and clean safe bends is paramount! Not an easy task!
The NEC requires that the panel be installed vertically with the main breaker at the top of the panel. In Canada, you’re not allowed to have your main power conducters across your branch circuit conductors. Which Lance noted is a safety concern.
You have live, incoming main conductors that we don’t have control over, they’re from the meter base outside – and as a contractor, we’re not legally allowed to enter the meter base, in Canada. You have live 200 amp rated conductors passing by your branch circuit conductors that feed your house – and if you’re ever to knick it, touch it, crush it by accident while trying to get a new wire in – they’re live, there’s nothing we can do about that.
So. during the second round of the IDEAL Nationals, Lance installed his panel upside down so that the main conducters didn’t pass by the branch circuits, which is code compliant in Canada, rather than install the panel virtically, as its required by NEC. Usually, the IDEAL Nationals will have a Canadian judge to assess the Canadian competitors but this year they weren’t able to make it down last minute. In this instance, Lance explained his rationale for how he installed the panel and was still able to gain enough points to advance to the next round.
What is the value of this type of event from your perspective/for apprentices/electricians and the industry in general?
I think by hosting this event and having the qualifier competitions around Canada, North America and around the world, you’re drawing in young people. Whether it starts as just a simple challenge at the wholesalers or a rivalry among workmates, it starts to build that curiosity. Getting people simply to use the tools and get a conversation going about the Ideal Nationals Elites. This gets people involved and motivated to maybe go further, to try to beat their time or a buddy’s time. It opens the door!
It’s on the rest of us, the later term apprentices, the veterans/pros, the “Old dogs” to point them in the right direction, the competition and indirectly the trade! Now, I would love to find a way to help the qualifier hosts to get more people involved in it. It can be a challenge to get people just to try the boards out. There’s a bit of nervousness, that “first day of hockey tryouts” feeling. You’re uneasy about it, but if you’ve never played before you just don’t know the vastness and absolutely amazing opportunity that’s available to you!
If we could air more of the IDEAL Nationals footage across North America, I assure you we could get even more people than last year!
There are always returning competitors that make it down to the Nationals event, like Lance who competed in previous years. This year’s Final included several past champions of the event, including three time champion Greg Anliker who finished second this year and last year’s champion Anthony Kovalchick.
As Lance alludes to, it goes to show the draw of the event. Once you get there it hooks you in. First time champion, Tom Kennedy took home the title and Josh Tower finished third. Similarly on the Apprentice side, first place winner Justin Finfrock was a past competitor. Rounding out the top three were Elliot Phillips and Luis Sanchez. For the team competition, Seth Agnew (another returning competitor) & Justin Frick finished first and Alec Perkins & Thomas Ladd finished second.
Being a small business owner, I wanted to step outside of the IDEAL Nationals and ask Lance to provide some insight into his experience in his everyday work.
I’m also curious, how’s business going with ELG? What’s important when it comes to ELG’s success?
Business has been very good! Very busy! I never could have imagined growing up in beautiful Goderich, Ontario that this is where’d I’d be in my 30s, operating a business with my wife and girls by my side. Pretty near run off our feet keeping up with family/kids events and activities and trying to stay ahead of the never ending work load! I’m grateful to have such a life!
Most important right now is to try to find our work life balance! With all of the work that’s going on in our area it can be hard to keep on top of things and still find time to be with my girls, but we make it work!
I’m yet to believe that we are a “successful” business, I still feel like a kid chasing an unobtainable dream. All I strive for with work is to be honest and upfront with our clients.
I have 3 very simple rules for our business:
1. Answer your phone
2. Do what you say you’re going to do
3. If you can’t meet the goals you’ve promised, be honest about it.
Now, granted sometimes I fail at this to! No excuses, with the workload that’s coming in these days it’s often hard to keep up! To our customers, I am very sorry for that!
Our customers are very understanding. We’re a “mom & pop shop”, and we want to stay that way. We’re not a corporation, and our customers aren’t a number, every job matters!
We’ve definitely had our fair share of ups and downs during the last few years. It seems to be a revolving door of various shortages weekly. All we can do is try to stay ahead of our inventory needs without going overboard and make sure we plan as far in advance as possible.
As a final note, I would really like to thank my wife and our girls for sticking with me while I chase this competition. To our customers and clients, I thank you for your support both in business and during the competition, many people reached out with well wishes and I am very thankful for those people in my life!
Lastly, I want to express my greatest thanks to Ideal Industries. This competition is more like a family reunion than anything else. These events give tradesmen, apprentices, and journeyman alike, an opportunity to hone their skills, and learn from previous mistakes! Every day on the job I think about the little (or big) mistakes I made during my events. In doing so it allows all of us the opportunity to improve, both personally and professionally! It was an honor to represent Canada. Here’s hoping we at ELG Electric see you all again next year for an opportunity to advance further yet!
Safe travels in 2023 all.
Lance from ELG Electric Ltd., Goderich, Ontario, Canada.