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What I saw (and didn’t see) at SkillsUSA

Tuesday, July 2, 2019 - 06:00
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Recently I had the privilege of being a judge during the SkillsUSA automotive collision repair competitions in North Carolina and Virginia, and was able to watch some highly talented students display what they had learned in primary and secondary career and technical education (CTE).

During the competition, students competed in body repair, welding, refinishing and estimating.  While some competed in multiple categories, others focused on one category that they had established as their career path. I saw students presenting a variety of skills; some better than others, but what really caught my eye was their determination. Every student I observed wanted to do their best and were very proud of what they had achieved. One competitor even asked as he was leaving if he could take with him the fender he had painted. The skills they demonstrated showed me there was a bright future for our industry.

During the competition I saw instructors, parents and curious onlookers watching the students perform the tasks described by the objective. Many would ask questions about how a student was doing, but since it all would be shown on the scoreboard for calculation, I didn’t want to give any spoilers. I also saw a larger number of females than I had seen previously that were competing in each of the different categories, proving there is interest and opportunity for everyone in the collision industry.

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Who I didn’t see in the audience, nor in the judging pool, were shop owners. Yes, there were a few in attendance, but certainly not enough to represent what is available in those market areas. The shop owners missed out — but so did the students. These students will soon be looking for employment and SkillsUSA is a great place for them to display their talents in front of employers – if they had been there.

It isn’t difficult to become involved with SkillsUSA. The easiest way is to contact the state staff for your area or look up the volunteer opportunities available on their website. If you are short on time, you can always support SkillsUSA through advertising. They have several advertising opportunities to put your business in front of high school teachers and students as well as college/postsecondary teachers and students. All of these students will need employment, and having your business promoted in SkillsUSA publications is a great way for your future technicians to find you.

While I hear a lot of discussion surrounding the need for technicians and support staff, I find it hard to understand why there are only a select few that participate in these events. It is time to face the facts: it is difficult to hire an “A” technician. There isn’t another 50 cents or more available in profit to encourage a quality technician to move. That process is no longer viable and collision repair facilities will need to hire and mold young technicians to develop sustainability. It will take two to five years to develop a technician from the high school level, but the technician will be trained your way and because of your dedication to them, their loyalty will be unmatched.

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