Monday, 16 March 2015 17:00

MI SkillsUSA Competition Right Around the Corner, Qualifiers Head to Nationals in KY

Since its founding in 1965, SkillsUSA has provided high school and college students from across the country with the opportunity to put their array of talents to the test.

According to the SkillsUSA homepage, "More than 300,000 students and advisors join SkillsUSA annually, organized into more than 17,000 sections and 52 state and territorial associations. Combining alumni and lifetime membership, the total number impacted this year is more than 335,000."

That's 11.2 million people impacted in the last 50 years.

Students in automotive repair hone their skills into one of the two specializations: automotive collision repair and automotive refinish.

Michigan has six regional competitions; region two is divided into the east and west districts. Collision repair instructor Duane Wagner explained that there are seven schools in his region--Region 1--and 21 students competing in both the collision repair and automotive refinish. In total, 42 students compete at the regional level.

Every two years, the location for the regional competition is rotated to a different school.

Wagner teaches at Branch Area Careers Center in Coldwater, MI. Six out of 17 students from Branch Area, three in collision repair and three in automotive refinish, are selected to compete at the regional level.

Usually a total of 36 regional finalists--18 in collision repair and 18 in automotive refinish--will advance to the semi-finals at the state level.

Wagner added that several of his students have won at the state level and gone on to compete in nationals. One of his students even placed second in collision repair at the national level.

The semi-finalists are comprised of high school students and post-secondary students. Both age groups are judged together, but separate awards are given so a high school student doesn't have to compete directly with a college student.

The competitions are judged by people from businesses and the industry. Most supplies, except for waterborne paint which is provided at the state level, is donated to students from their technical schools. 3M Automotive is a continual sponsor for the state competitions.

"This event is very important because it shows people in business and the industry the skills that our youth can perform," added Wagner.

The collision repair students will mend two dents in a fender, one with plastic filler and one with a metal finish. They'll also compete in welding, under-hood measurements, and a plastic bumper repair. The automotive refinishing students will reverse spot blend and reverse spot priming. They will also compete in masking and color variance. Both groups are required to complete an ASE and Skills USA knowledge test and write an estimate, explained Wagner.

"The kids are usually stressing themselves to death during the state competitions," said collision repair instructor Bill Burnette. "I've had kids lying on the floor thinking they were going to throw up and everything else because they get so nerved up.

"I always tell my students, 'Don't worry about it, don't let the competition get to your head; it's just another day at the shop. Do what you do every day when you're at school that you do very well.'"

Burnette has been a collision repair instructor for Ypsilanti Community Schools at the Regional Career Technical Center in Ypsilanti, MI, for 23 years. The top four students at RCTC in both paint and collision will go onto regionals, and from there the qualifiers will head to states.

"Fourteen students [from RCTC] have medaled at the state level since I've been teaching," said Burnette. "Two kids have won state; one went on to finish 7th in the nation."

He added that he became an instructor "on a whim" after he was asked to replace a collision instructor who had retired, and has "fallen in love with teaching."

"The kids focus a lot on the contest as far as training," said Burnette. "They have to hone their skills more than the average high school student, which is a real advantage to having SkillsUSA. It makes these kids go above and beyond. A lot of times they'll come back after school and we'll practice bump welds, or any other skills they want to get better and better at."

The bulk of the SkillsUSA competitions for the state of Michigan will take place at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel from April 17-18. The opening session and award ceremony will be held at the DeVos Place.

"It's rewarding for us as instructors to see these kids go out and be successful," said Burnette. "A lot of our students aren't necessarily your athletes or scholars, so they haven't received a lot of recognition.

"Going through the SkillsUSA competitions and receiving praise for the things they do well really benefits their self-esteem. After the experience, all of a sudden they think, 'I can do this,' which makes them want to pursue a career in the industry even more."

The SkillsUSA National Championships will be held from June 24-June 25 in Louisville, KY.