Students compete in Skills USA event | From the Sarasota Herald Tribune

Published: Thursday, February 25, 2016 at 5:01 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, February 25, 2016 at 5:01 p.m.



A list of winners for the state Region 6 SkillsUSA competition, which was Thursday at Manatee Technical College, will be posted on the school’s website at Winners advance to the state conference from April 24 to 27 in Lakeland. The national competition will be the third week of June in Louisville, Kentucky.

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Working anonymously, with only an assigned number signaling their identity and school affiliation, more than 500 students competed in 50 categories, showing off their job skills under the watchful and critical eyes of industry judges.Much was at stake for students at the state Region 6 SkillsUSA competition Thursday at Manatee Technical College. Winners received accolades, prizes, an opportunity to advance to the state contest in April and a possible edge when the time comes to find a job.

At a far wing of the school on State Road 70, auto body repair students taped off a car to prepare it for a paint job. Simultaneously, culinary students deboned chickens before cooking them, budding cosmetologists styled hair on mannequins, and appliance repair trainees diagnosed problems in a refrigerator, range, microwave, washer, dryer and dishwasher. Health care-related competitions were at the Lakewood Ranch campus.

Other students, including Bayshore High School junior Makayla Belville, who delivered a speech with a “Champions at Work” theme, showcased their leadership abilities.

“I’m pretty proud of my performance,” said Belville, who is trying to repeat her trips to state and national competitions last year.

In addition to Bayshore and MTC, other participating schools from Manatee, Sarasota, Charlotte, Collier and Lee counties were Suncoast Technical College, Cape Coral Technical College, Fort Myers Technical College, Lorenzo Walker Institute of Technology, Charlotte Technical Center, DJB Technical Academy and Southeast High School.

Belville’s teachers at Bayshore, SkillsUSA advisers Mary Ann Kauffman and Charles Heister, brought 10 other students to the competition to test their skills at customer service, Quiz Bowl, electronics, screenprinting, and urban search and rescue.

“They all are very capable of going to state,” Heister said.

Reaching the pinnacle can give a student an edge over other job-seekers.

“When a student competes in SkillsUSA, they are testing their knowledge, skills and ability against the best from other schools, the state and nation,” said Maura Howl, grants and public relations specialist at MTC. “When they win a competition, they know they’re dang good.”

Area industries support the vocational schools’ efforts to participate in SkillsUSA, which enhances students’ employability.

Junior Alvarado, a Tampa-based service operations manager for DeWalt, brought hand tools to give away as prizes to the first- through third-place winners in the HVAC, plumbing, cabinetry and electrical categories.

“SkillsUSA is a challenge for the institution to take part in it,” said Paddy McCarthy, who started the Appliance Repair program at MTC 10 years ago. “The reward is that the learning curve for the students is off the scale.”

He said the students are excited to compete, so they study harder because they don’t want to fail at the competitions. That makes his job easier. For seven or eight years, he said, his students have won medals, including two gold medals, at the national level.

“We have a tradition of winning medals here,” said McCarthy, who is retiring today, one day after seeing his students compete at regionals.

In his room, all of volunteer judges work in the appliance industry. Some were former students who returned to do the evaluations.

The state coordinator, Mike Basich, volunteers his time to SkillsUSA in addition to running Michaelson’s Appliance Repair in Tampa. He bemoaned the push to try to send all students to college.

“In my industry, mostly any technical industry, there’s a lack of good qualified people,” he said.

That’s a shame, he said, because skilled technicians earn a good wage. He pays his employees $45,000 to $75,000 a year in addition to providing a match for a 401K.

“We’re always looking for skilled technicians, and the only place they’re coming out of is trade schools,” Basich said.

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