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Texas High School Students Show Off Their Talent at SkillsUSA State Conference

Last week, high school students from across Texas gathered to compete at the SkillsUSA State Conference in Corpus Christi. Over 8000 regional finalists were in attendance, competing in 200 competitions, vying for scholarships, awards, recognition, and a chance to compete at the national level.

Focusing on the construction trades aspect of the event, I spent Friday at the Craft Training Center of the Coastal Bend observing Texas’s future electricians, plumbers, welders, and masons hard at work on their projects. SkillsUSA prepares students with the leadership and technical skills necessary to excel in the skilled workforce, and it was apparent that the competing craftsmen were very gifted.

“This is the best of the best that the state of Texas has in high school right now,” David Hartman, a masonry judge and construction instructor, said.

Judged primarily on quality of craftmanship and adherence to safety, many of the students make careers out of the trades they have been studying, and some even go on to compete in world competitions.

“Several of the competitors in the Spec Mix Bricklayer 500 World Championship were former competitors at Regional, State and National SkillsUSA masonry competitions. This speaks loudly for the SkillsUSA organization,” Merritt Johnson, a masonry instructor said.

Saturday, I was able to spend time at the American Bank Center observing the team works competition. Fifteen teams of four high school craftsman were each tasked with building an 8 x12 shelter in accordance with International Residential Code (IRC). In addition to IRC requirements, the shelters were built in accordance with City of Corpus Christi’s building code because they will be donated to homeless veterans in the area and must be able to withstand high winds.

In the past the team works builds have been torn apart and scrapped, but this is the first year the shelters will be put to good use. For the next several years that SkillsUSA is contracted to hold this event in Corpus Christi, more shelters will be built and donated to the area.

The rest of Saturday I explored the various student exhibits, spoke with industry professionals, and watched a “Careers in Construction” presentation. Among the exhibits were carpentry and cabinetmaking pieces and electrical wiring displays being judged “to evaluate the contestant’s mastery of entry level job skills and to recognize students for excellence and professionalism in the field.” I really enjoyed talking with the cabinetmakers and carpenters about their projects. Often Texas themed, the cabinets, tables, benches, and other pieces on display all seemed sturdy and masterfully built, featuring unique finishes and design.

The “Careers in Construction” presentation was very encouraging to those looking to enter the industry. A common theme among the speakers was that there is no one way to get involved in the industry, that construction can be a rewarding, lucrative career, and that the skills learned in pursuing a construction craft follow you through life.

“A skilled trade is a great gift that no one can take from you,” Levi Brush, a superintendent at Rogers-O’Brien, said during the presentation.

Overall, the SkillsUSA State Conference was a great experience and I highly recommend getting involved in or starting a local SkillsUSA chapter if you have an interest in pursuing the skilled trades as a career.

“It was really fun. I had a good time and a lot of people looked happy in there and were having fun. I would love to compete at the college level as well,” Johnny Torres, a competitor recently featured in Construction Citizen, said.