Wisconsin SkillsUSA helps students prepare for trade and technical careers | Local Education

The challenge: Take a stack of boards and follow a plan to build a nightstand in 6½ hours.

Most of the boards were not cut to size, and joints also had to be cut, making it a challenge for high schoolers learning the woodworking trade.

It was one of more than 80 competitions at the 49th annual SkillsUSA Wisconsin State Leadership and Skills Conference at the Alliant Energy Center last week. About 1,100 students from about 110 middle and high schools across the state competed in separate divisions. A third division was made up of college students.

“I thought it was really fun to have a set of plans and a pile of wood and see how far I could get. I’ve usually got at least a couple of months to do a project at school and to only have a day to do it was a big change,” said Victoria Lenius, an East High School senior who competed in the cabinetmaking contest. “I am also not usually in such a big environment, (with everyone) building the same thing and also in a rush. It was a fun experience.”

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Like others, Lenius was not able to complete the nightstand. But the time element is just one component so it is better to follow the steps correctly rather than finish the product, said Jessa Dahmes, Wisconsin SkillsUSA state director.

Lenius plans to major in environmental engineering so woodworking may be more of a hobby for her.

For others, taking part in SkillsUSA is providing them experience and serving as a resume builder for a career. SkillsUSA is a partnership of students, teachers and industry working together to prepare middle school, high school and college/postsecondary students for careers in trade, technical and skilled service occupations.

Students who earned gold medals at state will go on to the national competition June 20-24 in Atlanta, Georgia.

Alex Malich, an eighth-grader at Waunakee Middle School, earned a gold medal in the “Job Interview” contest, which required creating a resume, filling out a job application form and then taking part in a mock interview conducted by judges.

“It’s kind of tough because you never know exactly what kind of questions they are going to ask you,” Alex said.

Team effort

Alex also was part of a team, which included fellow Waunakee eighth-graders Zachary Klauer and Simon Marx, who were gold medalists in the middle school division of the “Team Engineering Challenge.” Their adviser is technology education teacher Dave Burgard.

Team members were given $60 in fake money to buy supplies to build a crane arm that could hold up to 20 pounds of weight without bending more than two inches.

“We came up with a few different ones and we all decided they would be too weak,” Alex said. “Then we finally came up with a final design, and it managed to hold all 20 pounds.”

Cambridge High School sophomore Eli Rice and juniors Kaia Gerlich and Cody Kaashagen competed in the high school division of the Team Engineering Challenge. Their adviser is Larry Martin, technology and engineering education instructor at Cambridge. Kaashagen said the team learned the judges’ job is not to try to be nice and hold the competitors’ hands for the challenge that changes each time students compete.

“With Team Engineering, they’re trying to find the students that are the best in show, the most (adaptable) to what they’re given,” Gerlich said. “They have to be tough.”

Competitions at the 2022 SkillsUSA Wisconsin State Leadership and Skills Conference covered a wide array of skill sets. Audio/radio production, automotive service technology, barbering, crime scene investigation, electronics technology, robotics and automation and television video production are just some of the areas.

‘Almost like a job fair’

In addition to the students and their teachers, more than 300 industry volunteers were involved in the state conference.

“The entire nature of our organization is to build a quality, skilled workforce,” Dahmes said. “They come dressed in appropriate clothing for the job, they bring a resume and many contests include an interview component.”

Because employers are volunteering at the event, students can also look at it “almost like a job fair,” Dahmes said.

“They compete to showcase their professional skills, problem-solving, working on a high-pressure deadline and they get to meet new people,” said Dennis Mossholder, business and applied technology department chairman and SkillsUSA adviser at East High School.

Two Memorial High School students who went to the conference as candidates were elected by students from across the state to represent SkillsUSA Wisconsin as state officers. Ryan Forbes, at large officer, and Ryan Wenger, District 4 vice president, will travel to Atlanta in June to represent Wisconsin SkillsUSA.

Nano Espenes, technology and engineering teacher at Memorial and SkillsUSA adviser, said students are recruited from woodworking, automotive and engineering classes to take part in the school’s SkillsUSA chapter.

“This (conference) really is their opportunity to showcase that they are the best in the state or they are competing with the best in the state. … It is really their opportunity to show off and shine, and if they win, it is their opportunity to compete on a national stage,” Espenes said. “It is really an expression of the growth throughout the year and an extension of what they do in the classroom.”