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Focus on the Work Force: Student Journey: From SkillsUSA to WorldSkills

 Gearhart, Eric

By Eric V. Gearhart, Director
Research, Analysis & Foundation Relations
Leesburg, VA
Web site:  


Skodzinsky, Bob 
y Bob Skodzinsky
Manager-Americas, HTEC Network
Haas Technical Education Center Network
Sarasota, FL
Web site: 


Every year, more than 300,000 kids in the US are involved in student competitions of all shapes and sizes, validating a variety of skills, knowledge and expertise. The Society of Manufacturing Engineers supports a number of these programs, but in 2011, SME had the great privilege to support the SkillsUSA Championships in Kansas City, MO, featuring 94 different trade, technical, and leadership competitions for SkillsUSA members. Secondary and post-secondary students compete in three categories directly relevant to manufacturing in the championships: CNC Milling, CNC Turning and Precision Machining Technology.

SME—as a sponsor with the National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS), Haas Automation Inc. and Sandvik Coromant—helped provide funding for the national competition activities for students, advisors and judges, as well as recognition for the top place winners.

Imagine a 19,000 seat convention center full of 16-to 24-year-olds jumping up and down, waving their arms, clapping and cheering. Are they attending a rock concert, maybe a football or basketball game? No, these kids are celebrating the successful completion of their year-long quest to be named the best in the country in one of the 94 competitions.

The Awards Ceremony for SkillsUSA’s National Leadership and Skills Conference runs like a national political convention, with each state’s delegation sitting together with their state flags and symbols highly visible. It is the last event of the Conference and begins with 12,000 students, educators and business volunteers reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, recognizing the previous years’ student leaders and announcing the next year’s leadership team. Once the baton has been passed, the top place winners of the contests are announced and invited on stage to receive their medals to much screaming and cheering.

SME supports SkillsUSA because its partnership of students, teachers and industry work together to ensure America has a well-prepared, technically-skilled workforce. Its mission is to empower its members to become world-class workers, leaders and responsible American citizens.

SkillsUSA serves more than 300,000 students and instructors every year through 17,000 member classrooms in 54 state and territorial associations. It helps teach the necessary soft skills, life skills and applied technical skills needed by industry. The organization provides programmatic infrastructure but the students themselves organize and conduct most of a chapter’s activities, giving members plenty of real world experience and cultivating many qualities that are needed for their future success: team building, goal setting, self-motivation, self-discipline, persistence, customer relations and ethics. It develops the students’ professionalism before they become paid professionals.

The categories in the annual competition relevant to our industry include:

  • 3-D Visualization and Animation
  • Automated Manufacturing Technology
  • CNC Milling
  • CNC Turning
  • Engineering Technology
  • Industrial Motor Control
  • Mechatronics
  • Mobile Robotics Technology
  • Precision Machining Technology
  • Principles of Technology
  • Robotics and Automation Technology
  • Sheet Metal
  • Technical Drafting
  • Welding
  • Welding Fabrication


In addition, many students studying manufacturing-related curricula compete in Leadership Development contests like Customer Service, Extemporaneous Speaking, Community Service or Job Interview.Student Tester

SME supports SkillsUSA with three highly regarded industry leaders, the National Institute of Metalworking Skills (NIMS), Haas Automation Inc. and Sandvik, as well as 948 affiliated Haas Technical Education Centers (HTEC). Long-time supporters of excellence in advanced manufacturing education, NIMS, Haas, Sandvik and HTEC work together to build a pipeline of students interested in manufacturing, and then provide the training, standards and industry certifications needed by the students to be immediately valuable to employers.

As the only ANSI-accredited developer of precision manufacturing skill standards and competency assessments in the US, NIMS coordinates the three SkillsUSA machining technology contests at SkillsUSA Championships. The CNC Milling and CNC Turning contests assess a number of crucial production skills, including CNC programming, machining, reading drawings, precision measurement and performing related mathematical calculations. Also tested are the abilities to complete all aspects of machine setups and produce a part on a CNC mill or lathe that meet national industry standards. The Precision Machining competition focuses on proficiencies such as basic machining, manual machining, CNC programming, engineering drawing interpretations, technical math, and using precision measuring and hand tools.  

Haas Automation Inc., and related HTECs support the competitions by donating the use of 36 CNC control simulators, TL-1 Toolroom Lathe, and a TM-1P Toolroom Mill for use in the competition. Haas also provides support personnel.

Congratulations to the following national medal winners, resulting in the following state breakouts for the 18 winners:

  • Three winners each from Michigan, Massachusetts, Indiana;
  • Two winners each from Alabama, Minnesota;
  • One each from Georgia, Ohio, Florida, Washington, Illinois



For most of the 2011 competitors, the national Championships are the high point of their competitions; but not for all. With the help of its business and industry partners, SkillsUSA sponsored a 17-student SkillsUSA WorldTeam, the largest such team in 23 years, and sent three young men to compete in the CNC Milling, CNC Turning and Welding categories against top students from 50 other countries at the biennial WorldSkills Competition this past October.

For most of the 2011 competitors, the national Championships are the high point of their competitions; but not for all. With the help of its business and industry partners, SkillsUSA sponsored a 17-student SkillsUSA WorldTeam, the largest such team in 23 years, and sent three young men to compete in the CNC Milling, CNC Turning and Welding categories against top students from 50 other countries at the biennial WorldSkills Competition this past October.

Skills competition at this level requires a tremendous amount of commitment, concentration and practice by the student with significant adult mentoring. Considered the "best of the best," these contestants compete for four days in the ExCeL center in London in contests that are managed and judged by international industry experts using demanding international standards.

Considering the Germans, Swiss and Japanese are part of the WORLD SKILLS competition and that all teams except the US’s are highly subsidized by the governments, there is no need to mention how intense the atmosphere is during this event and how skilled the participants are.

Bradley Clink (Welding), Maxwell Hershey (CNC Turning) and Joseph King (CNC Milling) competed to their very best abilities, and we are very proud of their individual and collective accomplishments. Bradley Clink received a Silver Medal for Welding and joined all the countries’ highest scoring students on stage to receive a gold medal for Best of Nation. Congratulations to all 17 US students but especially the three men in the advanced manufacturing categories who are all going on to additional post-secondary education. 



So what’s in store for 2012 SkillsUSA Championships, being held once again in Kansas City?

NIMS, Haas, Sandvik and SME began planning for the 2012 competitions as soon as 2011 was finalized. Our four organizations are building on SkillsUSA’s strategic plan to make 2012 another record-breaking year. Local, district, and regional competitions are kicking into high gear throughout the winter and spring. Judges are being recruited even as you are reading this, so if you have an interest in working to promote the manufacturing industry and can lend your technical expertise—find more information on the SkillsUSA website at

Over the next six months, thousands of gold, silver and bronze medals will be presented to SkillsUSA champions in every state. These students need industry support and mentoring in order to reach the high goals they have set for themselves and to prepare for careers in our industry.

For NIMS, Haas, Sandvik and SME, we are elevating our plans as well by working together more closely to support the students and advisors. Additional financial resources are being solicited from interested parties in the hopes of improving the technical tools and equipment included in the reward packages for the winners. World Skills USA


2012 Competition Calendar

As an industry professional, what can you do to help? SkillsUSA needs both financial and in-kind donations. We all understand the financial side, but here are some of the ways to provide in-kind support to a local, district, state or national SkillsUSA contest:

  • Provide experts to serve on the technical committee that designs and manages the contest
  • Provide judges on the day of the contest
  • Provide by loan or donation equipment with which to conduct the contest
  • Donate prizes to place winners (both high school and post-secondary divisions)
  • Provide a venue (space) to conduct the contest

Manufacturing is critically important to the success of the United States. Only by working together and utilizing a systemic approach will we be able to develop, train and retain a technically skilled workforce. Decide what you are prepared to do to help, then find an avenue to engage with and get involved. You won’t be sorry. ME 



This article was first published in the March 2012 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. Click here for PDF.   


Published Date : 3/1/2012

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