New Jersey SkillsUSA are contests held across the state to enable ambitious career-focused high school students to showcase their technical skills. They are also a win for employers who recognize the unique opportunity to connect with the top future talent for their industries.
SkillsUSA is a national organization that helps young people hone their personal, workplace and technical skills through local, statewide and national competitions and leadership activities that promote career readiness and success. The top winners of more than 110 New Jersey competitions will compete nationally in Atlanta this summer.
“SkillsUSA is all about supporting students, teachers and industry by bringing them all together,” said SkillsUSA State Director Meg Andrews. She noted about 40 different companies and organizations help as state-level sponsors and judges.
For example, Mercedes-Benz USA helps operate one of many stations competitors move through to demonstrate specific skills in the statewide automotive service technology competition. Additionally, Mercedes-Benz helps organize the winners’ prize packages. This year, gold medal winner Bradin Vinciguerra, from Gloucester County Institute of Technology, took home a package worth about $45,000 in tools and scholarships.
Prizes were contributed by Mercedes-Benz and other contest sponsors: Ford Motor Co., Hunter Engineering, Megatech, NYADI the College of Transportation & Technology, Ohio Technical College, Snap-On Industrial, Subaru of America, Toyota Motor Sales, Universal Technical Institute and Volvo.
Andrews said participation from industry partners helps bring a high level of professionalism to each contest, and students — known for their polished appearance in sharp red blazers — rise to those expectations.
“No matter how much I explain the contests and show pictures, there is a disconnect until someone actually comes and sees Skills for themselves,” said Andrews. “Employers often attend once and are hooked. They want to come back; they want to do more; they ask how they can help make it even better next year. They just want to get involved, because they see the value.”
Andrews recalled getting a phone call from a regional manager for Central Jersey Equipment asking how he can find skilled technicians. She invited him to attend this year’s marine service technology contest, held at the Atlantic City Boat Show. Yamaha served as the main contest sponsor, and that manager from Central Jersey Equipment showed up with his own haul of tools for competitors. He also presented a job offer to gold medal winner Aiden Carpenito, also from GCIT, who is only a sophomore at the county vocational-technical school.
Andrews said at that particular contest, she had additional people track her down, asking, “Where do I find the workers?” She said they were in the right place, as SkillsUSA contests are not only ideal places for employers and students to make connections, but also a way for employers and career and technical education teachers to develop working relationships.
“Everybody wins here,” she said.
The Northeast Carpenters Apprenticeship Training Fund has been involved with New Jersey SkillsUSA for decades and recently began hosting a cluster of construction contests in its new Edison training center. Rob Smith, supervisor of instruction, said the contests show students that their high school career programs and SkillsUSA can lead to a registered apprenticeship. The Northeast Carpenters Apprenticeship Training Fund guides about 1,200 apprentices in cabinetry, carpentry, floor laying and many other trades. “What we are doing with our apprentices is relevant to the needs of the labor world; it is important to involve career and technical education programs that are also providing relevant training,” Smith said.
Every student who enters a SkillsUSA competition must be enrolled in a trade program, with many participants hailing from one of New Jersey’s 21 county vocational-technical schools. Yet, students are not confined to competitions in their specific trades. A cluster of contests also tests students’ leadership qualities.
“Students who participate in SkillsUSA want to be the best they can be in their programs,” said Daniel Roskiewich, teacher of welding at GCIT. “They accept the challenges that Skills presents to them. Personal, workplace and technical skills — all needed for success — are the hallmark of the SkillsUSA program.”
Andrews said some of the leadership contests are more difficult to pair with employer sponsors, and there is always room for additional involvement from businesses of all sizes and professionals in every industry.
“These contests help kids figure out their passion and if their passion is more than just a hobby,” said Andrews. “If so, they can follow along the path they are on. Hopefully, that involves making a few connections at Skills that lead to employment. That is a win for them and a win for so many employers looking for qualified workers.”
Employers looking to connect at the local level with one of New Jersey’s county vocational-technical schools can visit careertechnj.org/become-an-employer-partner/.
Those looking to assist with New Jersey SkillsUSA competitions can contact Meg Andrews at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 732-232-7848.
This series on education and industry is presented by the New Jersey Council of County Vocational-Technical Schools.