Feb 2-8 is SkillsUSA week - but wait, there's more!

Tim Educator Quebec Posted   Latest  

The year was 1978 and I had just released my grip from the security of working at a Honda dealership to grab the dream of owning my own automotive shop. “Why should they make all my money, right?” Well the reality of that thought caught up with me quickly and I found myself looking for someone to help me “make all my money”.

I needed a technician, a mechanic, an apprentice, a helper or even a pulse to at least answer the phone and run for parts. All I knew was Lou, the instructor at our local Vo—Tech, and I only knew him because of the Vocational Industrial Clubs of America or better known as VICA. I would have never known of this organization if not been told years before by a mentor that I should volunteer to judge “this contest” they held every year. So, I worked the contest and the experience was eye opening. Of course, then Lou remembered me helping. 

My very first employee came from the local Vo-Tech when I hired the Oklahoma State VICA contests first-place winner! He bluffed a little on his age when we met but wound up staying with me for over 12 years and became an excellent technician. Today I feel like I benefitted early in my relationship with VICA and am now more than happy to return the favor. 

Fast forward to 2003 when I was an automotive instructor at Oklahoma State University when we get tapped to “coordinate” the OK State SkillsUSA (the artist formally known as VICA) contest on our campus. Truth be told, there is an enormous amount of work involved in hosting a SkillsUSA contest as we soon found out. If you've never attended a state level contests, this is how the Oklahoma State contest works:

  • 50+ anxious contestants arrive from area feeder high schools and career tech schools with their instructors who have been training them for this moment 
  • The host school provides 12-13 challenging and consistently repeatable electrical and mechanical stations that cover all 8 areas of ASE
  • Four contestants to each station at once / 12-13 rotations 
  • Contestants have 15 minutes to complete the tasks required by each station
    • 3 minute station reset time, 2 minute rotation time to the next station, changing ASE area each station
      • Let me do the math for you – that’s over 4 hours of competition
  • Each station requires four identical experiences for contestants at the same time
    • 4 identical cars (if available)
    • 4 identical set of tasks to perform with a specifically measured outcome
    • 4 sets of tools required (even scan tools if required)
  • Printed station instructions
  • Printed judge’s instructions
    • At least two judges per station, some require four judges
      • Scoring has to happen quickly, consistently and is best to be objective in nature, not subjective
  • And this is just one of the 12-13 stations needed 
  • Each contestant then has to rotate and mentally “change gears” from a brake station to an electrical station or whatever
  • Then READ the instructions (or not…)
    • Resume competition ........ Stay positive!

Perhaps you can see yourself helping in one of these areas? Can’t decide? Allow me to provide a direction, I recommend you volunteer to judge. Take a day off to get involved in an event that might be actually growing your next super star tech!

Every Spring at schools all across the country Automotive and Heavy Vehicle students prepare to compete in this hands-on skills contest! 

They begin competing at the local level, continue through the state level and then on to the big show, the National Leadership and Skills Contestoften referred to as SkillsUSA Nationals!! This takes place every June with the first-place winners from each state contest all travelling to compete in this event! 

Just some Press Release facts:

Through a $36 million investment from business and industry partners, this National event occupies a space equivalent to 20 football fields. (currently held at the Kentucky Exposition Center) In 2018, there were more than 6,500 contestants competing in 103 separate events.

My purpose of this article is to raise awareness of this great organization and to illustrate how we can all benefit from working together towards making this a consistently challenging event – many hands make light work! This contest is also an opportunity to make a great first impression on young people standing at the door of their future with a decision to make. We want them to know they are supported in choosing our industry!

While the overall scope of SkillsUSA is HUGE since it covers many areas of career and technical education, I want to focus on Automotive Service Technology and Heavy Vehicle Transportation. The overall benefit from SkillsUSA could be filling the manifold with better entry level technicians, so let’s look at the opportunities we have:

  • Schools
  • Start with Automotive program advisory committees! They should “advise” schools to:
    • offer better financial support to help students/contestants get to the contests
  • I have heard of state contest winners who were unable to attend the Nationals due to lack of funding. Nationals! A contest they earned the right to compete in! 
  • Advisors should encourage administration to fund or support local or state contests within their campus
  • School could host a contest, create a “want to” event
    • Even create some sort of celebration of excellence within the school for all competitors, especially the winners
  • Promote a better quality, challenging contest
  • Encourage and help set up a successful high school or post-secondary Skills Chapters

Independent Automotive Service Shops

  • Techs and shop owners can volunteer to judge a station
  • Shops could collect used automobile parts for an ID station
  • Shops could even promote it on their own social media outlets

Automobile Dealers 

  • Manufacturers can assist with loaning vehicles to contests 
  • Provide OEM Scan tools to use in contests


  • Local and state news coverage 
  • Pre-contest media coverage – could include the need for the community to get involved in the next big career opportunity! 
    • Actually, not NEW, but finally at that critical point of public awareness! 
      • The “Blue Collar Boom”! 
  • Post-contest media coverage – I recently read an article regarding how to get the most mileage out of a National win
    • From Jim Cook at Ogden HS – his student Xander Bachison placed Gold in the High School contest, GM donated a 2018 Malibu to his program!
    • Did you know GM does this?
      • This is how to support a contest! 
  • All I am asking is; can we get just a part of the “Friday Night Lights” or college football coverage….?? (It’s funny but you might be walking to the football game soon if we don't attract and train technicians!) 

I really believe in this opportunity and would like to increase awareness outside of just the participating schools.

Our industry needs to see this event for what it is – 

  • a way to give back, 
  • a way to mentor, 
  • a way to encourage young people 
  • and even as a potential recruiting tool!

Who does this contest program really benefit?

Contestant’s benefit

  • Parental support can be a positive experience
  • SkillsUSA provides a quality direction at the right time in their life
  • a reason for school 

Schools benefit

  • All competitors grow up a lot by participating
  • Instructors can show they actually care about a student’s future
  • CTE programs build relationships with industry supporters 

Industry benefits

  • Closer alliances with CTE programs
  • Actually “advising” schools about what industry needs from students
  • Building relationships with future technicians / employees
  • Creating a career path
  • Showing we care about the contestant’s future 
  • Giving back to an industry that has provided for us well

I work with ConsuLab, a company that is committed to helping teach technology and we attend or support many local & state Skills contests and are also a member of the AST (Automotive Service Technology) committee for SkillsUSA Nationals each year!

“Walking the Talk”  ConsuLab recently supported the WorldSkills contest in Kazan, Russia

  • WorldSkills happens every other year at different host countries
  • We provided our training equipment for 4 of the 8 AST stations
  • We wrote and proved out all four of the stations
  • We sent a team of 6 CLab employees to Russia for 11 days to provide station training and be there in case of technical issues with any of our stations or trainers
  • We supplied a spare trainer for each station to ensure the contest would go on if a piece of equipment failed or was damaged beyond continued use 
    • (20 trainers for 4 stations)
  • We even supplied an excessive amount of spare parts to ensure the contest went smoothly
    • ** And I have to say all of our product performed flawless through 4 days of 2 hour stations being repeated 10 times each!

“Walking the Talk” personally, after over 40 years of both volunteer and paid time spent judging contests, hosting contests, and station preparation, I am committed to supporting this contest! You just can’t imagine the caliber of young people who compete – it will totally improve your vision of the next generation! 

Anyone currently working in the transportation industry already benefits directly from SkillsUSA or SkillsCanada, so you owe it to your future to contribute towards the overall success of this contest!


Steven Instructor

We just finished our Region competition and are advancing to the Georgia State competition. I ask local business ppl to help sponsor my students fees for these trips. It is hard for some of these students and parents to come up with an extra $250. This is a great start for these kids careers.

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Tim Educator

Thank you for caring! Does your school administration know of your efforts? They should be tooting that horn!

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Steven Instructor

Local businesses are more than welcome to help donate, you just need to go ask. They know that this industry is a dying breed and they should help if they want quality motivated workers in the future.

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Rick Technical Support Specialist

I will be judging the St Louis region Skills competition at Ranken Tech this Friday February 7th. Always enjoy watching the new talent grow.

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Tim Educator

Thanks so much Rick! I would love to be there to help, we would have some fun!

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Daniel Manager

Looking forward to seeing you guys in Kentucky again this year as well!

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Tim Educator

Nationals will be here before you know it! See you there!

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James Instructor

Our high school automotive program started with VICA years ago and has been involved with SkillsUSA since then. I train students in all areas so they have the best chance to win their contests, and our advisory board is all-in to help with chaperones, judges, parts, or financial assistance. Since automotive is not just working on cars, I also train some of my students in customer service, job…

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