Meet Judge Powell

August 3, 2000
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The old “Laugh-In” TV show included a silly sketch with what became a catch phrase of that era: “Here come ’da judge!”

I’d now like to offer an update: “I’d be the judge!” Yes, a couple of months ago, I served as a judge in the VICA Skills USA Championship in Kansas City, MO.

Several thousand of the country’s top young people in the trades come to that city each year for a national competition. They are chosen from more than 245,000 high schoolers, college students, and professional members involved in training programs in technical, skilled, and service occupations.

There are competitions in culinary arts, carpentry, aerospace maintenance, auto mechanics, hair styling, and on and on.

In that mix were some 60 contestants in hvacr. Eight stations were set up in one section of a huge convention center in downtown Kansas City. Competitors did hands-on work in such areas as airflow, recovery, brazing, air conditioning, and compressor troubleshooting.

I was asked to assist in the judging at the ice machine station. A couple other judges and I were under the supervision of Scotsman’s Les Tatum, who explained to us before the start of the competition that we were to watch students track down an electrical problem and then demonstrate proper superheat evaluation procedures.

Then started a parade of 60 contestants. They were only told that the “owner” of the ice machine said it wasn’t working right and that the problem was electrical related.

The competitors fell into three types. One type opened the panel to view the wiring and immediately recognized the problem. Another type used the wiring schematic to carefully and methodically track down the problem. And the third type could not diagnose the problem.

Those that corrected the wiring problem and got the machine up and running, for the most part correctly figured out how to determine the superheat.

Some thoughts:

  • Those that almost instantly saw the wiring problem have the ability to see the big picture in one fell swoop. It’s a unique art, one almost as much of instinct as good training. Flat-rate pricing contractors would kill to have such quick diagnoses of a problem.

  • Those who worked their way through the schematic and came up with the solution, demonstrated that they knew how to read wiring diagrams and had the patience to stick with a problem until it is solved. They make good service techs both because they did their homework in school in learning to read diagrams, and because their patience pays off with the successful solution to a problem.

  • Those who didn’t figure out the problem mainly had problems reading schematics. They can use the Skills USA experience as a guideline for where additional studies should be focused.


Good show

Skills USA is a showcase for the trades, displaying them in a most favorable light in a festive atmosphere. The competition can be viewed by the public and exhibitors have a section on the show floor to tout their wares and pass out goodies.

The competition has an Olympic feel with gold, silver, and bronze metals awarded in a glitzy closing ceremony.

It is a chance for young people in the trades to bask in a bit of glory and learn a bit more about what it takes to be an even better professional.

And it gave us judges a chance to see firsthand what kind of servicing skills are being taught and how well they are being learned.

The only tough part of the Kansas City experience for us hvacr types is that our demonstration area was next to the cooking competition area, where would-be chefs spent all day baking cakes, pies, and pastries.

We were not allowed to sample. That may be the toughest challenge anybody in hvacr has ever faced.

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