LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The SkillsUSA Championships were held June 22-23 at the Kentucky Exposition Center. Contests began locally in communities across the nation and continued through state competitions before the best of the best, approximately 6,000 career and technical education students, arrived to compete in 100 different trade, technical, and leadership fields. The multi-million-dollar event occupies space equivalent to 19 football fields and is run with the help of industry, trade, and labor organizations.

The backdrop for the contests was the 52nd SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference, where more than 15,000 people, including students, teachers, and business partners participated in the weeklong event.

Among the 100 contests held during the championships were heating, ventilation, air conditioning, refrigeration, plumbing, and sheet metal. Though some preliminary conference meetings began as early as Saturday, June 18, students first gathered on Tuesday evening for the formal opening ceremony.

The HVACR contestants also met in the contest area on Wednesday for a safety meeting and two-hour brazing seminar. All contestants were required to attend the training prior to the beginning of their competition on Wednesday and Thursday.

The HVACR contest includes a series of testing stations designed to assess skills identified by HVACR industry standards. Industry equipment used during the work stations portion of the contest may include but is not limited to ice machines, refrigerated display cases, small package HVAC units, furnaces, split-system air conditioners, and/or heat pumps and geothermal units.

Approximately 75 contestants competed in the high school and secondary education categories for the HVACR competitions. Winners in the high school category included: Gold — Joshua Haley, Spotsylvania Career & Technical Center, Spotsylvania, Virginia; Silver — Nathan Zabrecky, Nelson County Area Technology Center, Bardstown, Kentucky; and Bronze — Hoyt Brown, Albert P. Brewer High School, Somerville, Alabama.

Winners in the college category included: Gold — Ryan Gallagher, Ferris State University, Big Rapids, Michigan; Silver — Peyton Sutton, Wiregrass Georgia Tech College, Valdosta, Georgia; and Bronze — Randy Schunk, Saint Cloud Technical and Community College, Saint Cloud, Minnesota.

In related trades, the plumbing contestants roughed-in hot and cold water lines with copper tubing and roughed-in sanitary drainage, waste, and vent lines with cast iron and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic for a water closet, lavatory, washer box, and floor drain. Water pipes are pressure-tested on completed projects. Professional plumbers and pipefitters judged the contestants on the basis of accuracy, workmanship, proper selection and use of tools and supplies, and proper safety procedures.

The sheet metal contestants are tested on their ability to perform such jobs as connecting sheet metal pieces with drive cleats, spot welding, and riveting. Skills tested may include, but are not limited to, straight duct, transition fitting, and 45-degree entry tap fitting. Professional sheet metal workers judge contestants on the use of hand tools, correctness of layout, and shop safety procedures. Contestants are judged on accuracy, completeness, and craftsmanship.


Jeff Underwood, HVAC instructor at Guilford Technical Community College in Greensboro, North Carolina, made the transition from the field to the classroom.

“I’ve been in HVAC about 12 years. I’ve served as a service manager in the past and had the opportunity to move into teaching full time and took advantage of it,” he said.

The GTCC program typically graduates between 18 and 21 students annually. Attrition is always an expected part of the education process. Some students leave early to seek employment, and some drop out of the program for other reasons.

“We have about 45 students that start in the program each semester, so we have about 90 total in the program any given year,” he said. “Compared to about five years ago, we still have the same number of people coming into the program, but our attrition rate was a lot more in the past. Many tended to leave the program early. I believe the industry is pushing for graduation credentials when they are hiring more so now than they had in the past, which is keeping people in the program longer.”

Guilford Technical sent 11 participants to Louisville to compete in various categories. Regarding HVAC, Underwood said: “This is our first time we’ve been back here since 2005. Sergio Cruz is the North Carolina representative in the post-secondary category.”


SkillsUSA programs include local, state, and national competitions in which students demonstrate occupational and leadership skills. The high school and some post-secondary SkillsUSA champions have an opportunity to advance to the international competition. At the annual national-level SkillsUSA Championships, more than 6,000 students compete in 100 occupational and leadership skill areas.

“SkillsUSA state champions attend the nationals, and post-secondary winners can move on to the international competition providing they are under the age of 23, as there is an age restriction at the international competition.”

Lionel Guillory Jr.’s father was an HVAC and refrigeration instructor at South Central Louisiana Technical College (SCL) in Morgan City, Louisiana, for 28 years. Guillory Jr. now serves as an instructor at the location. “I got into teaching after a gentleman took over for my father. That man then became dean of the school, and the position came open. I figured my dad made a good living, and I could do it, too,” he said.

Kobe Champine, a SCL student, is the reigning Louisiana SkillsUSA state champion. He finished first among contestants after the six-hour testing event.

“The contest was close, and I only won by one point,” said Champine. “I have been working in HVAC for more than a year, as I just graduated high school, and I’m still in the SCL HVAC program. My dad did a little work in HVAC, and he convinced me to try it out.”

It appears many contestants had some family or friend influences that caused them to cast their lots with the HVACR trade rather than somewhere else. Cruz, the Guilford contestant, worked five years with an uncle before deciding to pursue his formal education at the school. He is not waiting for graduation to pursue employment; he is currently interviewing with Brady Trane Services for a position at the Greensboro location.

Nick Massaro, the New Jersey state champion finalist, began as an HVAC helper at age 15. “A guy was working at my house, and I was hanging around asking him a bunch of questions. He finally sent me out to his truck to get him a tool, and eventually offered me a job.”

In the category of it’s a small world, Massaro’s instructor, Guy Letrick of Monmouth County Vocational in Freehold, New Jersey, was The NEWS’ 2006 Best Instructor Award winner.


SkillsUSA is a partnership of students, teachers, and industry representatives working together to ensure America has a skilled workforce. It serves high school and college students who are preparing for careers in technical, skilled, and service occupations. SkillsUSA was formerly known as VICA (the Vocational Industrial Clubs of America).

In 2016, more than 18,000 teachers and school administrators served as professional SkillsUSA members and advisors. More than 600 business, industry, and labor sponsors actively support the organization at the national level through financial aid, in-kind contributions, and involvement of their people in SkillsUSA activities.

SkillsUSA programs also help to establish industry standards for job skill training in the lab and classroom and promote community service. SkillsUSA is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and is cited as a “successful model of an employer-driven youth-development training program” by the U.S. Department of Labor.

Among the many organizations involved in the 2016 event in Louisville as representatives from Lennox Intl. Inc., Carrier Corp., Gustave A. Larson Co., and Emerson Climate Technologies Inc. served as judges.

Eric Kaiser, field service representative for an Indianapolis division of Gustave Larson Co., came to SkillsUSA to serve as a first-time judge through his RSES affiliation. He said he’d like to see better promotion of the HVACR employment opportunities for students and enjoys the opportunity to provide some level of help to the SkillsUSA program.

North American Technician Excellence (NATE) was also exhibiting during the championship event and administered HVACR written tests prior to the technical contest. Valerie Briggs, director marketing and business development at NATE, said, “This is an opportunity for us to not only show our support of the development of our future workforce but also to promote the importance of NATE certification among technicians.”

For more information about the SkillsUSA contest and the Skills Leadership program, visit www.skillsusa.org.

Publication date: 8/1/2016

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