LOUISVILLE — The winners of the annual SkillsUSA Championships in Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration were announced June 28 at the awards ceremony of the SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference. The conference was held June 24-28, 2019, at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville. More than 6,400 outstanding career and technical education students joined in the excitement of hands-on competition in 103 different trade, technical, and leadership fields. The SkillsUSA Championships are competitive events showcasing the best career and technical education students in the nation. Contests begin locally and continue through the state and national levels.
In the HVAC category, high school winners were: Gold: Ran Oliver, Gloucester County Institute of Technology (N.J.); Silver: Jack Carter, Franklin Technology Center (Mo.); Bronze: Caleb Keebler, Lancaster County Career and Technology Center-Brownstown (Pa.). College/postsecondary medalists in the HVAC category were: Gold: Blaine Feeler, State Technical College of Missouri (Mo.); Silver: Owen Dougherty, Penn College of Technology (Pa.); Bronze: Alex Myers, Rowan Cabarrus Community College-Salisbury (N.C.). Gold-medal winners compete in the WorldSkills International competition, August 22-27, 2019, in Kazan, Russia.
SkillsUSA is a national organization for middle school, high school, and college students in trade, industrial, technical, and health occupations education: a partnership of students, teachers, and industry working together to ensure America has a skilled workforce. More than 345,000 students and advisors join SkillsUSA each year, organized into more than 19,000 local chapters and 52 state and territorial associations. In 2018-19, 20,962 teachers served as professional members and SkillsUSA advisors. Combining alumni membership, the total number reached annually is over 427,000.
SkillsUSA sponsors the SkillsUSA Championships annually to recognize the achievements of career and technical education students and to encourage them to strive for excellence and pride in their chosen occupations. Working against the clock and each other, the participants proved their expertise in job skills for occupations such as electronics, technical drafting, precision machining, medical assisting, and culinary arts. There were also competitions in leadership skills, such as extemporaneous speaking and conducting meetings by parliamentary procedures.
In addition to the 6,400-plus contestants, nearly 2,000 judges and contest organizers from labor and management made the national competition standout in Louisville, among the total of more than 16,000 people who gathered for the entire SkillsUSA conference. The philosophy of the Championships is to reward students for excellence, to involve industry in directly evaluating student performance, and to keep training relevant to employers’ needs.
Commitment by industry to the annual national SkillsUSA Championships is valued at more than $36 million. SkillsUSA offers local, state, and national opportunities for students to learn and practice personal, workplace, and technical skills. These three components comprise the SkillsUSA Framework, a blueprint for career readiness. Local chapters conduct a full program of work, and many students also attend a district or state conference. These national technical competitions help establish industry standards for job skill training and entry-level workers. SkillsUSA is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as a successful model of employer-driven youth development training.
HVACR WINNERS: SkillsUSA HVAC Championships winners pictured with volunteers. Front row, from left: National technical committee member Bill Roberts. High School medalists: Silver-Jack Carter, Franklin Technology Center (Mo.); Gold-Ran Oliver, Gloucester County Institute of Technology (N.J.); Bronze-Caleb Keebler, Lancaster County Career and Technology Center- Brownstown (Pa.); and national technical committee member Robert Hadley. Back row, from left: National technical committee member Joe Sutterfield; College/Postsecondary medalists: Silver-Owen Dougherty, Penn College of Technology (Pa.); Gold-Blaine Feeler, State Technical College of Missouri (Mo.); Bronze-Alex Myers, Rowan Cabarrus Community College-Salisbury (N.C.); and national technical committee member Harold Nelson.
PLUMBING WINNERS: Plumbing SkillsUSA champions pictured with volunteers. Front row, from left: Robert Hahn, technical committee member; High School Silver medalist-Jacob Brannan, Putnam Career & Technical Center (W.Va.); Gold medalist-Michael Moran, Bay Path RVT High School (Mass.); and Bronze medalist-Levi Moon, Norwich Technical High School (Conn.). Back row, from left: College/Postsecondary Gold medalist-Keith Ashby, Davis Technical College (Utah); Bronze medalist-Brent Offenberger, Rowan Cabarrus Community College-Salisbury (N.C.). Not pictured: College/Postsecondary Silver medalist-Brian Ehly, Williamson College of the Trades (Pa.).
ASSEMBLING THE PROGRAM
The heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration contest included a series of testing stations designed to assess skills identified by industry HVACR standards. Industry equipment used during the workstations portion of the contest has included ice machines, refrigerated display cases, small package HVAC units, furnaces and split-system air conditioning, heat pump units, and geothermal units.
Todd Huxford, instructor at South Central College from North Mankato, Minnesota, has been involved with the SkillsUSA HVAC team for 26 years, managing the effort for almost 10 years. Warren Lupson, retired director of education at the Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI) — a stalwart among SkillsUSA volunteers himself — credited Huxford as the actual glue that holds everything together.
“He runs this show for the HVAC competition,” Lupson said. “He gets here early and puts everything together, including the tables and brazing assemblies. Every crate you see in the back is one he opened and assembled the contents. We couldn’t do what we do here without him.”
“When SkillsUSA was in Kansas City, we had a group of four instructors that would work on the event,” Huxford said. “Since it moved to Louisville, I was the only one that travelled to attend, and I eventually got more involved helping with the setup. The program heads to Atlanta in 2021. Skills is expanding and getting so big that we are outgrowing some sites. Skills leadership believes that Atlanta will allow for room to grow.”
The HVAC portion has been steady for a number of years, according to Huxford.
“We’ve been anywhere from around 50 to 60 competitors since I’ve been involved,” he said. “This year, we have 54. What I like about SkillsUSA is it builds leadership skills and communication skills for contestants, and I am able to build partnerships. The partnerships that I’ve gotten over the years with being on the team are valuable because I get to work with these businesses who are supporting Skills with equipment and with their time as judges. Some have even donated equipment to my school’s program.
“Also, if one of my graduates wants to go anywhere in the United States, all I’ve got to do is call them and say, ‘Hey, my student wants to go to Texas,’ and they’ll help set up an interview or help me advise the student on where to apply and where not to apply,” he added. “It’s just a real good partnership with the business and industry people.”
Huxford has about 50 students that are enrolled in the program at South Central College.
“We have more jobs than we have students right now,” he said. “The market is just getting better and better. We offer two certificates, two different diplomas, and then an AAS degree.”
One challenge that Huxford has seen in secondary education is displaced workers coming to the college but sometimes running out of money before being able to complete a program.
“One of the ways that we get critiqued is our retention,” he said. “Losing adult students had started to hurt us. We discovered that many displaced workers already had the soft skills; they had been in business and industry, and what they needed were the technical skills. So we came up with what we call a foundation diploma that just trains them on our technical skills. They are in and out of our more affordable program in three semesters, and then back in the workforce. That’s good.
“The good thing with our trade is, if the economy starts to go bad, we still have to fix the equipment,” Huxford continued. “If the economy is good, we’re putting in new equipment. We are pretty level with our employment. That’s what a lot of people are looking at for a career — plus, our industry’s hourly wages have climbed tremendously. In the last couple of years, I have students graduating out of our class and starting out at $30 an hour. My students have about five employers to interview with, whereas in the past, it was a much tougher employment market. Now the students can better choose where they want to go.”
All in the Family
Bill Roberts, a volunteer from Lennox Industries of Edgerton, Missouri, brought two of his children to the SkillsUSA Championships in Louisville.
The NEWS: Do you bring your children to a lot of HVAC events?
Roberts: Yes, I like having them with me, and it gives them a chance to help out. They participated with the setup here. In the past, I’ve brought them to other events, just to give them a bit of the flavor of what’s going on in the HVAC business.
The NEWS: What do the kids think of dad in the business?
Roberts: Well, they think I’m a superhero! When they first started visiting SkillsUSA, I could see in their eyes how impressed they were with the sheer size of the event. Then you realize, “Yeah, this really is something special.”
The NEWS: What has your involvement been like with SkillsUSA?
Roberts: I’ve been judging and coaching for 21 years. I’m a technical co-chair. I share that responsibility with Harold Wilson. He and I just kind of keep everybody on the same page and make sure everybody’s got what they need, and ends up where they’re supposed to be. As you can see, there are a lot of volunteers here helping to make this happen.
The NEWS: Does the technical committee determine what kind of testing procedures are going to be valid for the competitions?
Roberts: Yes, the technical committee reviews the guidelines for the testing station events, and if they change from year to year, we have to actually change it in the book and for the judging sheets, too. We approve or disapprove of the different events and revise how we are going to judge the events.
The NEWS: What is your day job?
Roberts: I’m a technical consultant for Lennox and have been doing that for 11 years. Before that, I worked for a Carrier distributor in Kansas City for 11 years.
Numbers 119 and 101, as they were known to the judges during competition, are in regular life known as Clay Morgan from Pikeville, Kentucky, and Thomas Alexander from Sarasota, Florida. Both were contestants in the SkillsUSA national competition held at the Kentucky State Fairgrounds, June 24-28, 2019. Both won their respective state high school competitions, earning the right to compete on the national stage. Contestants who won in Louisville attend a WorldSkills International trip to Kazan, Russia, on August 22-27, 2019.
The routes Morgan and Alexander have taken into the HVAC trade have varied with the type of education curriculums available in their respective states. Numbers 119 and 101 told their stories to The NEWS while on break from competition.
The NEWS: What are you doing now?
Alexander: I graduated high school a few months ago, and I’m now working full time.
The NEWS: So you are still eligible for SkillsUSA?
Alexander: Yes, if it’s in the same calendar year that you graduate high school, you’re still eligible.
The NEWS: Have you ever competed here before?
Alexander: No, just the regional and the state, and this time, I made it all the way through.
The NEWS: First time at nationals for you?
Morgan: This is my first year in SkillsUSA in general. Actually, this is my first year in heating and cooling, and I really love the business.
The NEWS: Are you working for a company yet, or are you still in high school?
Morgan: I’m just coming out of high school, and I’m getting ready to start at Big Sandy Community Technical College. I’ve already got all my classes lined up for heating and cooling. I want to also get a job with an HVAC company and work while going to school. The instructor said if you can get a job before getting in the classroom, it will give you a head start on the classwork.
The NEWS: How long does it take to complete the HVAC program at Big Sandy?
Morgan: Two years.
The NEWS: How about your program in Florida?
Alexander: Eleven months. I actually finished two months ago. While in high school, I was on what is called the rolling program, where I could take classes at the technical college full time and complete some of my high school courses online.
The NEWS: So what got you interested in the HVAC trade?
Alexander: My dad and some friends started an HVAC business in 1986. I like the aspect of electrical components. Everything is more high-tech than it used to be.
The NEWS: What do you like best about the HVAC industry?
Alexander: I like how diverse it is. You can go residential, industrial, or commercial. You can do new construction. You can do automation. There’s just so many options; that’s what attracted me. You can even go into sales. There’s just so many opportunities within HVAC.
For more information about SkillsUSA, go to www.skillsusa.org.
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