CHICAGO — For the first time in the history of the International Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigerating Exposition (AHR Expo), SkillsUSA Vocational Industrial Clubs of America (VICA) will hold its HVACR competition to determine the student who will represent the United States at the 2003 World Skills Competition (WSC) in St. Gallen, Switzerland.

This year’s event, which will be held at McCormick Place in Chicago, will be conducted from Jan. 27-29, and is being sponsored by a number of manufacturers and industry organizations. The SkillsUSA event will not only determine the student who will go on to the international competition, but will give local HVAC students and AHR participants the opportunity to expand their hands-on learning and test their troubleshooting skills.

The SkillsUSA competition tests the troubleshooting skills of vocational students.

The SkillsUSA Event

SkillsUSA is a vocational student organization with more than 13,000 chapters across North America. The organization serves high school and college students, and provides them with educational opportunities to prepare for a variety of vocational careers in the service industry, including HVACR.

The organization also holds competitions at the local, state, and national level to test the skills of the students. Students who win their state competitions go on to compete in the national SkillsUSA championship competition, which is held each year in Kansas City, Mo.

Every two years, SkillsUSA holds its international competition for students all over the world.

Four students with high scores from the 2001 and 2002 national championships will get together in Chicago to decide who will represent the U.S. in the World Skills Competition.

This year’s students include Craig Dort (Springfield, Mo.), Tom Hollifield (Muskogee, Okla.), Nicholas Keziah (Mooresville, N.C.), and Nicholas Petrushonis (Shelton, Conn.).

Industry and manufacturer support has been the backbone of SkillsUSA and its competitions. This year is no exception. A number of trade organizations are sponsoring the event at McCormick Place, including manufacturers who are supplying the equipment for the skills competition.

Emerson Climate Technologies, Carrier/ICP, Lennox, Rheem, Maytag, and Scotsman are participating in the actual contest, while several other manufacturers and industry organizations are sponsoring SkillsUSA in other capacities.

For the event, competitors will be required to test their skills at six stations. Each station will have a piece of equipment supplied by the manufacturers. These will include a packaged refrigeration system, a central air conditioning unit, ice machine, large residential refrigerator, heat pump, and gas furnace. All six pieces of equipment have some kind of mechanical or electrical problem, which the student must diagnose. The students are not required to fix the problem, but find out the cause of the malfunction. They also are being judged on how they diagnose the system, not how quickly it is done. Time will only be considered a factor if there is a tie among the competitors.

After correctly troubleshooting one piece of equipment, the student will move on to the next station to begin diagnosing the next system.

On Jan. 28, a day after the competition, the judges will interview each participant. According to Sherri Wilkerson, training manager for Emerson Climate Technologies, the interview process will allow the judges to “make sure they have the right person for the job.”

Wilkerson has been coordinating the event along with Bob Mikell at Carrier. She said that the competition lets up-and-coming technicians show their stuff. It also allows the industry to support and develop these young technicians early in their career.

“Not only does the event give SkillsUSA recognition, but it gives recognition to all the organizations who have stood behind students and SkillsUSA,” said Wilkerson.

Commitment To Education

SkillsUSA has had the support of manufacturers and industry associations for years. This support not only contributes to the development of the students, it helps to secure a rich future for the HVACR industry.

Tom Bettcher is the CEO of Copeland and a business leader for Emerson Climate Technologies. He is also the chairman of the Air-Conditioning & Refrigeration Institute (ARI). In both capacities, Bettcher has seen the level of support that both manufacturers and associations contribute to SkillsUSA.

“It’s exciting to be part of this first-of-its-kind event, and encouraging to see so many manufacturers and industry organizations backing SkillsUSA/VICA,” said Bettcher. “With more companies involved, students will be challenged on a wider array of equipment and expand their knowledge of different HVAC and refrigeration applications.”

Bettcher also realizes that this involvement not only benefits the students, but provides great benefits to manufacturers.

“We recognize that an educated technician can reduce warranty failures. This not only translates to savings for the manufacturer, it also ensures a higher level of satisfaction for homeowners and other end-users of our products,” said Bettcher. “A knowledgeable technician is also more likely to get the job done right the first time, saving time and money for the consumer, the contractor owner, and the industry as a whole.”

Bettcher said that Emerson and other manufacturers participate in Skills/USA in order to attract more young people to the industry and encourage them to stay.

For ARI, SkillsUSA is only one of many educational and recruitment initiatives that the organization takes part in. ARI has formed a Career Education Coalition (CEC), which develops material that introduces students and other career seekers to the industry. ARI is also responsible for developing the Industry Competency Exam (ICE), which is administered by schools to test basic entry-level competency. ICE is also used by SkillsUSA/VICA to test student competitors.

ARI, which co-sponsors the AHR Expo, helps get vocational schools and students to participate in the event. According to Leslie Sandler, director of education for ARI, close to 2,000 students will be coming to the AHR Expo to learn more about the industry.

She said that several other students from across the country will have the opportunity to participate in training through SkillsUSA. After the four SkillsUSA winners compete in the contest, manufacturer representatives will take time to educate students with specified training of their equipment.

“Manufacturers associated with the event will deliver brief but knowledge-packed training sessions on a range of topics, giving students the chance to interact one-on-one with industry experts, ask questions, and learn about a variety of equipment,” said Bettcher.

Six separate schools have scheduled times to participate in the specialized training and will bring a total of 89 students.

“The activities will also be extended to expo participants, giving them the opportunity to test their own troubleshooting skills throughout the last two days of the show,” said Bettcher. “We invite everyone to stop by and take the skills challenge.”

He also said those who participate will be eligible to win a raffle drawing, featuring prizes donated by the manufacturers and organizations supporting the SkillsUSA competition.

“Training and education is such a vital part of our long-term growth, it only makes sense to highlight this skills competition in conjunction with the industry’s biggest trade show of the year,” said Bettcher. “HVACR manufacturers and organizations want the students to know that they play a key role in our industry’s future.”

For more information on SkillsUSA/VICA, go to

Publication date: 01/20/2003