At my age the mind starts to play tricks; I can’t really remember how long I have been attending the annual SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference that takes place each summer in Kansas City, Mo. I think it’s been at least 10 years writing on the event, of which six or seven found me doing double duty, also serving as a judge during the HVACR competition, one of 87 vocational events.

As always, I stick to judging in the refrigeration sector and rely on James Knutson of Scotsman Ice Systems to brief me completely on what he is looking for during that aspect of the contest. I, and the couple of other judges helping Jim, also shadow him for the first couple of contestants so we are all on the same page in scoring.

For the betterment of the industry, I always promise not to even try to do any judging in the segments dealing with air handling, air conditioning, or furnaces. (We refrigeration folks know our place in the industry.)

I have written a story on the event that appeared in the July 30NEWS, but I’d also like to offer a few personal observations.


There were 52 contestants in the 2007 HVACR competition. (There were 4,800 contestants in the 87 competitions.) The HVACR numbers have been consistent for as long as I can remember, which is good. These are students in high school and post-secondary programs who have advanced through local, state, and regional competitions sponsored by SkillsUSA, which once upon a time was known as VICA (Vocational Industrial Club of America).

They are tested in nine different aspects of HVACR, designed to show the students’ strengths and weaknesses. In fact, students are able to later go online and see their scores for each of the judging areas.

In the ice machine/refrigeration sector, we noted that generally, students who have worked on ice machines did very well; those who had some exposure to refrigeration did fairly well; and those who had neither, did not do well at all. It points out that some educational institutions may need to step up the teaching of refrigeration, but a number of judges also encouraged more attention to the understanding of electrical systems that can be applied to all aspects of HVACR.

Teaching facilities usually face budget challenges, struggles securing the latest equipment, and the need to teach about an increasingly complex industry - but refrigeration and electricity need more focus if at all possible.


The main story on this event included a fairly long list of members of the Technical Committee and the National Education Team involved in HVACR. These folks come from the manufacturing, educational, and trade association sectors. Then there is a long list of additional support from manufacturers and associations. In many cases, the support comes in the form of prizes, equipment supplied for the competition, etc.

But a big part is the sheer number of individuals who come out to set up equipment and serve as judges. Most come from manufacturers, some from trade associations, and one from the trade press. In the debriefing session that follows the competition, representatives of each of the testing areas talk about how the judging was done, and described what they were looking for. At this point contestants could ask questions - talk about getting first-hand knowledge from those who know what they are talking about!

If these industry reps are anything like me, they are on straight salary with a desk back at the office overloaded with urgent items. But we take the time to travel, sometimes long distances, and stay several days. In one respect, they are showing support for the young people coming into the industry that we so desperately need. I would hope those 52 young people appreciate this, and realize that such support (ongoing training and troubleshooting help) is available from manufacturers and associations for as long as they are in the industry.

Finally, even though there are close to 300,000 young people involved in SkillsUSA, there is room for more. The SkillsUSA Website ( has information. It might be a good idea to check it out, or even join yourself, to see how you can help get the young people we want in our industry involved in our industry.

Publication date:08/06/2007