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SkillsUSA Aims To 'Get More Young People In The Pipeline' Of Industry

This weekend, 14 teams of high school students from throughout Wisconsin will be competing in the SkillsUSA Wisconsin Carpentry TeamWorks State Competition at the State Fair Exposition Center. Four-person teams will construct a section of a home from scratch in just under 12 hours, and the finished product will include far more than just four walls.

The teams will be tested in their skills from following blueprints, wall framing, drywalling, plumbing, electrical, and more. Outside of these technical skills, students are also required to work on their professionalism and ability to work on a cohesive team.

"[This competition] really is meant to mimic what would happen on the jobsite and really to assess how the students are doing, working as a team, to complete this home section that they will be working on," explains Brent Kindred, executive director of SkillsUSA Wisconsin.

It’s an important event for students not only because they’re competing for a top ranking in their chosen trades, but also because they are taking lessons learned in the classroom and applying those to their future. SkillsUSA Wisconsin has been around for more than 40 years and the TeamWorks competition is in its fourth. 

Meanwhile, the shortage of skilled labor in the United States has reached a critical point. According to trade contractors surveyed in the latest Commercial Construction Index, 91 percent reported having a difficult or moderately difficult time finding skilled workers.

Credit Audrey Nowakowski
Brent Kindred, executive director of SkillsUSA Wisconsin (left) with Bradley Tech instructor Jeff Lemmer in the Lake Effect studio.

"[SkillsUSA] embodies everything that industry is looking for in young people, and what we're trying to do in this organization is to get more young people in the pipeline," says Kindred. "The careers that we have ... are some of the careers to the middle class, which is the American dream — to make sure that you have a family sustaining wage, you've got gainful employment and you like what you do."

Jeff Lemmer is an instructor at Bradley Tech High School in Milwaukee. He notes that while some students are reticent to pursue trade careers, once the students find the trades they're passionate about, there's an immediate difference.

"When they experience something that they really enjoy, they come back to school and they really see a purpose to what they're learning in the classroom," says Lemmer. "Through these competitions and through TeamWorks they can really practice these skills and show how far they've come and demonstrate to themselves and to the public that they're ready for the next step in their career."

Audrey Nowakowski hosts and produces Lake Effect. She joined WUWM in 2014.