First let me say that the reason we come to Kansas City every year is because of the incredible organization, SkillsUSA’s National Leadership and Skills Competition. This is a student leadership organization for students enrolled in a vocational class – primarily Industrial Technology. Tom taught woodshop for 20 years then worked with the California Department of Education, first as CITEC Director, then as Consultant for 20 years. Unfortunately, for many, the word, vocational, is a career path leading to a “less than the best” career goal. What a shame, because if anyone would attend, participate, or learn about the achievements of these outstanding students their opinion would be turned 180 degrees around.
These students are learning, competing as the best from their state, and winning thousands of dollars and the ultimate recognition in their field. Diesel mechanics, aeronautics, precision machining, motorcycle repair, and over 100 other competitions are held in the amazing Bartle Hall, Kemper Arena, and the Memorial Auditorium in Kansas City.
Of course we are very opinionated about the importance of Vocational Education, but imagine what we would do without those skilled in fixing our Cummins engines, our air conditioners, making our cabinets, wiring our houses, and those affected by the recent storms, getting the electricity up and running in our houses. Yes, a college education is a nice thing, but a high paying job is pretty darn important. OK, off my soap box and on to the days we spent at SkillsUSA.
Our daughter, Jennifer, and granddaughter, Jamie, drove 2 very long days from Fresno, CA, to K.C. because Jenny is the Co-Chair for the Job Interview contest. We went to the reception for the Contest Chairs, Education Committees (we are part of that group), and Tech Committee members. The theme was baseball. The food was good. The music and ice breaking activity was fun – we had lots of soft baseballs to throw across the room while dodging balls from the other side of the room.
The next morning we met the Secondary and Post-Secondary Gold Medal winners from all the states for their check-in, orientation with Jenny and Mitchel Slemp, and where they draw for their order of judging.
Later that afternoon Jamie introduced us to McAlister's deli… darn… another favorite restaurant that not only has good sandwiches, but also has a rewards system for buying gallons of sweet tea – our downfall.
The next morning we were up by 5:30 am (can you feel our pain, Nick?) to be downtown Kansas City on the 4th floor of the Municipal Auditorium. Tom & I were one of five teams of 3 judges that judged about 20 students each for the Interview Section of the contest. Two other judges rated the Greeting and Job Application section. We were done selecting the top 20 secondary and post secondary students that would be judged again the next day by a different set of judges to determine the Gold, Silver, and Bronze Medal winners.
That night the Opening Ceremonies were held at the Kemper Stadium. This is always an uplifting, patriotic ceremony. We were welcomed by the current SkillsUSA officers and Tim Lawrence, the CEO of SkillsUSA. The keynote speaker was Jim Lentz, President and Chief Operating Officer of Toyota Motor Sales, USA. Toyota is a major sponsor as is Lowe’s and many other large corporations that recognize how critical it is to train skilled American workers. The motivational speaker was Chef Jeff Henderson, author of Cooked, a best seller about his turning his life around while incarcerated to becoming a Chef at the Bellagio in Las Vegas and star on the Food Network. It was an inspiring night for 10,000 students and us.
The next day I judged with 2 other judges and with great difficulty chose the winners.
Tom’s favorite contest and one that he designed and ran in California and even judged by both Jennifer and son, Jason, in California, is Team Works. This contest is 3 days long where 4 students, a mason, electrician, plumber, and carpenter built a project.
Later that day we went to Bartle Hall to see the last of the contests and the breakdown of the contests: air conditioners palleted, diesel trucks being moved out, copper pipe packaged, and police dummies going home.
It was a joy attending and participating in the SkillsUSA Event because of our interaction with the students. Unfortunately, it was not the best run event this year. There were many oversights that made volunteering difficult. It was so frustrating for Jennifer and that was hard too. Jenny and Jamie left on Thursday morning and drove two days back to Fresno. We were glad they were safely home but sure miss them when they are gone.
We spent a couple more days in the area and will report on our visit to Independence, MO. This area is so full of history, the jumping off point for the Santa Fe, Oregon, and California Trails, a hornet’s nest during the Civil War, and of course the home of President Harry Truman. More to come….