NEWARK – Dozens of local students will travel to Baltimore this month to compete in the SkillsUSA Maryland State Championships.
Eighty-two students will participate in 35 contests March 24-25 as they show off their job skills to judges representing industries like masonry, advertising, computer programming, welding and web design.
“We have a good number of students competing,” said Richard Stephens, SkillsUSA advisor at Worcester Technical High School. “The kids seem to be very excited. The ultimate goal is to go to the SkillsUSA national competition in Atlanta in June.”
Stephens, who teaches welding at Worcester Technical High School, has spent years coordinating the school’s SkillsUSA program. While the pandemic temporarily transformed the annual competition into a virtual event, the state resumed its usual programming last year. While Worcester Tech’s participant level dropped in the wake of the pandemic, Stephens says numbers are climbing again and he expects the school to return to pre-COVID participation rates by next year. Students are as eager as ever to learn job skills in the careers they’re pursuing at the tech school.
Senior Janaz Crawley, who hopes to become an educator, is in the teachers academy at Worcester Tech. He heard of the success of the SkillsUSA program at the school before he ever walked through the doors and knew he wanted to be a part of it.
“I enjoy seeing my peers and other students work hard and participate in competitions they enjoy,” he said. “It can give inspiration. It can show that young students can be passionate and work hard.”
He said the program gave him confidence. He participated in the prepared speech competition last year and this year is prepping for the job interview contest. He’ll have to create a resume and go through the motions of applying for a job in Baltimore.
“I do want to go into teaching, and I’d like to get a head start on how to be successful in the interview process,” he said.
While categories like CSI and welding are always popular among Worcester Tech students, this year they’re showing off skills in some new areas, including drones and robotics urban search and rescue. The school is even working with Stephen Decatur Middle School and Pocomoke Middle School to participate in the few competitions that allow younger students.
It was one of those middle school competitions that launched senior Jessica Beck’s SkillsUSA career. Beck, who is in the pre-engineering program at Worcester Tech, is competing this year in the prepared speech contest. She is also, however, the president of SkillsUSA Maryland and will open and close the overall conference. This is the second year she has served as a state officer for the program, which she believes encompasses everything the technical high school tries to instill in students.
“Students gain a lot from the experience of competing whether they win or lose,” she said.
Aside from perfecting their job skills and competing against students from throughout the state, students in the Worcester Tech SkillsUSA program also volunteer together. In November, they helped package meals for Mountaire Farms’ Thanksgiving for Thousands program and held a food drive to support the local food pantry. In October, the students in the welding program built a bike rack for Buckingham Elementary School.
The school’s SkillsUSA students have volunteered on an individual level as well. Beck created a “Framework Friday” program to teach younger students the 17 elements of SkillsUSA. Stephens says the program not only gives the students the chance to contribute to the community and learn skills that will serve them in their careers but also provides chances to earn scholarships and recognitions within their chosen fields.
“It’s good for building them up to compete in real world trades,” he said.