In one room, men were welding, and just outside, a few women were building a cinder block wall.
This was not a construction site. This was Central New Mexico Community College, where once a year for several decades, students from all over the state have come to compete in SkillsUSA, a leadership and skills contest.
About 630 high school and college students participated this year. Winners at the state level will compete at a national event in Kansas City, Mo.
They also will likely walk away with job offers, organizer Sharon Gordon-Moffett said.
Gordon-Moffett, who years ago was a competitor in welding, said the contest is run by companies and individuals who essentially moonlight as recruiters.
“Perhaps at the end of the competition, they may come up to you and hand you their business card and say, ‘When you’re done, call me,’ ” she said.
For Wade Florence of Matheson Tri-Gas, judging the welding competition is just that: an opportunity to find new workers.
“There’s a major shortage (of workers) in the trade across the country,” Florence said.
He said the average age of a skilled welder is 56 to 65 years old and that attrition due to retirement has left the industry with too few employees.
Florence has been active in SkillsUSA for about 14 years, he said, and every year he sees the same thing: students getting recruited for jobs or winning scholarships to keep studying.
“The guys who are really good at it just stand out,” he said. “A lot of them will leave with job offers.”
— This article appeared on page D2 of the Albuquerque Journal