Tracy Suit spent his Friday morning looking under car hoods and analyzing transmission components spread out on a table – and being judged every step of the way.
Suit was among 540 career technology students from around the state who converged on Central New Mexico Community College for the annual SkillsUSA Leadership & Skills Conference. They vied for state titles in their area of study and a berth in June’s national competition in Louisville, Ky.
Contestants kept CNM abuzz during the festivities: Masonry contestants stacked cinderblock; welders tested their oxy-fuel cutting, and those in the teamwork event built, wired and plumbed small structures.
Auto tech competitors had to complete 20 test stations – mostly identifying and measuring parts. Suit felt upbeat about two hours into the event.
“I think I’m doing pretty well,” he said during a short break between stations. “I’m pretty confident so far. I don’t know what the rest of the tables have to offer, but I don’t think they’ll be too bad.”
But Suit, 21, already has a good idea of what the larger automotive technology field has to offer. He will officially graduate from San Juan College in Farmington with an associate degree in May, but he has already completed a number of industry certification tests. He also already has a job at an Albuquerque Chrysler dealership making $18 an hour, with an expectation that if he sticks around five to 10 years, he’ll see his pay climb to $30 an hour. Outside a dealership, he says his earning potential could reach $50 an hour.
For those not established as well as Suit, the SkillsUSA competition could help.
Barry Mills, a CNM auto instructor, said industry representatives serve as judges, and they look for future employees.
“The judges are absolutely paying attention – (to) poise, how they present themselves, what their knowledge base is.”
CNM’s Donna Trujillo, the event’s coordinator, said 220 judges participated in the competition. Most are industry professionals. Trujillo, who has also traveled with state winners to the national competition, said judges scout the field.
“They’re looking to hire our kids. … I’ve been tapped on the shoulder (at nationals) and asked ‘Is that your girl?'” she said of a past student.
Welding competition judge Wade Florence, a Farmington sales manager for the Matheson industrial gas company, said he came to CNM with business cards from many of his clients who need employees.
“Every shop you drive by where I’m from is hiring welders,” he said.
Some former competition gold medalists like Christina Horton, who studied construction management and technology at CNM, came back to judge Friday. Others like Katelyn Schmetterer came back just to watch. She won the SkillsUSA cabinetmaking competition at the high school and post-secondary level, setting the stage for a full career. She later earned an architectural/engineering drafting technology degree at CNM and now works for HB Construction.
“My woodworking background led me to all of this,” she said.