A week before the National Skills USA competition, MCHS senior, Bradaigh O’Brien, got the call that he was in the competition. He had one week to prepare to compete in Louisville, Kentucky. The school year had ended, O’Brien looked forward to his graduation party, and his Autos II teacher, Mr. Long left for a vacation. “Bradaigh’s a wonderful student; a really good kid,” said Mr. Long. “He’s so talented in so many different directions. He’ll have a hard time choosing what he wants to specialize in.” Mr. Long went on to say that when he needs welding done, he gives the job to O’Brien.

Skills USA is a national organization that supports building trade skills by partnering with teachers, industry experts, and students. Mike Rowe, host of Discovery Channel’s “Dirty Jobs” is the Skills USA spokesperson. According to the website, by 2020 there will be 10 million unfilled skills jobs waiting to be filled. By 2024 that number will grow to 16 million. There’s a skill-gap in America, and Skills USA hopes to help fill that gap. Says Rowe, “Skills don’t get celebrated the way college degrees do.”

Skills USA focuses on three main categories of development: personal (for example integrity and work ethic;) technical skills grounded in academics; and workplace skills (like leadership and management.) The skills competition begins with a written test. Fifty qualifiers compete at the State level. The top scorer advances to the National Competition. If the top scorer does not go to Nationals, the second place at the State level qualifies to advance. Bradaigh missed 1st place by a half a point. The Illinois State winner, from Johnsburg took the apprenticeship that John Deere offered, precluding him from attending the National Competition. That’s when Mr. Schirmer, O’Brien’s shop teacher stepped into the picture to coach him through the competition where he placed 15th out of all the State qualifies.

Skills USA competitions involve over 100 different trade-skills: cosmetology, HVAC repair, Practical Nursing, Commercial Banking, Robotics, Culinary Science, Welding, Crime Scene Investigation, and Firefighting are among the varied categories.

O’Brien competed in Diesel Equipment Technology. In Auto Mechanics II, under skilled guidance, a team of six students learn, among other things, how to maintain the school busses. According to O’Brien, Skills USA competition included Precision measurement, electrical, diagnostic, transmission technology, chassis, and a job interview. When asked what he considered a standard interview question, what has been your greatest achievement, O’Brien replied, “Our team of six, did a wheel pull in five minutes, which broke the record of 8 minutes 3 seconds. That involves lifting the buss, taking the wheels off, taking the hardware and brakes off the front and back axels.” He concedes that his size and strength helped cut minutes off the chore, “Most have to use a cart. I just pulled it off the spindle.”

O’Brien is quick to give genetics, growing up around mechanics, and great teachers as contributing factors to his success. “My father is a mechanic and my step-father is always working on cars,” he said. “I’ve always liked building things.” Mr. Schirmer explained that some of the school’s program involves on-line learning. “They can teach themselves, while the instructors verify the students understand what they learn.” He went on to explain that what there is to learn keeps changing. “We must give students an arsenal of workplace skills, so they can continue to succeed.” Because of his success at Skills USA, Wyotech offered O’Brien a scholarship. His focus at Wyotech will six monts of core Diesel Repair, and 3 months each of the specialties, Chassis Fabrication and Applied Service Management. He hopes to eventually open his own business as a field technician. His advice to other kids with similar interest is “Don’t take the other classes for granted. Math, science, and English are subjects that help open doors.”

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