Ask Tim

Peyton Holland says, "It's the person who always strives to do better than their best who will excel in competition and in life." Here's how this double winner and others do it.

The national competition is several months away, but savvy competitors are getting ready for the challenge now. This is crucial, especially when you consider that every person competing in Kansas City, Mo., must first win local, state and sometimes regional contests to qualify as a national competitor.

How can you be the best in the nation? Listen to the men and women on the technical committees that set the national standards — not only for contests, but for what every new employee should know. Many of these experts also offer a hint of what’s to come, technology-wise, in the 2004 update of the contest rules.


Residential Wiring
Ken Haden, National Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee
Hands-on skills are critical to the residential electrician. It’s extremely important to be able to install electrical wiring, fittings, apparatus and devices safely, correctly, quickly and in a workmanlike manner to remain successfully employed in the residential field. Most contestants have developed those skills to an acceptable level and are able to leave the contest area having installed impressive wiring systems.

In Job Skill Demo, it takes dedication
Michelle Price, SkillsUSA’s Region 4 vice president, is a double dipper. No, that doesn’t mean she works at Baskin Robbins. Price is a two-time gold medalist in the SkillsUSA Championships.

A senior in the criminal justice program at Conroe, Texas, High School, Price earned her gold medals in the “Job Skill Demonstration A” competition. Contestants demonstrate and explain an entry-level skill in an occupational area that’s covered in another national event as well.

So, what’s her secret? “Winning is a combination of things: time and dedication,” Price says. But there’s more to it. According to Price, an important part of being a successful competitor is “knowing what you want and what it’s gonna take to get there.” The hard work and dedication are all worth it, she says. “Once you are on stage [at the awards ceremony], you won’t regret everything you put into it.”

Where we normally see deficiencies, however, is in some of the “softer” skills, like project planning and organization. There are quite a few elements and a lot of parts and pieces involved in the contest. If the contestants do not manage their time wisely, they will find that it is difficult, if not impossible, to complete all of the elements. Every year there are only a small percentage of our contestants who actually finish all of the elements and produce a functioning system.

So, it is important for the contestant to be able to quickly interpret the prints and job specifications, identify the correct parts and materials, plan the work and proceed with the actual installations. Arriving prepared with these soft skills will allow contestants to devote more effort to the productive tasks of installing and testing their completed electrical systems.

Telecommunications cabling is quickly becoming an expected “utility” in today’s homes, pre-wired with the infrastructure to support voice, data and broadband information and entertainment distribution. To help prepare residential wiring students, the national technical committee will incorporate some of these elements into the revised technical standards.

Contestants can expect to see elements requiring the installation of twisted pair and coaxial cable, connectors and terminating hardware to support these telecommunications applications. These “structured” wiring systems will be installed in compliance with the current TIA/EIA 570 standards.

Nail Care
Judy Sheils, OPI Products Inc.
Contestants are judged at many skill levels. It is important that they be well rounded in their skill and knowledge of nail application, product placement, finishing, nail art and oral interview.

The skill I found that was lacking with the contestants was their ability to express themselves verbally when questioned during the oral interview. Example questions are, “What product would you recommend to your client to take home in order to maintain their nail service?” and “How would you answer a client who claims that her artificial nails keep lifting?”

Winner takes all in Plumbing contest
Albert Rice knows what’s needed to win at nationals. This three-time Plumbing medalist has one of each medal: gold, silver and bronze.

The Fayettville, Ark., resident credits knowledge and determination. But he quickly adds a third important component: “Know the SkillsUSA handbook for the knowledge exam! If you tie with another competitor, this exam will determine the winner.”

His advice to this year’s competitors? RELAX! “Just get in a groove and do what got you there. Don’t let stress cause you to make a mistake,” says Rice, who is also national college/technical parliamentarian.

CNC Machining
Paul Koontz, Denford Inc.
What skills are most important to have in this competition? Milling and turning. This is an upper-level challenge that requires considerable math skills to manually write the CNC programs. The skill that I see lacking the most is the ability to assess the problem and approach it in a logical and systematic way. Many mistakes are made due to rushing and not being thorough.

Job Interview
Fielding Yost and Mitchell Slemp,
Mid-America Technology Center, Oklahoma

Contestants must demonstrate enthusiasm and confidence in responding to interview questions. Common mistakes include not properly filling out a job application, i.e., not including area codes with phone numbers, ZIP codes with addresses and not responding with “N/A” when appropriate.

Prepared Speech
Craig A. Haugsness, Ph.D., State Department of Education, Kansas
Most important are strong writing skills, strong speaking skills, poise and the ability to speak to all the members of an audience, not just judges. Contestants most often lack strong speaking skills and flexibility in presentation. Practice, practice, practice.

Architectural Drafting
Tom Bendorf, The Estopinal Group Inc.
The most important skills to have are problem solving and patience. We have found that everyone knows how to draw with a computer, but we challenge the contestants to see how their problem-solving skills have been honed.

Many of the contestants have not had much experience in plotting to a file. The technical committee spends much of the setup day teaching the contestants how to plot for the contest.

The contest is designed to keep up with the CAD software. In years past, the contestants have had to know how to import DXF files, how to develop interior one- or two-point perspectives, how to calculate stair sections, and how to analyze and select information from manufacturer’s catalogs. The board drafting portion is phasing out. It may or may not be a part of the 2004 contest.

Graphic Communications
Jerry Himmelberg, Banta Publications Group
Prepress and press skills are important. Contestants often lack the ability to focus and manage their time well.

Extemporaneous Speaking
James Maynard, Wicomico County, Md., Public Schools
What skills are most important? Organizational skills. Being able to relax in front of a group of people. Presenting the speech in an organized and cheerful manner. What skills are often lacking? Improper dress. Lack of knowledge of the SkillsUSA Leadership Handbook. Being able to speak in front of a group of people with confidence in what they are saying.

Opening and Closing Ceremonies
Rex Jones, Georgia
Teamwork and coordinated movements, enthusiasm, poise, posture, eye contact, attitude, pronunciation and professional appearance are among the most important skills demonstrated in this contest. Most of the teams participating in this contest have the skills that should be demonstrated. What separates the teams in competition is that degree to which the skills are demonstrated.

Eugene G. Hornberger, Arcet Equipment Co.
What’s most often lacking is that contestants and their instructors are not familiar with the SkillsUSA regulations and special instructions issued by the technical committee. They are not adequately prepared for what will happen.

Confidence counts in job interview
Some people would rather go to the dentist than a job interview. Peyton Holland isn’t one of them. For the past two years, he’s won the national Job Interview contest. Holland sums it up in two words: self confidence.

“If I didn’t show I had confidence in myself when I went into the interview, then the judges would have had no reason to put their confidence in me,” explains the senior at Northwood High School in Pittsboro, N.C.

Any event’s competitors “must always believe in themselves and in their abilities. If they have the confidence that they know they can win, then it’s just a matter of finishing the project, speech or interview.”

While we will add no new skills to the new technical standards, there are many skills in the current standards that we do not presently test but probably will in the future.

Building Maintenance
Marvin Miller, Millstream North Career Center, Ohio
It is important for students in the building maintenance field to have a higher level of knowledge of caring for a building than what a janitor may have. They will need to know how to refinish floors and extract carpets, along with being able to run all the necessary floor machines involved. Some come to nationals without the skills needed to operate floor machines safely.

Power Equipment Technology
Dave Worden, Kohler Co.
The most important skill needed is to know and understand basic theory. But more importantly, it is to apply that knowledge and not letting the fact that you are in a competition change your approach to your task at hand. Contestants seem to panic and watch how the others are doing. If you are solid in the basics and can keep your emotions in check, apply and work to your level, not the competition level! The next edition of the technical standards will see transmissions and possibly electronic fuel injection, along with more wholegoods as opposed to component parts.

Electronics Applications
Don Hatton, Hatton Enterprises
The most important skills to have are a thorough knowledge of electronic circuitry and Ohms Law, and the ability to read and follow electronic schematics and logically evaluate and troubleshoot electronic circuitry using modern test equipment and supportive software.

Contestants often are not familiar with modern test equipment or how to use test equipment to troubleshoot complex electronic equipment. Many are not able to read and understand schematics necessary to analyze and repair electronic circuitry.

The current technical standards refer people to the Consumer Electronics Association, but people interested in the Electronics Applications standards should now connect to the National Coalition for Electronics Education website for curriculum information ( The NCEE is comprised of manufacturers, servicers and educators that were involved in the drafting of the original skills standards.

American Spirit
Mary Anderson, Deming, N.M., High School
Communication and creativity are important. But often contestants have not read the technical standards for the contest. When the next edition of the standards is released, an interview and page-count requirement will be added.

Dental Assisting
Anna Long, Columbus, Ohio, Public Schools
We recommend that the instructor obtain a desk copy of the latest edition of Torres and Ehrlich’s Modern Dental Assisting. Our committee uses this as a reference. All areas of the curriculum will be represented in the competition, with yearly updates. The advisor’s support and guidance is important, especially for adhering to uniform requirements.

In dental assisting, nothing but the tooth
Two-time national medalist Tiffany Baranowski has won silver and bronze in the Dental Assisting competition. “I think to win a national medal, you have to love what you’re doing and have a passion for it,” she says.

Baranowski graduated from the dental technology program at Howard High School of Technology in Wilmington, Del., last summer. “I think I won twice because I wanted it. I wanted it with everything I had,” she adds. “I studied hard, practiced hard and gave it my all.”

Her advice is simple: Try.

“You can’t win if you don’t try. Just give it your all and if you don’t win one year, try again the next. Never give up. I didn’t.”

This is a very challenging contest, and each year the scores are improving. We notice that contestants need to work harder on tooth anatomy instrumentation, radiology, business skills and laboratory skills. In the next edition of technical standards, we will continue to add new dental materials, especially in the operative, specialty and dental laboratory areas.

Bob Schoenherr, Cisco
Important skills are listed in the objectives on the Internetworking website ( They include overall understanding of WAN and LAN technology; interpreting a work order; knowing IEEE and RFC codes; using subnets, ACL lists and router security, routing and routed protocols; and interacting with your tools. Personal communication skills and good documentation are also listed. Be on time and listen to all directions.

Contestants often lack skills in router security, subnetting, use of their own laptop, and documentation of the problem and solution. When the next edition of technical standards comes out, new skills added will be command line configuration of a Cisco switch and end-to-end network configuration and troubleshooting.

Collision Repair Technology
Darrell Andrews, State Farm
We have six segments in our competition: welding, refinishing, frame and unibody, metal finishing, estimate writing and plastic repair. Skills are needed in all or a majority of these segments to be competitive.

For welding, two areas were lacking in last year’s contestants: failure to provide the proper weld size and rushing through the welding process warping the metal.

For refinishing, it was observed that some experienced difficulty in adjusting their equipment. For frame and unibody, many of the contestants had a difficult time setting up the gauges for datum, and many did not follow the directions and placed the gauges at the wrong control points.

For estimate writing, identifying all the damage (missed items) and included and not-included operations were not considered (missed procedures).

For plastics, they had a difficult time identifying the different types of plastics. In metal finishing, contestants should clean the finishing product for final appearance and be sure to work on the area where plastic filler is used first so they do not run out of time. Overall, contestants need to listen to instructions. Aluminum welding will begin to be introduced for future contests.

Total Quality Management
Roger Coriell, Honeywell
The most required skills are the ability to work in a team environment and under pressure, problem solving, creative thinking and organizational skills.

Many students are weak in presentation skills, and some have problems with organizational skills. Overall, the students are well prepared and ready to work.

Every year something new and exciting is added to the Total Quality/Six Sigma arena. Learning and applying these new and innovative ways to work as a team and solve complex problems are always expected by the judges. End of story

Visit SkillsUSA web site

Features | Ask Tim | What's New | Spotlight | Toolbox | Image | Top of Page
Submissions | Advertisers | Credits | Issue Index

SkillsUSA Champions | Winter 2004 | Volume 38, No. 2
Copyright ©2004 SkillsUSA. All rights reserved.