Neal Foster

Neal Foster says if you’re willing to put in the work, you can accomplish anything you want. After his first attempt in 2013, Foster’s work led to a college/postsecondary gold in Automotive Service Technology at the SkillsUSA Championships.

In 2009, Foster earned a bachelor’s degree in forestry at the University of Vermont. Unable to find work in the field that would allow him to remain in his home state, he applied and is still employed as a service technician at Cody Chevrolet-Cadillac in Montpelier.

“I started out as a quick-lube guy. I was changing oil. I was taking out the trash. I was cleaning up around the shop — doing that stuff,” Foster recalls. “I didn’t really like it, because I would’ve rather been working on cars. [But] you’ve got to do something to get your foot in the door.”

To better prepare for his new career, Foster enrolled at Lakes Region Community College in Laconia, N.H. Later, he followed in the footsteps of teacher
Jamie Decato, who earned a silver medal at the 1996 SkillsUSA nationals.

Neal Foster and Jamie Decato

Neal Foster (right) brought home a gold medal and, as an automotive training tool for instructor Jamie Decato, a new Chevrolet Corvette from General Motors.

Foster’s advice for competitors? “Read the instructions” — something he says technical committees keep repeating. And, be sure to pay attention during the contest orientation. Before his event, Foster learned it would involve using a Snap-on scanner. “I wasn’t familiar with this piece of equipment, so I went to the Snap-on booth at SkillsUSA TECHSPO. The Snap-on rep invited me to try out the scanner.

“Don’t get too stressed out,” he also advises. “Stay calm. Take advantage of all opportunities to connect. Have fun, smile, laugh and talk to the judges.”

Foster adds that competitors should try to learn from every person they see. Students need to ask questions and take advantage of their teachers’ years of experience. “Keep asking questions until you have the level of knowledge to teach [that task] to someone else.”