Published Aug. 2013
By Brian Henderson, Tri-City Area Journal of Business
Benjamin Hale went to Columbia Basin College with hopes of becoming a computer programmer, but instead, this summer his skills helped him become a gold medal champion for CNC Turning at the national Skills USA competition. Hale was one of more than 5,900 of the nation’s best career and technical education students to gather in the Show-Me-State for the competition.
“I sort of fell into this trade,” Hale said of machining. “I was finishing up my degree as a computer programmer when I found out that CBC offered a SolidWorks course.”
According to the company website, Solidworks is a 3D mechanical computer-aided design software program developed by MIT graduate on Hirschtick. SolidWorks is currently used by over 2 million engineers and designers at more than 165,000 companies worldwide.
“I signed up for it and asked Rob Walker, the head of the machining program, what else I could do to fill up the rest of my day,” Hale explained. “He suggested signing up for the first machine technology class. I did, thinking that I would only be there for one quarter, but I fell in love with the trade and have never looked back.”
Hale was one of more than a dozen students from CBC to compete at the Skills USA event this year. They were joined on the trip to the championships in Kansas City with advisors Leslie Irwin, Tanya Big Mountain, and Sean Totten. This year more than 16,000 teachers and school administrators served as professional advisors with the $34 million competition being supported by fundraising and sponsorship from more than 1,100 business, industry and labor organizations through financial aid and in-kind contributions.
“This year there were 98 different competitions,” said Hale. “The competition hall I was in (the largest one), had everything from diesel rigs and cars, to air conditioning units all waiting to be repaired and automated manufacturing machines.”
According to the SkillsUSA organization, more than 300,000 students and advisors join annually from 52 state and territorial associations. Combining alumni and lifetime membership, the organization has served more than 11.2 million members since its founding in 1965.
Along with Hale, Rachel Guettner won a bronze medal in medical terminology; Ryan Walker won a silver medal in diesel equipment; and together Jarrett Wyman, Emily Lemos and Brian True won the bronze as the CBC welding team for welding fabrication.
CBC held several fundraising events in order to finance the students’ trip to Missouri throughout the year with car wash and detailing, plus selling Krispy Kreme donuts.
“My competition spanned two days,” Hale said. “The first day we had about five hours of orientation followed by a three-hour competition where we had a blueprint handed to us and we needed to manually program the part on a simulator.”
Once the judges determine whether the student’s designed part is safe to run, only then does machining take place.
“One of the best parts of the competition came just after I was finished with the second day,” Hale recalled. “I met up with my adviser and she let me know that my part was the only part that they had run. I can tell you I had a bit of a thrill run through me at that point.”
Skills like machining are in high demand with a measurable gap in open positions and workers able to fill them and, according to SkillsUSA, more 600,000 of those positions are currently going unfilled. More than 10 million new skilled workers are needed to be trained before 2020.
Not a bad time to be winning a gold medal at a national skills competition. Hale is hoping potential employers will recognize his gold medal shows a high level of focus and dedication that many companies are looking for.
“I absolutely plan on pursuing a career in manufacturing,” Hale said.
According to the National Association of Manufacturers and the Manufacturing Institute, 90 percent of manufacturers responding to a poll regarding their current workforce indicated a moderate to severe shortage of qualified skilled production workers; 65 percent of respondents, and 74 percent of respondents with more than 500 employees, reported a moderate to severe shortage of scientists and engineers.
Hale is thankful for his chance to compete on a national stage.
“I hope more students and companies get involved in SkillsUSA,” Hale said. “It was a very beneficial experience from start to finish.”
The SkillsUSA organization describes itself as a partnership of students, teachers and industry representatives “working together to ensure America has a skilled workforce.” For more information about the competition, or how to become a sponsor, visit http://www.skillsusa.org/index.shtml.
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