Talent of Lehigh Valley’s Future Workforce on Display at SkillsUSA Championships
By Nicole Radzievich Mertz on January 30, 2023
The skills and talent of the Lehigh Valley’s future workforce were on full display Jan. 26 at the SkillsUSA District 11 Championships.
Sparks flew as high school students welded metal on the competition floor at the Agri-Plex in Allentown. Other students hammered together lumber to build frames. Masons-in-training scraped mortar across bricks, quickly building up a wall. And another group labored over keyboards, vigorously writing programs for parts and producing them on a Computer Numerical Control lathe and milling machine.
“I love the adrenaline rush once the competition starts,” said Tyler Fenstermaker, a SkillsUSA competitor in the welding contest. “You got to beat the clock.”
The SkillsUSA championship drew more than 400 students competing in 59 hands-on contests. The contests tested wide-ranging skill sets such as CNC programming, diesel equipment technology, carpentry, welding, power equipment technology, motorcycle service technology and cybersecurity. The event, free to the public, allows the students to showcase the valuable skills they have learned in the classroom.
The schools participating in the event were Bethlehem Area Vocational Technical School, Career Institute of Technology, Lehigh Career and Technical Institute, Monroe Career and Technical Institute and Upper Bucks County Area Vocational Technical School.
Andy Hammer, executive director of Skills USA Council, said, at first blush, the event seems like chaos as so many students get to work at different tasks on the competition floor. On closer inspection, spectators start to see the impressive level of talent.
“Everyone is looking for quality people and talented people and this an opportunity to see what the local, future workforce has in store,” Hammer said. “These kids are ready to go. They’re excited to compete, and they’re ready to show off their skills.”
Promoting and coordinating a skilled and prepared workforce is one of the priorities of Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC), which included “Talent Strategies Development” as a key initiative in the organization’s three-year strategic plan.
“The Lehigh Valley is home to the only SkillsUSA Council in the nation. Many communities host a competition for their career and technical students on an annual basis, but what we have is different,” said Karianne Gelinas, LVEDC Vice President of Regional Partnerships and Talent Strategies. “In our SkillsUSA Council, we have a stand-alone organization that works with students day in and day out to build their employability skills, support their technical journeys, and host our regional competition. And it pays.”
Fenstermaker, a Northern Lehigh High School senior studying welding at LCTI, is already applying his skills on the job at the Blue Mountain Ski Resort and does fabricating and repair work.
“I’ve learned a lot not just about welding but about life,” Fenstermaker said.
Matt Neuman, who competed in the diesel contest, grew up fixing small engines like lawn mowers and moved up to bigger engines. He plans to go to the University of Northern Ohio to hone his skills.
“I like getting my hands dirty and solving problems under pressure,” he said.
The competitions were judged by Lehigh Valley employers. Among them was Adam Becker, a global manufacturing engineer at Victaulic. He participated in SkillsUSA in high school, saying he valued the experience and wanted to give back.
“Seeing young people who are interested in working the trades inspires me,” he said.
Sponsors of the event were Associated Builders and Contractors Eastern Pa. Chapter, Embassy Bank For the Lehigh Valley, Lehigh Valley Health Network, PPL Electric Utilities, and Star Buick GMC Cadillac.
The SkillsUSA Council has served Lehigh, Northampton, Monroe and Upper Bucks counties since 1985. Its mission is to create a world-class workforce by developing partnerships among business and schools.
The five career and technical schools and 120 local companies, trade associations and labor unions contribute financial and human resources to provide operational support to the programs and activities of the Council.
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This column, written by LVEDC President & CEO Don Cunningham, originally appeared in The Morning Call and on the newspaper’s website on Jan. 29 2023. (Click here[...]Continue to Next Page