Nevada Union High School automotive students will test skills at state competition
Nine students from Nevada County will head to San Diego next week for a statewide competition that will put their hands-on automotive skills to the test.
The competition will be held April 9-12, and is hosted by the state chapter of SkillsUSA, a national organization of students, teachers and industry leaders working together to develop and train a skilled workforce.
The state competition will feature more than 1,900 students competing in 138 skills contests in areas like automotive service technology, culinary arts, dentistry and welding.
Nevada County’s delegates are all students enrolled in an automotive services or automotive technology class through the 49er Regional Occupational Program, an initiative of the California Department of Education to provide career training to high school students in Placer and Nevada counties.
Both classes are taught at Nevada Union High School, but are open to high school students throughout the county; the students competing next week attend Nevada Union and North Point Academy.
The students will compete in two teams of four, with one other student competing as an individual.
A strong showing at the SkillsUSA regional competition held in February at Sacramento’s American River College — the two teams finished in first and second place, and the individual student earned a gold medal in his competition — qualified the group for the state conference.
“It feels really cool,” said Theo Baker, 16, who was on the team that took first place at the regional competition. “It was a surprise to us, but once we found out, we were excited. We can’t wait to get down there, compete and go for gold.”
At the state competition, the students will face a series of tasks that even an experienced auto shop mechanic might find formidable. They’ll be asked to diagnose brake problems, predict and measure electrical voltages, assess heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems and more during a series of written and practical tests.
But ask the students what the biggest challenge of the competition will be, and they won’t point to a specific test.
“The biggest challenge is working together and being professional,” said Chris Bouchard, 16, adding that the teams get docked points if they fool around, argue, drop equipment or don’t follow proper safety procedures while completing a task.
Quinn Anderson, 15, said his team members all hold each other accountable and rely on each other’s knowledge.
“It’s good to have all four of us,” Anderson said. “We work together really well as a team. One of us might know something else that the others don’t.”
The two teams of four will be competing against each other at the conference, but they said they embrace the friendly rivalry.
“We’re great friends and we love each other,” Bouchard said.
Caleb Potts, 16, interjected.
“But when it comes down to the competition, we’re enemies,” he joked.
Most of the students enrolled in the ROP classes at Nevada Union said they enjoy being in an environment where they can learn by doing.
“When you get real world applications, you’re going to be more interested and more into it, you’re going to want to learn it,” Bouchard said.
George Woodward, who teaches both ROP classes and will advise the students in the SkillsUSA competition, said he designs his classes to mimic real life as much as possible, putting an emphasis on teamwork to get students used to interacting with each other in a professional environment.
“One of the biggest things they learn in my class is how to work productively,” Woodward said. “I want them to be able to go into the workforce and be able to get along.”
Woodward — who owned his own auto shop for 17 years in the Modesto area before selling the business four years ago to move to Nevada County to teach — focuses on making sure students master the technical skills they need to be career-ready.
So if a student fails a skills-based test in his class, they simply try it again — much like a mechanic at a repair shop would keep working on a car until it’s fixed properly.
“If you make a mistake, it’s OK,” Woodward said. “But you’re gonna do it until you make it right.”
Nearly all of the students said they’ve applied the skills they’ve learned in class in their daily lives, performing oil changes, brake checks and minor repairs on their own cars or those of family and friends.
So while they’re aiming for a strong finish at the state competition, they’re most excited that they can continue to hone skills they actually see themselves using in the future.
“It’s cool to know that I could go out and apply at a shop this summer, and I actually have a chance at getting a job,” said Anderson.
To contact Staff Writer Emily Lavin, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4230.
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