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Conference puts young workforce skills on display

Another opportunity to address future workforce needs comes to Madison with the 45th SkillsUSA State Leadership and Skills Conference.

By now, we might all be tired of hearing about and dealing with the shortage of skilled workers and the difficulty Wisconsin employers have in finding qualified employees, but there are plenty of things being done about it outside of the executive suite.

Case in point is the 45th annual SkillsUSA State Conference, which is expected to draw roughly 1,600 middle and high school students to the Alliant Energy Center on Tuesday, April 24 and Wednesday, April 25. Designed to help build and maintain a skilled workforce for Wisconsin, the conference includes skills competitions that give the workers of the future a chance to strut their stuff

The conference also draws teachers and industry representatives from throughout the state, and a number of employers have booths as they try to establish relationships with and recruit young workers.

Brent Kindred, executive director of the nonprofit Wisconsin SkillsUSA, explains why employers would find value in the conference. “Employers need to see tomorrow’s workforce in action today and support these students,” Kindred states. “Attending will allow employers to meet students in skilled and technical trades career pathways to start to establish relationships with these students. 

“It is very difficult to explain a conference with 1,700 middle and high school competitors in almost 80 competitions — you truly have to see it for yourself,” he adds.

No kidding around

SkillsUSA serves high school and college students who are preparing for careers in trade, technical, and skilled-service occupations.

During the conference, competitions (including team contests) will be conducted for a wide range of skill sets, including the new category of computer programming. Architectural drafting/CAD, automotive service technology, the culinary arts, robotics and automation, and welding also are among the dozens of competitive areas in which students will put their skills to the test.

Two Oregon High School students, junior Carson Keisling and senior David Craig, will attend the conference to demonstrate what robots can do. They have built a robot named “Scootor” and will participate in urban search and rescue, a robotics competition where they remotely direct "the bot" through an obstacle course where it has to pick up different objects.

They hope to make an impression on the employers in attendance by controlling Scootor from a separate room. Scootor's operating system is micro controller that must be programed with a certain set of codes so that people can remotely control the robot with a wireless signal.

Both students are interested in making robotics part of their future careers, but first Carson will study industrial technology management at the University of Wisconsin–Platteville and David plans to attend Madison College to study electrical engineering and take part in an engineering focused transfer program to UW–Platteville.

“I want to go into industrial manufacturing technology,” Keisling notes, “and it’s a job field where a lot of companies are starting to implement robotics into their product design and the manufacturing of products. I’ve toured a couple of businesses that have implemented automation into their manufacturing of goods, and I feel like in future years it will become more popular.”

Their widespread adoption is more likely if the labor shortage continues, and while Craig will study electrical engineering, his career interests are similar to Keisling’s. “I’m going into electrical engineering, but if I could have robotics be part of my future job, I’d definitely go for that because I’ve been involved in robotics for close to two years now,” he says. “I feel like I’m relatively experienced in it and I like doing it.”

The conference will begin with an opening ceremony scheduled for 1 p.m. on April 24, during which time Wisconsin State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers, a candidate for governor, is scheduled to speak.

Competitions will commence on April 25 at 7 a.m. and conclude at 3 p.m., and an award ceremony will be held at 6 p.m.

Admission to the SkillsUSA Wisconsin State Leadership and Skills Conference is free and open to the public.

For more information on the SkillsUSA Wisconsin State Leadership and Skills Conference, visit or call (608) 266-2683.

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