Zooming in on the Virtual 2021 SkillsUSA Cabinetmaking Championships

The technical chair of the AWI SkillsUSA Committee discusses the challenges and ultimate satisfaction of pulling off this year’s national competition remotely.


The annual SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference is the most anticipated event for students of high school and postsecondary career and technical education programs across the nation. Loaded with pageantry and energy, the nearly week-long event is often likened to the Olympics of CTE, with Gold, Silver, and Bronze medals being awarded to the top finishers.

In normal times, SkillsUSA occupies a space equivalent to 31 football fields. In 2019, the national championships fielded more than 6,500 contestants in 106 separate events, including one devoted to cabinetmaking.

Max Soares, the winner of the 2021 SkillsUSA Cabinetmaking competition, is flanked by his high school advisor Joseph Arruda, left, and Mike McNulty, 2019 AWI president, who served as his proctor.

But these are not normal times. Even though the coronavirus pandemic is now largely on the wane in the United States, a decision was made many months before to hold this year’s competition as a virtual event rather than at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta as had been planned during the week of June 14.

As disappointing as that decision might seem, it’s not nearly as bad as the one that had to be made last year when the fast-spreading virus caused SkillsUSA to be canceled altogether.

Cheers to the Winners
Six students, three each in the separate high school and college competitions were honored in this year’s SkillsUSA Cabinetmaking Championships.\

High school student winners included:

  • Gold: Max Soares, Greater New Bedford RVTHS, New Bedford, MA
  • Silver: Hayden Clarke, College Station High School, College Station, TX
  • Bronze: Cole Murray, Green River High School, Green River, WY

College student winners included:

  • Gold: Christopher Midgley, Indian Capital Technology Center-Sallisaw, Sallisaw, OK
  • Silver: Chris Todd, Wayne State College, Wayne, NE
  • Bronze: Ryan Faust, Saint Paul College, Saint Paul, MN

AWI Takes the Lead on Cabinetmaking Championships
The cabinetmaking competition was organized by the Architectural Woodwork Institute’s SkillsUSA Committee, chaired by Kristine Cox of Rowland Woodworking. Kent Gilchrist, treasurer of the Woodwork Career Alliance and chair of the AWI Education Foundation, serves as SkillsUSA cabinetmaking technical chair.

Gilchrist carved out some time to answer questions about this year’s most unique SkillsUSA Cabinetmaking Championships.

Rich Christianson: I assume staging this year’s SkillsUSA Cabinetmaking competition virtually wasn’t easy. What were some of the key challenges you had to overcome?

Kent Gilchrist: This was a lot more work. We’ve spent years perfecting our live competition and we had to do this one from scratch.

The first challenge was crowning the individual state champions to compete in the national competition. Most states ran virtual competitions, but some actually met in person because they didn’t have restrictions. Then there were other states that did not allow any equipment to be used. For example, in North Carolina, they could have a competition but they couldn’t use any equipment.

Christianson: Did the patchwork quilt of state rules negatively impact the number of students who competed in nationals?

Gilchrist: Yes, unfortunately, they did. Typically, we have 65 to 70 competitors. This year we only had 26 competitors. This includes five who registered from postsecondary and 21 from secondary schools. I believe we had one scratch at each level.

Christianson: So, even with far less than half the qualifying competitors, as usual, you pushed forward. What were the basic mechanics of conducting the high school and college cabinetmaking championships virtually?

Gilchrist: Each of the students completed a technical assessment, which we borrowed from the WCA. We used the WCA’s Green credential assessment consisting of 40 multiple choice questions to test their woodworking knowledge. We also had them create a cut list from a past SkillsUSA national cabinetmaking competition project. This is something they would normally do at an in-person competition.

In addition to these two components, they had to take a professional development test which is mandatory by SkillsUSA and they had to turn in a resume. Finally. we had what we called the “build project.” On their specified build day, they competed from their own classroom in front of a stationary camera. Each of the student competitors was joined by their advisor, usually their woodworking instructor, and a proctor.

This wooden tea box, the build project for the 2021 SkillsUSA cabinetmaking competition, proved more challenging than expected for many of the contestants.

Christianson: I get the advisors being present. What more can you tell me about the proctors? What was their job?

Gilchrist: One of the jobs of the proctors was to use a roving camera to take different angles of the student working on his or her project as requested by the judges.

Here’s the fun part. The first challenge we had was finding proctors. We went through our AWI network and industry connections. We reached out to as many people as we could in a short period of time because we didn’t know who the competitors were until three to four weeks before the national competition. Once we figured out who each competitor was and where they were located, we tried to establish where we could get a proctor in that location.

Our goal was to have industry-related proctors at each of our sites. But we probably ended up being able to pull only about 60 percent from the industry. They were a mix of supplier members, AWI members, and wood products manufacturing members. Some were retired members of AWI who stepped up to help.

Christianson: If the main job of the proctor was to operate the roving camera, why was it desirable to find people with industry experience?

Gilchrist: A couple of reasons. One, the proctor was someone who was also kind of keeping tabs on the honesty level of what was going on there. We needed to find someone to observe the student working who was not biased in any way. The other reason that we wanted to have proctors there from industry was so that we could introduce the industry to the schools. When SkillsUSA first announced they wanted to do this virtually, we saw it as an opportunity to build relationships between industry and education. It actually worked out well. We had some proctors who had an epiphany that we actually have schools with high-quality woodworking programs that are well-equipped.

In cases where we could not find a proctor, the school’s advisor found a trustworthy assistant to serve as a proctor.

Christianson: Which online platform was used for the competition? How did it work out?

Gilchrist: This was all done by Zoom and it overall worked out great.

On the Monday of the competition week, we held a two-hour-long orientation. We gave the competitors the scope of the contest and briefly showed them the project plans of the tea box that they were going to build. We also discussed the different aspects of the competition.

We broke the project build days into three groups, Eastern time zone, Central time zone, and Mountain and Pacific time zones. Each day we sent out a specific link to the schools that were competing that day. We probably had 30 hours of Zoom calls over four days, including the orientation and the three competition days. The competitors had six hours to build their project.

During the competition, we would communicate either through voice or through chat with the students, proctors, and advisors. For example, we would instruct them to adjust their camera or to zoom their camera in on the project or task. We could also signal the competitor to ask a question and they could ask us a question as well.

I think using Zoom for the competition turned out better than we had expected. It had its challenges, but I think the schools were used to the formats having used them. They had already been doing this for a year for remote learning during the pandemic so to have another event run through Zoom was not really that much of a transition for them.

Christianson: In normal times, when the national competition is held live in a host city like Louisville in 2019, each of the contestants uses the same equipment and materials. Obviously, that was not the case this year. I guess the upside is that students ran equipment they were used to working with but on the other hand some of them might have had newer or better equipment. Did this put some of the competitors at a disadvantage?

Gilchrist: That and the six-hour time limit were important factors that we considered when we developed the plans for this year’s build project. We knew the project had to be fairly simple, at least as far as the tools they were going to use because we did not know what kind of equipment each contestant had in their classroom. Their primary equipment included a table saw, a miter saw, and a few little hand tools, such as a block plane, a sanding block, and then either a pin nailer or some finished nails. We kept the project simple because we did not know what kind of equipment each contestant had in their classroom.

Interestingly, when we previewed the project during the orientation Zoom call, I could see this look of surprise on many of the competitors and their advisors. I believe they thought this was a very simple project. Many were probably thinking, “Wow, that’s all that there is? We’re just going to build a box.”

Much to their surprise, the project offered some interesting challenges they may not have considered. The box was a hexagon and if they cut the top or bottom wrong, the project was wrong. If they didn’t get their miters just right, then it was absolutely wrong. We gave them the dimensions and told them the parts were 30-degree angles. But we didn’t tell them they had to bisect the angles. There were some mistakes with either a wrong size part or angles cut on the wrong side of the line. There were some under-sized boxes, which is typical. Mistakes happen when a contestant is nervous during a competition. We see that at nationals all of the time.

Ryan Faust, a student at St. Paul College, won the bronze medal in the post-secondary SkillsUSA Cabinetmaking Championship.

Christianson: How were the judges able to accurately gauge if a part’s tolerance was off by just a fraction of an inch?

Gilchrist: That was another role of the proctor. At the end of the competition, the proctor’s job was to give us six photographs of different views based on guidelines and sample pictures we gave them. They would just match those pictures and give us the same image with the student’s project.

Christianson: It’s a bummer that the students didn’t get the normal SkillsUSA national championships experience. They didn’t have the opportunity to travel and represent their state or to meet their fellow competitors. Yet, considering the competition was entirely canceled last year, how do you feel about what was accomplished this year?

Gilchrist: I think it was the right choice to do it virtually and I think the students who competed were satisfied with what they were able to do. Even though it wasn’t in-person, the students were still able to take a lot away from it.

It was interesting watching the awards ceremony on Zoom. All of the medalists were encouraged to have watch parties with their families and friends. It was great to hear people cheer when each of their names was called. That was exciting. I knew all of that work was worthwhile.

Young Cabinetmaker Savors WorldSkills Experience

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Ethan Harrison calls representing the United States in the international competition a ‘once in a lifetime opportunity.’ 


“Very, very intense.” That’s how Ethan Harrison described competing in the WorldSkills Cabinetmaking competition held last October in Kazan, Russia.

“Every second you had to be doing something and thinking ahead to the next things that had to be done,” said Harrison, who represented the United States in the three-day event. “We were basically given half of the time that you would need to complete the project. It was a challenge for everyone to face the additional obstacles and pressures that were created by the time crunch.”

Harrison placed 27th among the 30 WorldSkills competitors, but came within a handful of points of moving up several rankings. “I know I could have done better, but looking around (during the competition) I could see that everyone made plenty of mistakes,” Harrison said. “It just depended on where you made them and how everything else went to impact your score.”

“I think coming into the competition that we were a little blindsided by the time constraints,” said Jeff Molzahn, an instructor of Madison College, who helped Harrison prepare for WorldSkills. “Both of us expected to put out a quality finished product but it was not possible in the allotted time.”

Molzahn witnessed the impact of contestants’ putting speed before accuracy in serving as an evaluator for the WorldSkills Competition. “When I saw all of the projects standing side by side, I was really kind of dismayed by the fact that they lacked quality. All I saw was a bunch of projects that had a lot of flaws. Whoever got the least number of flaws would get the most points and win.”

“Jeff did a great job of training me but neither one of us knew what to expect at WorldSkills,” Harrison said. “The competition required you to do multiple parts at once and then turn them in on a timetable. Because I had not trained for that and was not aware of it, I was at a huge disadvantage to many of the competitors who either had competed in other world-wide events or had experts who had experience in those competitions.”

Adding to the time-induced stress, Molzahn said, were the “tight quarters” assigned to each of the 30 competitors. “They were really packed in there, probably a 10-foot by 12-foot space to work on their project.”

Molzahn said the project was a free-standing, two-door cabinet with one drawer and a sketch face veneer top. The unit was about 36 inches tall, 24 inches wide and 18 inches deep. In addition to producing the sketch face, some of the other skills the contestants had to demonstrate included hand-cutting dovetails for the drawer, crafting mortise-and-tenon legs and rails, edgebanding panels, constructing panel frames and installing door hinges.

Training for WorldSkills the WCA Way
A graduate of Blackfoot High School in Blackfoot, ID, Harrison qualified for WorldSkills by winning a one-on-one competition at SkillsUSA 2018 in Louisville, KY. The year before, he won the Silver medal at the SkillsUSA nationals.

To prepare for the WorldSkills stage, Harrison spent eight months training in Madison, WI, often interacting with students enrolled in Madison College’s Cabinetmaking & Millwork program. He also worked on three different yet similar test projects, all small furniture pieces. A significantly modified version of what Molzahn referred to as the “Ireland project,” was used at WorldSkills.

In retrospect, Molzahn said he probably was not strict enough about setting time limits Harrison to complete the test projects. “What happens at the competition is that they have less than 24 hours over three days to build these cabinets that would take a cabinetmaker 60 hours or more to put out a quality product. They are really rushing these kids. I didn’t fully understand that until I got there and saw what was going on.

“I trained Ethan as a cabinetmaker,” Molzahn continued. “He learned knowledge that we can take with him for the rest of his life. If I had just trained him as a competitor – made him build each test project three, four or five times – he might have done better in the competition, but that’s about it.”

“I think the biggest advantage of training at Madison College was being able to use all of the machinery there, especially the shaper which was the primary tool that we used in Russia,” Harrison said. “The panel saw was another key tool used heavily in the competition. By and large, having so much time to work with the machinery helped me gain the skills I needed so that I felt comfortable walking up to a machine and just go.”

As part of his training, Molzahn, who is an assessed skill evaluator for the Woodwork Career Alliance of North America, introduced Harrison to the WCA’s Passport credentialing program. Harrison earned his Blue credential plus tool points toward the Green credential, the second level of the WCA’s five-level credentialing system.

Harrison said he benefitted from being evaluated on a wide range of the Woodworking Skills developed by the WCA to earn tool points for his credentials. “It was a way for me to test my skills including the core things you should be thinking about every time you walk into a shop or turn on a machine. Now, with the Passport, I’ll have something to show to a shop owner that I have these skills when it comes time to look for a job.”

Ethan Harris and his woodworking advisor Jeff Molzahn at WorldSkills in Kazan, Russia.

A Bright Future
Harrison went home to Blackfoot for a couple of months before heading to Lima, Peru, on a two-year mission for the Church of Latter-day Saints. After he completes his mission, he plans to enroll in Pittsburg State University’s Architectural Millwork and Manufacturing Technology program. “My goal is to work in an architectural woodworking shop, hopefully in project management or shop management,” Harrison said.

Molzahn is confident that Harrison will have a successful career. “His hand skills are just out of this world. He’s a hard worker, works well within a group and showed during his time in Madison that he is capable of grasping an incredible amount of technical information.”

“I’m so grateful to all of the people who have helped me from my high school shop teacher to Jeff and all of the other mentors I’ve had in life and woodworking,” Harrison said.

“Participating in WorldSkills was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I have no regrets. I did my best. I moved 1,500 miles from home and trained as hard as I could and with all of the resources I had. In the process I learned a lot about life and a lot about building cabinets. I look back on it positively, even my ranking. It was still an honor to stand alongside 30 of the best young cabinetmakers in the world.”

An Olympic-like Atmosphere

Ethan Harrison, the U.S. representative in the 2019 WorldSkills Cabinetmaking competition held in Kazan, Russia, said the ceremonies of the event reminded him of the Olympics.

“There was an entire soccer stadium filled with people and fireworks going off as each country was introduced and walked up to the stage,” Harrison said. “That was probably the biggest moment for each of us, the pride and honor of representing our country and waving our flag.”

Jeff Molzahn, instructor of Madison College, also likened the pageantry of WorldSkills to the Olympics. “Russia invested a lot of money into the event and they were just wonderful hosts,” Molzahn said. “To me it felt like what I see on TV when I watch the Olympics. The opening and closing ceremonies were sensational. They even had President Vladimir Putin there to give a speech for the closing.”

A total of 1,354 young professionals representing 63 countries competed in 56 skill competitions. In addition to cabinetmaking, the event included contests in 3D digital game art, floristry, cloud computing, CNC milling, mobile robotics. baking, hair dressing, freight forwarding to name a few.

First held in 1950 in Madrid, Spain, WorldSkills aims to “raise the profile and recognition of skilled people and show how important skills are in achieving economic growth and personal success.” The 46th WorldSkills competition will take place in Shanghai, China, in 2021.

Learn more at

Championing Woodworking Skills & Careers

The co-owner of Rowland Woodworking shares her passion for SkillsUSA and the Woodwork Career Alliance.

Kristine Cox, co-owner of Rowland Woodworking of High Point, NC, is not one to sit on the sidelines. Though helping her husband Jeff run an architectural woodworking company is demanding, she still manages to make time to champion industry causes through her involvement with the Architectural Woodwork Institute and the Woodwork Career Alliance of North America. She has served on the board of directors, including stints as president, for both AWI national and the Carolinas Chapter of AWI. After completing her term as president of AWI in 2017, Cox became a board member of the WCA.

Through her participation with AWI and now WCA, Cox remains actively involved with the annual SkillsUSA Cabinetmaking competition on both the state and national levels. For more than a decade she has helped coordinate the annual North Carolina contest for high school students, the winner of which represents the Tar Heel state in the national SkillsUSA competition. She also chairs the AWI’s SkillsUSA Committee, which along with the WCA, partners with SkillsUSA to organize the national Cabinetmaking Championship held each June in Louisville, KY.

Cox views SkillsUSA and its mission to prepare students for careers in the skilled trades – including woodworking – as a worthy organization to support to address the manufacturing skills gap head-on.

“Supporting our high school woodworking programs and students through SkillsUSA is kind of a way of giving back,” Cox says. “I quickly found out that this is something I have a real passion for. SkillsUSA is a great platform for getting the word out to the kids, parents, teachers and guidance counselors that we have good-paying jobs. We have careers. It might be in the shop running a CNC machine or in the office designing products. It could be in sales for a supplier member or a machine tech or even designing machines. If we don’t tell them about the opportunities in our big, wide industry, who will? The schools are certainly not going to be pushing them to work in our industry on their own.

“I’m not going to say it’s not selfish of me,” Cox continues. “But if one young person goes into our field, then it’s worth it. In fact, I was actually lucky enough to recently hire somebody who had competed in SkillsUSA.”

A Good Problem to Have
The 2018 North Carolina SkillsUSA Cabinetmaking competition, held at the Greensboro Coliseum, maxed out at 20 high school contestants. Cox and her fellow AWI Carolinas Chapter committee members are scrambling to find ways to accommodate future growth of the competition.

“We’ve already reduced the number of students any school can bring to the state championship,” Cox says. “Now we’re starting to look at ways to have a pre-competition to narrow the field because we don’t have enough space required for each contestant’s individual work area and the bigger equipment they share.”

The Carolinas Chapter donates funds to stage the state’s SkillsUSA Cabinetmaking competition. The chapter also purchased 20 sets of tools that includes a portable drill, sander, nail gun, etc., used by the contestants. Rowland Woodworking not only stores the tools, the company also made workbenches for the contest and lends four of its table saws and a couple of miter boxes for the competition.

The Carolina Chapter SkillsUSA committee also solicits donations of materials, supplies and equipment from area woodworking industry companies for the contest. She points to a CNC router and a dovetail key router machine loaned respectively by ShopBot Tools and Hoffmann Machinery as examples of machinery that parents, teachers and other spectators don’t usually see. “Having this technology available brings some wow factor to the competition,” she says.

Cox says she enjoys attending the annual SkillsUSA national competition. “I like to watch the kids compete, but I also like to go to nationals because I can see what it takes for a contestant to be successful. Our goal is to give our students every advantage we can by making our state’s projects look and feel like the national contest.”

Cox and Ben Houston, territory manager of Salice, who she describes as “my right-hand man,” collaborate on designing the cabinetry project contestants build under the added stress of time limits. “We’ll meet for lunch and literally draw up an idea on a napkin. Then I’ll try to put into AutoCAD and sometimes learn that it’s too complicated because of the joinery, equipment that is needed, or would take too long to construct.”

Ultimately, Cox says, “We want to make the project challenging enough so that not every kid can finish it. We want to make them demonstrate their soft skills as well as machine and cabinetmaking skills. They have to demonstrate critical thinking and problem solving. If they don’t use all of the soft skills that they are learning in the SkillsUSA program, they are going to have real problems.”

Cox’s reconnaissance paid off big dividends at the 2018 SkillsUSA competition. Ravindra Dave of Cary High School of Cary, NC, took the bronze medal. In addition, Hunter Thompson, who won the gold medal at the 2016 SkillsUSA competition while still a student at Cedar Ridge High School of Hillsborough, was one of two SkillsUSA alumni to compete for the honor of representing the United States in the biennial WorldSkills contest this August in Kazan, Russia.

“I was as proud as any parent to see Hunter win a gold medal as a senior in high school,” Cox says. “I’m sad he didn’t make it to WorldSkills, but he did a great job.”

The SkillsUSA-WCA Connection
Cox’s affiliation with SkillsUSA brought her in close contact with the WCA and led her to volunteer for a seat on the WCA Board of Directors. Kent Gilchrist, a member of the AWI SkillsUSA committee, also sits on the WCA Board of Directors. Gilchrist designs the project that challenges the contestant’s skills at the national SkillsUSA Cabinetmaking competition.

The fact that many of the high schools that participate in North Carolina’s SkillsUSA competition are EDUcation™ members of the WCA further connects Cox to both non-profit groups.

“I think the WCA has a great program,” Cox says. “We are not a WCA MANufacturer member yet, but I do intend to change that. Between our workload and not having someone in the shop to make it happen, I really haven’t been able to do anything. But I want to bring the WCA credentialing program into our shop. In the meantime, I try to make sure that our WCA schools have what they need.”

As a recent show of her support for the WCA, Cox partnered with Dan Kern, an instructor at East and West Montgomery High Schools, to develop programming for teachers of woodworking and construction programs attending North Carolina’s 2018 Career and Technical Education Summer Conference. Kern also happens to be an accredited chief evaluator of the WCA.

“Dan took over the CTE conference planning last year,” Cox says. “The two of us sat down and brainstormed ideas of what would be beneficial for the teachers in terms of training and information.”

One of the outcomes of the brainstorming session was assembling a tour of several area wood industry facilities including Columbia Panel, Hafele America and Herzog Veneers, plus the Bienenstock Furniture Library. Another major component of the last summer’s CTE program for woodworking teachers was hands-on training at Rowland Woodworking conducted by Kern. The training was designed to help participating teachers sharpen their woodworking skills.

Cox says its likely that Kern and her will build on the success of last year’s program this summer. “We had some high school carpentry teachers participate in the tour last year. We’ve talked about the possibility of offering some woodworking training at our shop to them as well because there is some crossover,” Cox adds.

“It wasn’t too awfully inconvenient to offer space for the instructor training at our shop,” Cox says. “But even if it was inconvenient, it wouldn’t matter, because the WCA is a good program to improve our industry. As long as they want to come here, they have a place.”

Scenes from 2018 SkillsUSA Cabinetmaking Competition

Medalists for the 2018 SkillsUSA Cabinetmaking competition hailed from high schools and colleges located in six states.

The winners were announced June 29 at the Awards Ceremony of SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference in Louisville, KY. More than 6,500 career and technical education students joined in the excitement of hands-on competition in 102 different trade, technical, and leadership fields.

SkillsUSA 2018 Cabinetmaking medalists. Front Row, HIgh School: Tyler McLaughlin, Silver; Bradlee Benjamin, Gold; and Ravindra Dave, Bronze. Back Row, College: Andrew Dearing, Silver; Alex Hamacher. Gold; and Johnathan Schnyder, Bronze.

Bradlee Benjamin of Berks CTC – East Campus of Oley, PA, took home the Gold Medal for high school students. He was joined on the podium by Tyler McLaughlin of Yutan Public Schools in Yutan, NE; and Ravindra Dave of Cary High School of Cary, NC, Silver and Bronze medalists respectively.

Alex Hamacher of Washburn Tech of Topeka, KS, won the Gold Medal for colleges. Andrew Dearing of Utah Valley University of Orem, UT won Silver; and Johnathan Schnyder of Jefferson Community & Technical College of Louisville, KY, won Bronze.

Students competing in Cabinetmaking demonstrated competencies related to the building maintenance trade. Contestants built a small cabinet from the materials and drawings supplied. They were expected to read the drawings, lay out and cut the parts using a table saw, laminate trimmer, hand drill, hinge boring machine and various hand tools. The parts had to t be accurately assembled, sanded and adjusted to tolerances specified by the judges.

Kent Gilchrist, a chief assess skill evaluator for the Woodwork Career Alliance, served as technical committee chair of the Cabinetmaking contest. Other members of the technical committee included AWI SkillsUSA Committee Chair Kristine Cox, Rowland Woodworking, Jerry Allen, Allen Millwork Co., KS; Jerry Brewer, Ohio Valley Door Corp., IN;  NC; Greg Heuer, Architectural Woodwork Institute, VA; Ted Robinson, Technique Manufacturing Inc., KS; John Volpe, Volpe Millwork Inc., OH; Charlie Zizumbo, Salina Planing Mill Inc., KS.

About SkillsUSA
SkillsUSA is a vital solution to help close the skills gap. This nonprofit partnership of students, instructors and industry ensures America has the skilled workforce it needs to stay competitive. Founded in 1965 and endorsed by the U.S. Department of Education, the association serves more than 360,000-member students and instructors each year in middle schools, high schools and colleges. This diverse talent pipeline covers 130 trade, technical and skilled service occupations, the majority STEM-related. More than 600 corporations, trade associations, businesses and labor unions support SkillsUSA at the national level. SkillsUSA programs are integrated into career and technical education through a framework of personal, workplace and technical skills grounded in academics. Local, state and national championships, designed and judged by industry, set relevant standards for career and technical education and provide needed recognition to its students. SkillsUSA also offers technical skill assessments and other workplace credentials. For more information, go to

Click here to view a video about the SkillsUSA Championships.

Thanks to Kristine Cox for taking and posting all of the photos used in the slide show, except the podium ceremony. Click here to view all photos and videos from the 2018 SkillsUSA Cabinetmaking.

Related reading: Idaho Cabinetmaking Student Russia Bound for WorldSkills


No Rest for the Weary

2018 has been a busy and productive year so far for WCA and it’s only going to get more so as we head to Atlanta next month for the International Woodworking Fair.

For starters, we’ve enrolled 260 new Passport holders into the program and issued 147 new certificates and credentials.

Since our last Pathways, WCA has added nine new EDUcation™ members and two new INDustry™ sponsors.  Please check out list of new members and sponsors in the Welcome section of this edition of Pathways. We are extremely grateful to the machinery and supply companies that have signed on as Gold and Sawblade sponsors. The funds generated by our new sponsorship program help support EDUcation programs and WCA outreach activities. If you haven’t already, I hope you will take a look at the benefits of becoming a WCA sponsor. The $1,000 annual fee for a Gold sponsorship includes having your company’s logo displayed in four quarterly issues of Pathways and on the WCA website.

In May WCA held Accredited Skill Evaluator Training at the Manufacturing Industry Learning Lab (MiLL) in conjunction with the MiLL Academy curriculum training. The $250 fee for the optional third day of training allowed the teachers to receive the WCA ASE training without additional travel and covers their school’s WCA EDUcation membership the 2018-19 school year.  Six high school teachers received the training including five from new schools and one from Peyton High School.  The next MiLL Academy is August 22-24, 2018. Learn more and register at Speaking of the MiLL, be sure to read the feature in this month’s Pathways highlighting the MiLL’s involvement with WCA.

Last month I traveled to Louisville, KY, for the SkillsUSA National Competition in Louisville, KY.  Some 44 high school and 21 postsecondary students competed in the cabinetmaking competition once again organized by SkillsUSA with help from the WCA.  It was truly rewarding to watch students show so much excitement and skill on a very tough cabinet project. If you ever have the chance to attend the national competition you will be amazed at the level of talent that is displayed by the youth of America in approximately 90 occupational competitions. Congrats to all of the SkillsUSA competitors and winners. Kudos also to Ethan Harrison, who will represent the USA in the WorldSkills Cabinetmaking competition next year in Kazan, Russia. Read all about it in Pathways.

IWF 2018 is almost upon us, August 22-25 in Atlanta, GA. I hope you are planning to attend and if you are, please stop by our booth 4154. WCA will hold the Bandsaw Skills Challenge throughout the show with the assistance of Mimbus, developer of the Wood-Ed Table. The Wood-Ed table is an educational virtual reality simulator that will be used in the competition to test contestants’ bandsaw skills. To participate, simply stop by our booth.

Finally, Kent Gilchrist and I will present an educational workshop, “Growing Your Skilled Workforce” 10:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. Wednesday, August 22. Come and learn how to implement the WCA Skill Standards on your plant floor and develop your own training program. Click here to learn more and register.

Hope to see you in Atlanta!

Scott Nelson
Woodwork Career Alliance of North America

Idaho Cabinetmaking Student Russia Bound for WorldSkills

Ethan Harrison, a 2018 graduate of Blackfoot High School of Blackfoot, ID, will represent the United States in the biennial WorldSkills cabinetmaking competition Aug. 22-27, 2019 in Kazan, Russia.

Harrison earned the honor by winning a head-to-head competition at SkillsUSA last month in Louisville, KY. Runner-up, Hunter Thompson, a 2016 graduate of Cedar Ridge High School of Hillsborough, NC, will serve as the alternate if Harrison is unable to compete in WorldSkills 2019.

First held in 1950 in Madrid, WorldSkills aims to “raise the profile and recognition of skilled people and show how important skills are in achieving economic growth and personal success.”

“Both Ethan and Hunter did an excellent job in the run-off,” says Jeff Molzahn, a woodworking instructor at Madison College and newly appointed WorldSkills cabinetmaking advisor for SkillsUSA. In that advisory role, Molzahn will coach Harrison as he prepares for WorldSkills. He says he plans to build Harrison’s training program around the Woodwork Career Alliance’s skill standards.

“One of my goals is that Ethan will earn his WCA Green Credential during his WorldSkills training,” says Molzahn, a WCA accredited skills evaluator. “I think the WCA skill standards and evaluation process will dovetail nicely to get ready for WorldSkills. When you are getting your certification, you have an evaluator watching you work. While you might be really good on a table saw or other equipment, it’s a different experience having someone standing over and judging you. I think that experience will go a long way to help prepare Ethan for the pressure he will face on the big stage in Kazan.”

Both Harrison and Thompson qualified for WorldSkills by virtue of their solid placing in recent SkillsUSA competitions. Thompson won a gold medal in 2016. Harrison won silver in 2017.

Harrison says he only began learning woodworking as a sophomore at Blackfoot High School. His instructor, Peter Golinveaux, quickly realized his potential and encouraged him to compete in the state SkillsUSA competition. “He was my mentor and helped me with any question I had,” Harrison says. “I have really come to love woodworking; it helps me de-stress.”

Harrison says he prepared for WorldSkills using hand tools he purchased with scholarship money established in the honor of Rhett Fields, a Blackhawk High student who died in a motorcycle accident at age 17.  “Rhett was supposed to go to SkillsUSA nationals then he had his accident,” Harrison says. “He really inspired me and I really wanted to win this for him.”

Preparing for WorldSkills will dominate Harrison’s life during the next year. After the competition he plans to do missionary work then attend college. “I plan to build furniture to pay tuition,” Harrison says. “After I graduate I would like to have my own custom furniture shop making rocking chairs, tables and other one-of-a-kind pieces.”

Thompson already has a WCA Green Credential and is working toward his Blue Credential. He studied woodworking for four years under Keith Yow, woodworking instructor at Cedar Ridge High School, a WCA EDUcation member. “The WCA Passport program was a good structure to build my skills on,” Thompson says. “Mr. Yow, my instructor, was very helpful in my development and a great role model throughout my high school years.”

Thompson just completed his associate’s degree at Alamance Community College and will enter North Carolina State University as a junior this fall to pursue a degree in sustainable materials and technology. Upon graduating he wants to get a work for a large woodworking company. His ultimate goal is to run own furniture and cabinet business.

“Just being a finalist for WorldSkills was wonderful,” Thompson says. “It will look great on my resume.”

2018 SkillsUSA Medalists
In addition to the WorldSkills qualification contest, SkillsUSA featured the annual Cabinetmaking competition for postsecondary and high school students from around the country.

Winning medals at the college level were:
Gold — Alex Hamacher, Washburn Tech of Topeka, KS.

Silver — Andrew Dearing, Utah Valley University of Orem, UT.

Bronze – Johnathan Schnyder, Jefferson Community & Technical College of Louisville, KY. Jefferson College is an EDUcation member of the WCA.

Winning medals at the high school level were:
Gold – Bradlee Benjamin, Berks CTC – East Campus of Oley, PA.

Silver – Tyler McLaughlin of Yutan Public Schools, Yutan, NE.

Bronze – Ravindra Dave of Cary High School of Cary, NC.

President’s Message: Maine State Prison, SkillsUSA & Other Updates

Since our last edition of Pathways, WCA has added eight new EDUcation™ members and five new INDustry™ sponsors.  Please check out our new members listed in the Welcome New Members section of Pathways. The INDustry Sponsorship category is designed to provide a way for manufacturers and distributors of woodworking machinery and supplies and other industry stakeholders to cost-effectively support the WCA and its EDUcation members. Visit our website  to discover which level of sponsorship best fits your company. Sponsorship fees range from $250 for Sawblade level to $1,000 for Gold.

In WCA MANufacturing™ news, the pilot Passport program at the Maine State Prison Industries that we featured in Fall 2017 Pathways is moving forward. Twenty-three inmates have completed the layout sections and are well on their way in obtaining the Green Credential. In addition, Jefferson Millwork of Sterling, VA, featured in Pathways Summer 2017, has successfully brought one of its employees to the Red Credential.  I truly applaud Jefferson Millwork for their ongoing efforts to achieve a trained work force.

Things are very busy this time of year for many of our EDUcation members.  There is a lot of activity with the testing of students for their Sawblade certificate and for participating in state SkillsUSA competitions. I helped with the Nebraska Cabinetmaking Competition and was very pleased with the talent exhibited by these young individuals. We had 25 competitors from high schools and 10 competitors from postsecondary schools. I’ve included a few photos from the competition in this post.

Congratulations and good luck to Tyler McLaughlin of Yutan Public Schools, Yutan, NE, and Derek Summers of Wayne State College, Wayne, NE. They are moving on to represent Nebraska in the 54th annual SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference, June 25-29 in Louisville, KY. 

Please visit our website and do a search using our interactive map to find EDUcation members – both secondary and post-secondary school – near you.  These schools are a true source for your future employees! I encourage you to get to know your local school’s instructors and support their efforts to teach students about the craft of woodworking.

Finally, don’t forget to mark your calendar for IWF 2018, August 22-25, in Atlanta. Plan on visiting WCA at Booth 4154 to talk about how we can work together to develop and grow a skilled woodworking work force.

Hope everyone is having a great year!

Scott Nelson
Woodwork Career Alliance of North America

SkillsUSA Shines National Spotlight on Career and Technical Education

Sixty-four students, including 44 state high school winners and 20 state college winners, competed in the 2017 Cabinetmaking competition of the 53rd Annual SkillsUSA National Leadership Conference held June 19-23 in Louisville, KY.

The Cabinetmaking contest was organized by the Architectural Woodwork Institute (AWI) and supported by the Woodwork Career Alliance (WCA). The WCA was represented by students of two postsecondary institutions and six high schools in this year’s competition – all winners of their state competitions. Included were students from Eastern Maine Community College of Bangor ME, and Washburn Tech of Topeka, KS. WCA EDUcation high schools that sent students included Saint Johnsbury Academy of Saint Johnsbury, VT; Dale Jackson Center of Lewisville, TX; Oswego High School of Oswego, IL; West Montgomery High School of Mount Gilead, NC; Macfarland High School of Macfarland, WI; and Peyton High School of Peyton, CO.

In addition, Andrew Dearing a student at Utah Valley University in Orem, UT, and an AWI Education Scholarship recipient, was a top 10 finisher in the postsecondary competition

Cabinetmaking was just one of 98 trades contested during SkillsUSA. Even a small sampling of the staged competitions makes clear the wide range of skills displayed including 3D printing, carpentry, crime scene investigation, nail care, robotics and web design.

Among the more than 15,000 people competing or attending the event were Kristine Cox, president of the AWI, and Kent Gilchrist, past president of AWI and technical chairman of the SkillsUSA Cabinetmaking competition.

Through her affiliation with the Carolinas Chapter of AWI, Cox has been actively involved with SkillsUSA in her home state of North Carolina for nearly 10 years. Other AWI chapters that participate on their state or regional level include Great Lakes, Heart of America, Iowa/Nebraska, New Jersey, Ohio Valley, Texas and Wisconsin.

This year’s Cabinetmaking competitors were required to manufacture a nightstand from a supplied design and materials. Students not only had to be able to read the drawings, they had to develop cut lists; cut and fabricate all of the parts using a table saw, laminate trimmer, hand drill, hinge boring machine and various hand tools. The parts also had to be sanded, assembled and adjusted to tolerances specified by the judges.

“The projects that the kids do today are multiple times more complex than what they were five or more years ago,” Gilchrist said. “This year we introduced angled sides and angled dado joinery. This not only increased the complexity of assembly, but also the challenges of preparing the cut list and machining the parts. What’s really great is that we have seen school instructors really step up their games year after year to help prepare their students to meet these challenges.”

Why SkillsUSA Matters
SkillsUSA has grown to include 395,000 members, including students, advisors and industry partners. Putting on the annual national competitions represents about a $36 million industry investment, including about $250,000 for cabinetmaking. In addition to helping elevate the trades through the National Leadership Conference, SkillsUSA is a strong advocate of career and technical education on state and national levels.

“One thing for me, especially on the state level, it that I’ve learned not only to talk from the mountaintop to these kids that we have jobs but that we have good careers in this industry,” said Cox. “Getting involved in SkillsUSA gives us an opportunity to also get in front of parents, teachers and guidance counselors. Hopefully we’ll get the message out and all concerned will know that woodworking is a viable industry for a career and there is good money to be had. Until parents recognize that this is a viable career path, they are going to push their kinds into the path of a four-year college. But what’s good for some is not good for all.”

“I think it’s important for our industry to see that career and technical education is not a dying breed,” Gilchrist said. “It’s important not just from the perspective of cabinetmaking but for CTE as a whole. The SkillsUSA National Leadership Conference shows that there are so many students who are interested in the trades. That’s not to say that many of these kids won’t be going to college, but many may come back to the trades in a management position.”

“I talk up SkillsUSA whenever I can,” Cox added. “My father was deeply involved with Boy Scouts and just like an Eagle Scout there’s a certain expectation of demeanor and character that comes with a student being involved in SkillsUSA. If I have two candidates for a job in my shop and they are equal on everything but one of them has a SkillsUSA involvement, automatically that person goes to the top my list because I know that person not only has the hard skills and craftsmanship I’m looking for, but also has critical thinking and problem solving skills that gets taught through SkillsUSA.”

“I usually bring up SkillsUSA when I’m talking to someone who says that there is no skilled labor,” Gilchrist said. “Then I’ll ask, ‘Do you know about SkillsUSA?’ Like Kristine said, these kids have certain attributes for employment that transcend a specific skill. I encourage them to find and reach out to their state director and not to limit themselves to only looking at cabinetmaking programs. Some schools have architectural technology, carpentry or welding programs where kids learn skills that you can cross train into our industry. This is a good jumping off point to develop a relationship.”

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