Hundreds of New Mexico Students to Compete in SkillsUSA Event at CNM this Friday

The event is returning to an in-person format and will feature 38 career and technical education competitions in over 20 categories ranging from automotive to welding to culinary arts. Gold medal winners advance to the National SkillsUSA competition
April 06, 2022

For the first time in three years, career and technical education (CTE) students from around the state will gather in-person this Friday to compete in the SkillsUSA New Mexico State Leadership and Skills Conference.

SkillsUSA New Mexico is a nationally affiliated Career and Technical Student Organization (CTSO) with chapters throughout the state that work together to promote partnerships between trades students, educators, and industry professionals to ensure that America has a skilled workforce.

“A lot of students that we work with are in these hands-on CTE programs in their schools and our goal is to support these young people in their future,” says Natalie Donnelly, State Director of SkillsUSA New Mexico. “Whether it’s welding or culinary arts or mobile robotics technology, we work directly with the students and educators to support them in developing those technical skills.”

About 350 middle, high school, and post-secondary students from over 50 New Mexico schools are expected to participate in this year’s event, which will take place primarily at Ted Chavez Hall on CNM’s Main Campus. Of those students, 23 are from CNM, including three dual-credit students.

“CNM has been such a huge partner to us not only by providing the facilities for the competition, but also by helping with conference coordination and all the support we’ve gotten from staff in the School of Applied Technologies specifically,” Natalie says.

The event will feature 38 career competitions in everything from aviation maintenance to video production, but it’s automotive service technology and welding that are the most popular, with 33 automotive students and 38 welding students competing. Organizers say it’s something the students look forward to all year, since it represents the culmination of months of hard work to sharpen their skills. And gold medal winners in each category qualify to compete at the National SkillsUSA competition in Atlanta this summer.

“The day of the competition the stakes are very high. I often compare the feel of it to a sports tournament,” Natalie says. “Students really see this as the culminating event and it’s the carrot their teachers and advisors use to keep them motivated throughout the year to skill up so that they can compete at their highest level possible.”

The conference will conclude with a closing ceremony on Saturday, April 9 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Albuquerque where judges will announce the winners for gold, silver, and bronze.

“In addition to prizes like new gear and tools, students also have the opportunity to interface directly with business and industry professionals,” Natalie says. “Our industry partners actually create and judge the competitions for our students, so it’s a great way for them to get to meet people from the field and see what potential employers are actually looking for.”    

On top of scholarship money and other prizes, the gold medal winners from each category get the thrill of advancing and representing New Mexico at the National SkillsUSA Championships in Atlanta in June. The event showcases the best career and technical education students in the nation, at an event space in Atlanta that spans 41 acres, or the equivalent of 31 football fields. Pre-pandemic, 6,500 competitors in 106 events competed in 2019. Nearly 2,000 judges and contest organizers from business, labor and industry organizations make the event possible, and provide students with tremendous job networking connections.

“There’s been a real shift across the country in how we talk about the importance of the trades work, and so being proud of the trade skills that our students are learning and also lifting up our non-traditional students and women in the trades is key for us,” Natalie says.  

No spectators will be allowed at this year’s competition. Learn more about the New Mexico competition and conference here.