Raul Ayala Is Off to Atlanta to Represent CNM at the SkillsUSA National Leadership & Skills Conference

Raul won gold in the cabinetmaking category during the SkillsUSA New Mexico competition and now gets to face off with the best cabinetmaking students from around the country
June 06, 2023

Raul Ayala says he’s not a very competitive person. But at around 11 a.m. on the day of the SkillsUSA New Mexico competition, where he was competing in the cabinetmaking category, he found his competitive spirit growing. 

“I guess you could say that the competition sparked something in me that I hadn’t felt in a long time,” he says. “I was really in the zone and the competition definitely motivated me.”

That competitive spirit served him well because Raul went on to win a gold medal in cabinetmaking during the state competition that drew hundreds of skilled trades college students from across New Mexico. The gold medal qualified him to compete in the SkillsUSA National Leadership & Skills Conference that will take place June 19-23 in Atlanta, Georgia.

“It made me realize that I am a better carpenter than I give myself credit for,” he says. 

Raul will be joined in Atlanta by 10 other CNM students who also won gold during the New Mexico SkillsUSA competition. They’ll all be going up against the best skilled trades students in the country as they put their skills to the test at the National SkillsUSA competition, which is the largest gathering of America’s future skilled workforce. The event draws more than 19,000 people, including student competitors, instructors, and business and industry partners. Students, in fields ranging from carpentry to welding to automotive technology, are often recruited by employers at the event.

Historically, CNM students perform very well at the national competition. Just last year, Zane Horton, Christopher Rodriguez, and Walter Armijo, who made up CNM’s Welding Fabrication team, took home gold, beating out hundreds of other students. 

Interestingly, Raul says he never would have pictured himself competing in a trades competition if you’d asked him several years back. He originally went to college at the University of New Mexico and has a bachelor’s degree in History and Spanish. But he wanted to learn a trade so he enrolled at CNM. 

“I was book-smart but I couldn’t do anything with my hands,” he says. “I wanted to get a feel for the trades and pick up on some manual skills.” 

To do that he enrolled in CNM’s Carpentry and Construction program and says he was immediately captivated. His instructors showed him all the necessary techniques and taught him how to use the tools but gave him the freedom to design and build his own projects. 

“In class I loved that I could feel and see my work,” he says. “When I was writing papers I felt proud of my work, but it’s just a different kind of cognition that working with your hands truly satisfies.”

Raul just graduated from the certificate program and the plan is to grow his handyman business called Delta Handyman Services. He builds fences, puts together furniture, and does house calls for anything carpentry related. But first up is the national competition, which is just a few weeks away.

“To be honest I’m more excited than nervous about nationals,” Raul says. “It will be a great experience to represent New Mexico and CNM at the national level.”