Wednesday included a start to most competitions. During orientation, they had split the Robotics & Automation teams in half, since there are fewer robotic arms than teams. So while some groups began competing Wednesday, Bhola & Abhishek will instead be at their contest all day Thursday.
With no robotics events, we spent the day checking out the Techspo (Technology Expo / Fair) and some of the Skills USA University classes. Abhishek & Bhola attended sessions on construction, automobile collisions, and cooking, while I checked out the Advisors’ Call to Action and a recruitment seminar.
A & B were invited to a luncheon with the Mike Rowe WORKS Foundation, which had provided them with travel scholarships that helped us be able to attend this conference/competition. At the luncheon, they met Mike Rowe, famous for hosting the reality TV show Dirty Jobs, who happens to be from Baltimore! More on Mike Rowe down below, since he was also the keynote speaker at the evening’s Opening Ceremony.
During their luncheon, I headed down to see some of the 98 different events already going on.
There was everything from baking,
to collision repair,
to CAD-CAM-CNC manufacturing,
to airplane engine repair,
The opening ceremony was held in Kemper Arena, a large sports stadium. We heard that there are 16,000 attendees at the National Leadership & Skills Conference, which is why the ceremony was held in a sports arena instead of in a smaller auditorium. Here are Bhola & Abhishek posing outside the stadium in their Skills USA uniform and paraphernalia provided by the Maryland delegation: baseball caps, sunglasses, & light sabers.
Before the main event, states paraded around the stadium with state banners.
Here is Maryland’s delegation. Two of the blurry light sabers you see there belong to Abhi & Bhola.
As the paraders were returning to their seats, Maryland swayed with the music being played over the loudspeakers.
With everyone back up in the stands, the ceremony kicked off.
Most of the ceremony was run by students, the Skills USA National Officers. This included the High School Vice President, who is from Maryland and so got a big cheer from our section every time he spoke. Here are all the officers standing in a line:
Various awards were presented. The keynote speaker was Mike Rowe.
In his speech, Rowe mentioned jobs from his show from various states that he was working on during each of the last several years’ National Leadership and Skills Conferences. Each got a cheer from their respective section of the arena. However, when he told a story about growing up in Baltimore, Maryland, our state/section cheered louder and longer than any other state had.
The story was about a meeting with his high school guidance counselor and a poster hanging in that counselor’s office that says “Work Smart, Not Hard”. Instead, Rowe says, we should work both smart and hard. That vocational programs, technical schools, and community colleges are valid and important options for students, who will come out of those programs with valuable skills that may not be taught at a four-year college.
This is the core of Rowe’s message: the dignity of work. That jobs, though they may be dirty, may also be worth doing, and help build the foundation of our society. There is a “Skills Gap” in our country: even though there are many people who are unemployed, there are also many skilled jobs sitting vacant since the employers can’t find the people to fill those jobs with the skill set they need. According to Rowe, it is very difficult to find people who are willing 1) to learn a skill, 2) to master that skill, & 3) to work their butts off doing a job based on that skill. He says our society is “Profoundly Disconnected” from the work it takes to keep that society running.
At the end of the ceremony, they held a ribbon cutting:
And, with that, the conference was officially opened! Tomorrow: the robotics & automation contest!