Bridging the skills gap

Students take part in CTE Skills Challenge

Collin Carlson, a junior at Norway High School, participates in the Automotive Service Technology Skills Challenge at Friday's Upper Peninsula CTE Skills Challenge at the Jacobetti Complex. CTE stands for Career and Technical Education. Overseeing him is judge Henry Schwanke. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

MARQUETTE — Learning technical skills in a classroom is one thing. Working in the real world is another.

Bridging that gap, though, is the Upper Peninsula CTE Skills Challenge, which took place Friday at the Jacobetti Complex.

The day-long competition in career and technical education, which gave participants a chance to compete with gadgets like hydrometers and micrometers, brought in regional high schoolers who took part in competitions in automotive service technology, welding skills, construction skills, and computer-aided drafting and design skills.

Brian Sarvello, CTE and Middle College director with the Marquette-Alger Regional Educational Service Agency, said the event serves as a motivator for students to get involved with the skilled trades.

“This is their big day,” Sarvello said. “This is their day to shine. They prepare just as hard as athletes do for this competition. They take just as much pride representing their school and their community.”

The event also allowed the students to get together with others who share the same interests.

However, the day represented much more than school pride.

“We’ve got this tremendous skills gap and we’ve got to provide every incentive we can for young people to get involved with the trades, and it just serves as one of those incentives,” Sarvello said.

Randal Klitzke, assistant professor in automotive maintenance in the Department of Technology and Occupational Sciences at Northern Michigan University, addressed the participants who were to begin the automotive part of the event.

That competition was to include segments like a written test, chassis identification and electrical diagnostics. Each student had eight minutes to complete each task.

Klitzke did stress to them, though, the event was designed to be competitive, and it might include subjects of which they weren’t that familiar.

“Don’t panic,” Klitzke said. “That’s a part of being in a competition.”

However, he stressed the competition was designed so everyone had a level playing field.

They also weren’t in it alone.

Judges were stationed at each segment to oversee the competitors’ skills, such as changing a belt and using a hydrometer to check antifreeze.

Whatever their outcome, the students were showing off their skills in an important — and evolving — industry.

“It’s a very complex industry,” said Klitzke, who noted the NMU curriculum just underwent a curriculum revision.

“How do we bring students in that have minimal experience? And also, how do we bring students in that might have some high school experience and maybe give them a little bit of credit?” Klitzke said.

The fundamentals of the field are still there, but then there’s the added technology.

“You have to be able to understand electricity,” Klitzke said. “You have to able to read and interpret technical manuals. It’s a thinking person’s kind of career.

“At the same time, it’s challenging and it’s rewarding, and if you’re good at it, you can make a decent living.”

Challenge Day results were:

• U.P. Automotive Service Technology Skills Challenge: first, Matt Wood, Westwood High School; second, Kenton Martin, MARESA High School Automotive Program and North Star Academy; third, Lucas Mersnick, Delta-Schoolcraft Intermediate School District; and fourth, Dillon Bennetts, MARESA High School Automotive Tech Program and Marquette Senior High School.

• U.P. Welding Skills Challenge: advanced, first, Warren Torola, Calumet High School; second, Nate Swartout, Dickinson-Iron ISD; and third, Anthony Erickson, MARESA High School Welding Program and MSHS.

• Metal Inert Gas competition: first, Anthony Karns, DIISD; second, Allen Linn, DIISD; and third, Rimick Cain, DIISD.

• Tungsten Arc Gas competition: first, Ryan Deau, DIISD; second, Sam Karaniemi, CHS; and third, Mark Linna, GOISD.

• Stick competition: first, Jacob Dunlap, MARESA Welding Program and Republic-Michigamme HS; second, Tristan Lorendo, Gogebic-Ontonagon ISD: and third, Tom Hulce, DIISD.

• U.P. Construction Skills Challenge: first, DSISD; second, Chassell High School; third, MSHS; and fourth, Munising High School.

• Pilot Computer-Aided Drafting and Design Skills Challenge: first, Isaac Redlon, Gwinn High School; second, Emily Nelson, Negaunee High School; and third, Jacob Wood, GHS.

Klitzke said the competition brings out a higher level of ability for the participants.

“I think it’s just a good thing for students to do because it raises their attentitiveness to what they’ve learned in class,” Klitzke said. “You see the guys, they’re studying on the way here. They’re putting in the extra effort.”

Mario Formolo, a junior at Kingsford High School, enjoyed the time he spent at the Jacobetti Complex during Challenge Day.

“It’s better than being in a classroom a lot of the time,” Formolo said. “I can’t sit. I have to be moving.”

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is