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These students learn something while having fun with power tools
Participants weld, lay brick, read blueprints and more in contractors’ skills challenge
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Johnson High freshman Amy Loera cuts a board Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018, at the Chicopee Woods Agricultural Center in the cabinet making portion of the Northeast Georgia Workforce Development Alliance Skills Challenge. The event is sponsored by Bowen & Watson and Carroll Daniel Construction, along with The Associated General Contractors of Georgia. - photo by Scott Rogers

The sound of saws buzzing, hammers banging and serious competition were in the air. Nearly 200 high school students from North Georgia gathered to compete in a skills challenge on Thursday morning, all hoping to win prizes for their efforts in different trades.

The Associated General Contractors of Georgia hosted the event that has grown over the years while Carroll Daniel Construction and Bowen & Watson Inc. provided judges for each event.

“One of the things we’re suffering from is a declining workforce,” said Mike Dunham, CEO of Associated General Contractors of Georgia. “So our challenge as an industry is to show young men and women a career path of how they make a great career out of construction … the best way to do that is through skill competitions like this where they can practice their trade and experience what it takes to build something.”

Students competed in everything from welding to masonry, plumbing to carpentry, electrical and even blueprint reading. For the most part, the judges said students were doing well, even though some were a little slower than others.

The students competing in blueprint reading were looking at a blueprint of a church. They were given a 100-question test, asking about the layout and design of different parts of the church. The plumbing competitors were roughing in a sink while the masonry competitors were laying brick to build a small wall.

The carpentry competitors were framing a four-foot wall while the welding competitors had to cut a triangle with a torch and also weld two pieces of metal together.

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North Hall High's Nate Halsey cuts a piece or metal with a torch Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018, at the Chicopee Woods Agricultural Center in the welding portion of the Northeast Georgia Workforce Development Alliance Skills Challenge. The event is sponsored by Bowen & Watson and Carroll Daniel Construction, along with The Associated General Contractors of Georgia. - photo by Scott Rogers

Nate Halsey, 16, a 10th-grader at North Hall High School, said he’s been welding for as long as he can remember.

“I race for a living, and I want to build my own chassis when I get older, like roll cages,” Halsey said. 

On the other side of the agricultural center, Brandon Velazquez, 17, and Marlon Sanchez, 17, both 12th-graders at Flowery Branch High School were preparing to compete in the carpentry competition. They both said they weren’t nervous to compete because they have experience after working with family.

Even though they said their school cut its construction class recently, they still wanted to compete.

“It’s kind of fun,” Sanchez said. “And it’s fun to use the power tools.”

Not everyone at the competition was taking part, though. There were observers, there to watch and see how their friends were doing. That’s what Chris Mojica, 15, a 10th-grader at Chestatee High School was doing.

He said he wasn’t interested in any of the things going on at the skills competition at the moment, but may be in the future. He’d like to try his hand at electrical work as opposed to masonry like his friend, Eli Domingo, was competing in.

“It seems more fun and more hands-on,” Mojica said. “And my grandpa, he does pretty much everything like this basically.”

Brian Daniel, president and CEO of Carroll Daniel Construction, said there was nothing like the skills challenge when he was growing up, so he’s happy to see something like it now. He said it’s all about getting students interested in the construction industry and showing them it’s a job worth having, even if getting that across to them is difficult.

“It’s a particular challenge to get young people interested,” Daniel said. “But for kids that have the aptitude and interest in this type of thing, this is a great opportunity for us to expose them to what we do and hopefully get them interested in doing this for a living.”

Although he enjoys watching students compete in all the different activities, he said there’s one thing he likes above all else.

“The draw is watching these kids enjoy it,” Daniel said. “Watching the smile on their face, watching them compete and watching them put their hands on this stuff and really have fun with it, that’s why we’re here.”

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