On April 14, collision repair students throughout New Jersey demonstrated their talents at the 2018 New Jersey SkillsUSA Conference. Held at the Somerset County Vocational and Technical High School in Bridgewater, the event tested the students in a variety of areas, including sheet metal, welding, plastic repair and estimating.
Matt Brandner of Hunterdon County Polytech finished in first place, followed by Nicholas Donnadio (Somerset Vocational) and Jayden Melichaek (Hunterdon County Polytech). Brandner will move on to represent the Garden State this June at SkillsUSA’s 54th Annual National Leadership and Skills Conference in Louisville, Ky. (A separate refinishing competition yielded first-place winner Susie Norz, also of Somerset Vocational, who will join Brandner in competing at Nationals.)
In addition to showcasing New Jersey’s young technicians, this year’s SkillsUSA marked the debut of Charity Ritter as event coordinator. She follows in the footsteps of former coordinator and veteran SkillsUSA volunteer Peter Fryzel (I-CAR). In 2001, Ritter won the competition while a high school junior. Later, she served as a volunteer judge for several years. She still looks forward to being a part of SkillsUSA each year.
“Volunteering and getting involved with the students lets them know there’s really a great future and a lot of opportunities if they stick with it and work hard,” said Ritter. “Every year, it seems they get better and better. The instructors are taking something away from the competition and then applying it to next year’s [SkillsUSA]. One of the goals is to get all the instructors and all the schools on the same page so that the students who go to the national competition are as prepared as they can be.”
The 2018 New Jersey SkillsUSA Conference was made possible thanks to generous donations and support from the Alliance of Automotive Service Providers of New Jersey (AASP/NJ), Walter’s Auto Body, Ultimate Collision Repair, Bloomfield Auto Body, Britland Auto Body and Auto Body Distributing Co., Inc. SkillsUSA judges and/or volunteers included Ed Winkens (National Oak Distributors); Edgar Chaves Jr. (Britland Auto Body); Ed Mayer (American Honda Motor Co.); Mal Ginsburg (I-CAR); Mike Esquivel (Bridgewater Auto Body); Pete Ritter (K&L Auto Body); Anthony Thompson (New Jersey Manufacturers); and Peter Fryzel (I-CAR). Additionally, Somerset Vocational CTE Collision Repair and Refinishing Instructor George Byrd and his wife, Evangeline, worked hard to make sure the classroom and shop were ready for the competition.
For Bloomfield Auto Body Owner and AASP/NJ Board Member Anthony Trama, being involved in SkillsUSA means supporting the future of the industry.
“Kids can make a living and support themselves and their families by learning a trade like this,” said Trama. “My main motivation is to help the schools teach and have these competitions. This is a livelihood for some of these kids; they can really make a future for themselves.”
Prizes donated and awarded at this year’s New Jersey SkillsUSA included (among others) a full rolling toolbox, a welding helmet and $500 towards travel to Nationals. Each student competitor received a free gift bag with tools and other items to commemorate their participation.