SkillsUSA convention being held over three-days at Ramada
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SkillsUSA convention being held over three-days at Ramada

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Schools from across Nebraska and the surrounding area descended on Columbus earlier this week for the kickoff of the SkillsUSA Mid-America Leadership conference at the Ramada Hotel and River’s Edge Convention Center.

More than 200 students from five states will attend the three-and-a-half-day convention, which provides students with tips and tools on how to better run their respective chapters. It also provides students with plenty of motivation to take home with them to their hometowns and the confidence needed to be productive members of their communities.

“We work pretty hard to build these students’ confidence,” said Jesse Zweep, a state officer adviser for SkillsUSA Nebraska. “They can be freshmen in high school, they can be a senior, but they’re trying to find their way. We’re trying to build their confidence and their abilities to try and help them be a leader.”

Zweep said that Columbus was a good spot to hold the convention mainly because of the city’s strong manufacturing tradition and the warm, welcoming hospitality.

“Columbus has always been pretty welcoming,” Zweep said. “You’ve got a lot of great industry here, so it’s an opportunity for a lot of our students to see a lot of the manufacturing industry here that a lot of these students are considering going into. The hotel and the staff here have always been pretty welcoming.

“This is a nice site for us and it’s just centrally located. It’s easy for people to come from Kansas to get here, South Dakota to get here. It’s just a great location because Columbus has a lot to offer.”

Joining the students and the state officers at the convention were the organization’s national student representatives, one of which comes from Nebraska. Jarod Harris is a high school senior from Seward and he said that coming into high school, he never thought that he would be a national advocate for career and technical education.

“It’s an opportunity that I never could have imagined going into my high school experience,” Harris said. “It’s really offered a more diverse perspective. I’ve met a lot of individuals from Puerto Rico to Hawaii to New England and each one of them offers a unique experience, personality and reason for being in SkillsUSA. They have all provided me a viewpoint that I couldn’t have possibly developed in a small, rural area in Nebraska.”

Harris will be on hand to see students receive the Statesman Award, an award presented to students who possess the knowledge of SkillsUSA and ability to carry that knowledge into their respective careers. About 95 percent of the students attending will receive the award, leaving only a slight handful without it.

“It’s an award that SkillsUSA grants for knowledge of SkillsUSA and also the general practice of some competency of career readiness,” Harris said. “That includes formal attire, the SkillsUSA pledge and some of the general knowledge around that.”

Harris anticipates that students will garner more leadership skills and workplace skills while at the conference, all within the SkillsUSA Framework, which combines the many technical, workplace and personal skills needed in order to get something out of the program and into their careers.

“Among those (skills) are communication and leadership, as well as self-motivation, responsibility and integrity,” Harris said. “I feel like those are a few of the skills that we really try to nail down in our members and try to build and develop through the process.”

Without confidence, however, those skills may remain hidden longer, which makes it a priority for Zweep that the conference continues to build up the confidence for young students to become not just strong workers with the skills to contribute in a changing world, but strong leaders with the ability to change that world.

“SkillsUSA talks a lot about vocational skills (and) that career and technical training,” Zweep said. “But this conference is about those leadership skills and that confidence in themselves to be a leader, to work well with others (and) to even go out and make those connections and network with our business and industry partners so that they can be a good employee and a good friend and leader to their coworkers in the future.”

Zach Roth is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at zachary.roth@lee.net.

Zach Roth is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at zachary.roth@lee.net.

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