For most SkillsUSA members, the competitive experience — along with so many other aspects of life — looks a lot different than it did pre-pandemic. But whether the competitions are being conducted in virtual or hybrid settings, those technical and leadership skills on display are just as impressive as ever.
When SkillsUSA made the difficult decision to hold our 2021 National Leadership and Skills Conference (NLSC) virtually as a result of the ongoing pandemic, some expressed concern that the also-virtual SkillsUSA Championships held in conjunction with NLSC would be considered as “less than,” or that any medal earned in 2021 would have an asterisk beside it as a result of the event’s virtual nature.
SkillsUSA Executive Director Chelle Travis put that concern to rest in the official NLSC announcement, saying, “I want to assure each one of you that the bronze, silver and gold medals we’ll deliver through the virtual event will be just as valued by industry as they’ve always been. National medalists in 2021 will have the same cause for pride as the thousands who’ve earned those medals throughout our illustrious history.”
In the same message, Sam Bottum, chief marketing officer of Snap-on Incorporated and president of the SkillsUSA Board of Directors, affirmed the importance of SkillsUSA: “Your personal, workplace and technical skills grounded in academics are in fact more valuable than ever. You are the people we want to hire,” he said. “Business and industry partners recognize SkillsUSA as a vital solution to the skills gap. We must upskill our nation. That hasn’t changed, and it’s not going to change.” The fact that so many states have held or are currently holding their own virtual state competitions shows that SkillsUSA members across the nation took those sentiments to heart.
New Ways to Prepare and Practice
Still, preparation will not be exactly the same for virtual competitions as opposed to the in-person events we’re so used to.
Darren Gibson, SkillsUSA’s director of Career Competition Events, says, “Students should familiarize themselves with Zoom software before their event so they can be 100% focused on competition day.”
He also points out, “If you are presenting on Zoom or another virtual platform, students should look directly at the camera so that contest judges will have a sense that you’re making eye contact.”
Gibson suggests that for contests which normally require a competitor to turn in a notebook when held in person, students should create electronic versions of the notebooks for virtual competition. These could be PDFs or PowerPoint presentations.
“Students should practice presenting on camera,” Gibson adds. “You should practice so that you always appear comfortable on camera, whether it’s live on Zoom or on a pre-recorded video.”
Gibson also says it’s important that competitors are familiar with uploading videos to YouTube or to a file-sharing platform such as Dropbox.
Here’s one tip that hasn’t changed, whether we’re talking about in-person or virtual events: READ THE CONTEST RULES. “The SkillsUSA Championships Technical Standards have been updated to reflect our virtual setting,” Gibson explains, “Your advisor should have the latest version. Be sure to read those before competing.”
Advice from a State Director
Tjazha Mazhani is the state director for SkillsUSA Georgia’s college/postsecondary division. Coming off the coordination of a successful SkillsUSA Georgia competition, Mazhani shared her experience and advice for how to be successful as a virtual competitor.
Aside from familiarization with contest rules, what is the most important thing a virtual competitor should do to prepare?
Test your internet! If possible, try to compete from your school if it is open and available, as their internet is likely more reliable. If you have to compete from home, try to make sure no one else at your home is using internet during your contest time. Find a quiet space to do your competition.
What was the biggest challenge competitors faced when competing virtually?
Make sure you have thoroughly read over all your materials. Due to the virtual nature, there are likely more documents than just the Technical Standards that you will need to prepare. Make sure you know where to submit your materials, what type of files are necessary for submission, what the Zoom/WebEx links are, etc. Read and ask questions in advance. We would rather you ask us on the front end for clarification instead of being confused on the day of your contest.
What was the hardest part about competing virtually?
We all feel a bit disconnected in this virtual competition format. We wish we could have the comradery amongst our competitors, but the virtual distant nature doesn’t necessarily allow for that.
What was the best part of competing virtually?
The ability to still showcase your skills in this virtual nature in a location that you are familiar with, provides a certain level of comfort. While nerves are normal, there’s a bit more relaxation when you are competing at home or at your school’s lab that is familiar to you.
Tips for Competing Virtually
These tips are excerpted from the SkillsUSA guides for Hosting a Local Career Competition, which are available for professional members at absorb.skillsusa.org.
While most virtual competitions will run as close to the “SkillsUSA Championships Technical Standards” as possible, it’s important to keep in mind that some rules may be modified or adjusted for the virtual environment. Be sure to obtain the latest rules for your event and review them carefully.
- If you will compete from home, look for a space where you can control noise from outside the room by shutting a door.
- Test out your computer setup ahead of time, including your video and audio settings.
- A desktop computer or laptop is preferred over an iPad or smartphone so you can clearly see all information that is posted, including chats.
- You will need a stable, strong internet connection. If possible, be close to the router and limit other Wi-Fi users during your competition.
- Most online contests do not allow a virtual background. A blank wall behind your computer is preferred; remove anything distracting from your background.
- Natural light works well to be seen without shadows (face your computer toward a window). You can also use a lamp on your desk or the overhead light. Turn off any ceiling fans; these can be distracting.
- Whether you are seated or must stand for your event, ensure you can be properly seen and stay within the frame of the Zoom screen at all times.
- Double-check to be sure you have the Zoom log-in information and know what time to report to the virtual holding room.
- Ensure that contest organizations and your advisor have your correct email and cell phone number in case there are technical issues. Watch your cell phone and email for any last-minute instructions.
Earning the right to compete as part of the national SkillsUSA Championships is an incredible honor, no matter what format the competition is held in. Actually winning a medal while competing against the best career and technical education students in the nation? That’s an accomplishment that will look as great on your resume in 2021 as it would any other year, an achievement that will mean as much to industry as it always has, and a source of pride that will continue to shine long after this pandemic has faded. Best of luck to all our national competitors in 2021!