Southwestern Community College (SWCC) student Ethan Mitchell was back for a second year of competition at the SkillsUSA State Leadership and Skills Conference in Ankeny last week. He, along with over 500 other Iowa high school and college students, took part in the annual state contest to show his technical skills, acumen and workforce readiness for industries in the skilled trades.

The two-day competition featured over 50 different contests in the areas of skilled trades, leadership and professional skills development. Judged by industry professionals, students from across the state competed against their peers in timed activities related to advanced manufacturing, customer service, carpentry, robotics, job interviews, welding and more.

“The SkillsUSA Iowa championships help students develop their technical skills as well as their workplace and personal skills,” said Kent Storm, state director for SkillsUSA Iowa. “A student can be the best welder in the state, but if they don’t know how to apply for a job or interview for a position, no one will ever know their skill sets. That’s why we also focus on critical thinking skills, teamwork and communication in SkillsUSA.”

Ethan Mitchell

Twenty-year-old Mitchell, a candidate for dual associate degrees in automotive collision repair and refinishing and automotive technology at SWCC, placed first in the postsecondary automotive refinishing technology competition during this year’s championships. He was excited not only for his win but also about gaining more experience through competing.

“Last year, I competed in collision repair, so this year for the automotive refinishing competition, it covers all different tasks and skills,” he said. “Competitions like these help you to become a better employee – one who is better at their personal trade and better with relationships with others in the industry or workplace.”

Skills USA Winners

Mitchell was one of 15 students representing SWCC at the State Leadership and Skills Conference. Led by adviser Jeff Magneson, a 27-year veteran educator, SWCC’s team was comprised of five high school students, five first-year college students and five second-year college students. Eight of those students competed in welding contests during the event.

“We like to have a mix of high school and postsecondary students to participate on the team,” Magneson said. “It’s great experience, very structured. Everything is to industry standards and timed, which gets students to feel a sense of urgency, similar to working in the trades.”

Along with Mitchell, three other SWCC automotive students also won their categories during the championships. Cody Winkler in postsecondary collision repair, Lucas Lynch in high school collision repair and Jayden Dierks in high school automotive refinishing all placed first.

SkillsUSA is a career and technical student organization (CTSO) with over 330,000 members nationwide. In Iowa, over 800 students and advisers in career and technical education programs participate in SkillsUSA local chapters.

“CTSOs provide opportunities for students to apply what they’ve learned in the classroom to hands-on activities, projects and real-world experiences,” said Cale Hutchings, education program consultant at the Iowa Department of Education. “Competitions like the SkillsUSA State Leadership and Skills Conference provide exceptional opportunities for students to further develop their skills, gain valuable experience and network with potential employers in Iowa.”

Mitchell and the other winners from this year’s State Leadership and Skills Conference move onward to the national competition in Atlanta this June.

The national competition will help Mitchell further his technical skills in automotive refinishing, and his future looks bright within the automotive industry. He is scheduled to receive his associate degree in automotive collision repair and refinishing next week, and his completed associate degree in automotive technology will follow in July. He also is already employed as a repair technician at a local car dealership and knows that his experience at SWCC and the SkillsUSA competitions will help him find success in his career goals.

“I’ve learned more than just automotive skills,” he said. “I’ve learned what it takes to be a good employee.”

The full list of Southwestern Community College students who placed at the SkillsUSA Leadership and Skills Conference are listed below. First place winners will participate in the national competition.

Automotive Refinishing Technology (Secondary Division):

  • First Place: Jayden Dierks of Winterset, Winterset High School

Automotive Refinishing Technology (Post-Secondary Division):

  • First Place: Ethan Mitchell of Afton

Automotive Service Technology (Secondary Division):

  • Second Place: Grant Trucks of Winterset, Winterset High School

Collision Repair Technology (Secondary Division):

  • First Place: Lucas Lynch, Creston, Creston High School

Collision Repair Technology (Post-Secondary Division):

  • First Place: Cody Winkler of Lorimor

Carpentry (Secondary Division)

  • Second Place: Jake Cox of Lenox, Lenox High School
  • Third Place: Isaac Grundman of Lenox, Lenox High School

Carpentry (Post-Secondary Division):

  • Second Place: Tyson Smith of Creston

Electrical Construction Wiring (Secondary Division):

  • First Place: Cole Binning of Woodburn, Clarke High School
  • Second Place: KJ Fry of Osceola, Clarke High School

Electrical Construction Wiring (Post-Secondary Division):

  • First Place: Brady Pearson of Knoxville
  • Second Place: Osten Blevins of Osceola
  • Third Place: Kurtis Noonan of Carlisle