AUGUSTA — It was noisy in the plumbing and heating lab at Capital Area Technical Center.

There was the buzzing of electric drills, the scraping of a utility knife against the freshly cut end of a PVC pipe, and the snapping of metal measuring tapes.

But six students weren’t saying a word, too focused on trying to complete the rough plumbing of a half-bath in just about two hours.

“Some of them will get it finished,” instructor Paul Kennedy said.

The six students had scored well on a written test of their plumbing knowledge and now had the chance to put it into action for the local competition of SkillsUSA, a national organization for career and technical students. They had to show, among other things, that they could read a set of proportional plans to figure out where the pipes should go in a wooden platform mocked up with a floor and wall studs and join the pipes correctly.

On the other side of the lab, three students taking part in the heating competition had to assemble oil burners from boxes of parts. All over CATC, students were working on challenges specific to their trade areas, demonstrating general skills like public speaking, or showing portfolios of the work they’ve done this year.


The top finishers from CATC’s competition will go to Bangor in March with the winners from other local competitions around the state to vie for a chance to go to the SkillsUSA national competition.

The local SkillsUSA competition is one of the year’s biggest events at CATC.

“It’s a way for them to show, ‘This is what I know, this is what I can do, and I’m awesome at it,’ ” said Denise Tufts, a certified nursing assistant instructor and the faculty adviser for SkillsUSA.

Culinary arts student Sierra Webster, a junior from Winthrop High School, was feeling a few different things at the start of the competition.

“I was really nervous, but at the same time I was excited to be able to show some of my skills,” she said.

Webster had separated a chicken into parts and was simultaneously sautéing the breasts and stirring chicken-vegetable soup.


With about 20 minutes left, she was ahead of some students who were just heating their sauté pans, but she knew she wouldn’t finish everything in time.

Graphic design student Kassidy Labelle, a senior from Cony High School in Augusta, said she hoped her work would show how much she’s improved since last year, when she placed third. Tasked to create a T-shirt design for Maine, she sketched a clump of blueberries, uploaded it to Adobe Illustrator and cleaned it up and added text.

“I may or may not have placed, but at least I tried,” she said.

Electrical student Travis Robbins, a junior from Richmond High School, said he saw the competition as a win-win.

“If I go to states, I get free food, and if I don’t, I’ve got more time off,” he said.

More seriously, Robbins said he appreciated the chance to have his work judged by someone actually working in the field and that an award would look good on a college or job application.


One of the plumbing judges, John Tyler from Augusta Fuel and Plumbing Co., said students who perform well in the competition can make a good impression on potential employers. Tyler judges SkillsUSA every year because he wants to give back, grateful for the apprenticeship that gave him an entry into the trade in 1973.

“If we don’t take the time to replace the baby boomers, there won’t be anyone to take over,” he said.

Susan McMillan can be contacted 621-5645 or at:

Twitter: @s_e_mcmillan

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