At last summer’s Association of Woodworking and Furnishings Suppliers (AWFS) Fair in Las Vegas, two students competed in a three day, 21-hour cabinetmaking contest at the WorldSkills Cabinetmaking Qualifying Trial. The winner would advance to Leipzig, Germany, in 2013 to compete as an international WorldSkills Cabinetmaking finalist.
The Trial’s project was a small but intricate nightstand. While the competitors each worked on it, they were under the close supervision of three judges and a trade show’s worth of observant spectators. Imagine the pressure of that kind of shop scrutiny!
But Kaydee Walters, a 2011 graduate of Tooele High School in Tooele, Utah, and Daniel Berrios, a graduate of Bethlehem Vo-Tech School in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, were seasoned veterans of such challenges as gold medalists in high school cabinetmaking through an organization called SkillsUSA. It’s a national program serving high school and post-secondary students who are preparing for some 90 different trade careers. Walters and Berrios had won similar competitions at their respective district and state competitions, then at the national level. Daniel won nationals in 2010, and Kaydee nabbed that victory this past June. Those competitions qualified them for the 2011 AWFS challenge.
Robert Tobias, an associate professor of cabinetmaking and wood technology at Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, was one of three technical experts who oversaw the three-day challenge and judged the competitor projects. Tobias had developed the initial plans for the nightstand project, as well as helped to organize the Trial — a first at AWFS — along with the help of a host of other organizers and technical experts.
The cherry nightstand was an elegant but demanding amalgamation of joinery styles, millwork exercises and casework details. A copy of the project plans was on display for spectators to study.
Rob explained that, according to rules established by WorldSkills, the Trial project was required to have a hand-dovetailed drawer, some veneer work and a door. It also needed to be buildable in 21 hours, over three seven hour workdays. Tobias based it loosely on a plan he’d used for college courses at Thaddeus Stevens, but the final design was intentionally modified to satisfy guidelines set forth by WorldSkills.
Competitors received the preliminary nightstand plans three weeks prior to AWFS so they would have a chance to study the drawings. But, in order to ensure transparency and fairness, a few days before AWFS the plans were modified another 30 percent by half of the members of a technical expert forum. These changes made the nightstand project unique to the two finalists entering competition.
Once the build-off was underway, Tobias and fellow judges evaluated the projects at various stages, using a point distribution system established by WorldSkills that mirrors the evaluation methods followed at the international competition.
When the Trial ended and final points were tallied, Daniel edged ahead of Kaydee to win the AWFS event and move on to the WorldSkills international competition. Tobias says Berrios has an Olympic-class event to look forward to in Leipzig: more than 800 students from 52 countries will be competing in 40 different skill areas. Gold, silver and bronze medals will be awarded to the winners.
More than 300,000 students and advisers annually join SkillsUSA. Organized into over 17,000 sections and 54 state and territorial associations, SkillsUSA has served more than 10.5 million members.