Published Sunday, February 10, 2013

Georgia Skills USA: Crocker's regional title win 'electric' for ECHS junior


Rebecca Crocker is the sixth consecutive Central Educational Center construction student to win a regional Skills USA title, but she’s the first female.

Lucky for her she can hang with the best of the boys.

“Rebecca’s just got the sort of personality to get in there and mix it up,” Construction Director Tom Barnett said of the East Coweta High School junior, who is an intern in his department as part of the work-based learning program at CEC.

Crocker “mixed it up” with the boys at regional competition, nailing the written and practical components of the Electrical Skill Olympics, held at West Georgia Technical College’s LaGrange Campus last month.

Skills USA is a student organization that represents the career and technical education programs formerly known as VICA (Vocational Industrial Clubs of America). Skills USA features more than 97 competition areas and the week-long national event takes up an area equal to 16 football fields.

While there are numerous skills events including at least five construction-related competitions, Crocker competed in Electrical Construction Wiring. Regionals are three-hour competitions, and students bring their own tools from an approved tool list, outfitting themselves in approved personal protection equipment.

Tasks at regionals may include wiring an electrical panel with both 120/240 volt circuits, three-way and four-way switches, ground fault circuits installed according to industry standards and the national electrical code.

“Rebecca practices at school, after school and at home for the competitions,” Barnett said.

State competition is a three-day event and the competition – usually held on a Friday – has more demanding tasks including bending conduit, normally found in commercial installation.

National competition is even more demanding and may last all day, Barnett said. Participants complete community service activities and learn at workshops as well as attending formal opening and closing ceremonies. Nationals culminate in “an awards ceremony that looks similar to the Olympics as we know them,” according to Barnett.

“The first three places are recognized on stage with the appropriate medallions,” he said. “Corporate sponsors usually offer prizes of tools and scholarships to the worthy winners.”

CEC students compete in Region IV, which includes Heard, Harris, Troup, Muscogee, Meriwether and Upson counties. State winners in each skill area advance to nationals, held in June in Kansas City, MO, and Crocker said she would love to be there.

“That would be huge, just to at least go to nationals,” said Crocker, who never has been on an airplane.

Otherwise, Crocker stays focused on an eventual career in the electrical trades, or maybe as a construction teacher. She is looking at apprenticeships and internships that will open more doors for her as she prepares to enter the workforce.

Not bad for a student who just sort of happened upon her gift.

Crocker decided to try a construction class in 10th grade, and that’s where she first heard Atlanta Electrical Contractors Association Human Resources Director Chuck Little speak about his chosen career.

“She was interested in the opportunities that are made available through the union apprenticeships,” said Barnett, whose own adult daughter Erin is pursuing a career in the male-dominated construction field.

Little will speak to CEC students again this month, and Barnett said he has indicated an interest in talking further with Crocker.

“Since Rebecca is a non-traditional student, she will most likely have her pick of job opportunities available to her once trained,” Barnett said.

And that’s the point of CEC’s work-based learning program, which has allowed Crocker to develop the skills she will need to pursue a career in the electrical trade or as a construction teacher. She completed both construction courses offered by CEC and now assists Barnett in the classroom, advises the lower level team-members in the classes she has completed, finishes projects and assembles materials.

She’s come a long way since her first class.

“When we were working on electrical projects, the guys who were my partners wouldn’t let me do anything,” Crocker said.

“And now she’s teaching them,” Barnett said.

Participation in Skills USA indicates to the employers that not only was the student willing to demonstrate that their skills meet industry standards, but also that they have the mental stability to withstand the rigors of preparing themselves for competition and actually competing, according to Barnett.

Students who participate in Skills USA are seen as winners whether they place in competition or not and employers noting their abilities have offered internships and jobs to those as many themselves were Skills USA/ VICA winners and now are company owners, Barnett said.

Crocker is the latest winner in CEC’s longest region title streak. Several CEC students have finished second or third in state competition, and one – two-time regional champ Robert Watson, who claimed titles in 2008 and 2009 – represented Georgia in the 2009 nationals, finishing 16th overall. Other winners in the current streak were Grant Chambers in 2012, Lance Boone in 2011 and Thomas Watson in 2010.

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