Each April, meeting rooms and exhibition halls in downtown Grand Rapids are transformed into building sites, hair salons, restaurants and other scenarios.
Instead of bottled water and notepads, the rooms are supplied with power saws, electrical tools or blow dryers.
That’s what happens at the annual state competition of SkillsUSA Michigan.
It’s where thousands of the best tradespeople-in-training from all over the state compete to move on to the national competition, Instructor Duane Olds said.
“The SkillsUSA state championship weekend, it brings together 3,000-plus student competitors. Up to 75 different competitions, encompassing all different trades,” he said. “This is game time. This is where they have to bring their A-game.”
The students and their families fill the downtown-area hotels and the competitions take place all over the city.
Students learn to perform under the stressful conditions of competition, and sometimes a natural disaster—Grand Rapids had record-breaking floods in 2013 that threw a wrench in some plans.
But it’s all part of the real-life experience the competition tries to provide.
“We practice to get better, and when they have to compete against the very best in the state, as they are today, they get better,” Instructor John Birko said. “They find things in themselves, and they find things in their skills that they never knew they had.”