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High school students from across the state compete in trade skill event

By Shavonne Walker
shavonne.walker@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — West Rowan High junior Brock Hager had been preparing nearly three months for Saturday’s Skills Rowan 2020 competition.

Hager was among 105 students from over 100 high schools across the state who showcased their trade skills in masonry, electrical, carpentry and cabinet-making. The competition was spread across two buildings at the fairgrounds — one that held students who created stacks of cinderblocks, brick and mortar — the other where students teamed up to build and frame a wall. Local business owners and representatives were on hand at the event to make connections with students, some of whom could become potential employees.

Hager participated for the first time last year in carpentry and won first place. The top masonry finisher in Saturday’s competition won $1,000. Some students also created pieces to be entered in the carpentry showcase. This is the fourth year for the four-hour competition event, which was held at the Rowan County Fairgrounds and this year is a NC SkillsUSA Regional Rally event.

“It’s a blessing. I’m very blessed to have the opportunity,” Hager said.

Hager said he’s learned a lot from carpentry instructor Derek Overcash and has assisted the teacher in building houses. Before taking carpentry under Overcash, Hager said he learned the basics from his father. The family lives on a farm and there have been projects Hager was able to help his father.

Hager said he’s been able to take on some side projects for himself and his family. He’s constructed a lot of deer stands and decks.

This isn’t just a hobby. Hager said he wants to continue to work in this field. He doesn’t consider himself a student who enjoys traditional learning. Instead, he’s one who loves to work with his hands.

Skills-type classes are Carson High junior Joshua Loyd’s favorite, too.

He’s had the opportunity to make a coffee table for the showcase and has made a pool cue holder and boxes for himself and others.

“It’s a great hobby and skill to have,” Loyd said.

Loyd is a proponent of learning a skill “for free” that can be applied after high school.

East Rowan High teacher David Payne said he prepares students for skills that they can use for a potential career in construction, carpentry or masonry and the like, and soft skills needed after they graduate, including interviewing so they can enter the workforce.

He’s watched many students who participate in the competition and have “aha” moments where it becomes something as more than just a hobby.

His goal in teaching students is the same as the biblical principle that says, “If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day but if you teach him to fish you feed him for a lifetime,” Payne said.

Payne said there’s a skills gap in trade-based work — where older people are aging out and there are not many people to step in. With classes being taught by teachers like himself and others, competitions could open the door for more students to take on a trade in carpentry, masonry, plumbing or electrical work.

Maria Torres, a former student at Columbus Career and College Academy in Fair Bluff, surprised her former instructor Fred Mason, who taught her masonry. Mason said he considers Torres one of his successful students.

She currently works in Wilmington at a Fuqua-Varina-based construction company. Torres is continuing her education and is in the midst of obtaining a degree in construction project management.

“I know what they’re going through. I just wanted to be here to help support them,” she said.

Torres said the work isn’t easy but her advice to the students is “If there is no struggle there is no victory.”

Kalyn Stover is a Columbus Career and College Academy student who competed in the masonry portion for the first time. She joined the masonry event after knowing some fellow students who participated and enjoyed it. The best part of the event for Stover is getting hands-on experience.

The event was organized by Amber Peddycord, Colleen Young, Blaire Goodale, and Megan Smith. Peddycord, Young and Goodale are all career development coordinators while Smith is an instructional management coordinator for the Rowan-Salisbury School System.

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