I'm in Kansas City, MO this week at the Skills USA National Championship competition to determine the best and brightest in the service industry not just for marine techs, but virtually any area of service you can think of, from airplanes to pastry chefs to medical assistants. Most people outside of the service industry are not familiar with Skills USA and I encourage you to go to their website to learn more about what they do and how it can impact your life whenever you need to get something repaired or built. Go to www.skillsusa.org to find out more about this group.

The participants come from schools all over the US and most of the competitors have already proven themselves by winning state or regional contests. So, for me this is an opportunity to not only meet with the instructors, but students that have really worked hard to become the best that they can be in their respective interest areas. As a judge for the contest I get to see these young people demonstrate their skills first hand. These are the newest and best that the marine service sector will see. These are the people you want to be servicing your boat!

One of my personal volunteer projects over the last several years has been to work with the people at Skills in the development of a new competency exam for these or any Skills USA member in the marine service technology area. One of the mandates set forth by Skills was that the exam be Standards Based. Most of you reading this probably have no real idea what that means, so let me explain. Virtually any industry has a "code" or set of standards that are followed in the workplace to act as a guiding light for work perfomed. Household electricians are mandated to follow the National Electric Code as an example. Well, since I work for the Standards writing body for the recreational marine industry, the American Boat & Yacht Council (ABYC) I was a logical choice to create a Standards Based test for the marine industry. This is a whole new approach for the marine sector, as well as many of the other service sectors represented here at this contest. The other interesting thing about this exam is that it is the first of its type within the marine industry and it utilizes some new approaches to standardized test taking.

Readers need to understand that most service people in the world have a very definable set of learning styles. Visual and hands-on learning are the keys to their successful training. To that end, this exam employs many visuals as well as interactive drag and drop diagrams. Yes, it is a multiple choice exam, but it is the first attempt at integrating some of the known learning styles and methods into a generic, industry wide competency exam. Further its all online, so the new generation of service workers are at a computer taking the exam. Computers are a way of life in the new service sector, so why not adopt them for competency testing purposes. Its also an instant gratifiaction society at this point in history, so the online system gives the students a score immediately, which is recorded in a database.

So, today was the "written" portion of the contest, and all of our marine contestants have taken the online test. Tomorrow is the hands-on portion of the contest and the contestants will work their way through 5 work stations demonstrating their skills in boat and trailer preparation, precision measurement, electrical troubleshooting and systems diagnostics. I'll get you some more photos tomorrow. Below you see our first group online working their way through the new exam. Remember folks, these young technicians are the future for your boat repairs, and with people like these working on your boat your future looks good!