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SkillsUSA Participation Grows in the South

Students at a Skills Competition

Industry and Education Partnerships Drive higher participation in Southern SkillsUSA Competition

The Southern region of the U.S. is better known for its vacation destinations and cuisine than for being a manufacturing hot spot. A recent uptick in defense, automotive, aerospace, and space exploration manufacturing has put a renewed focus on industry in the south.

Employment numbers, however, have not followed suit. A 2021 study from the Bureau of Labor Statistics of manufacturing employment in the southern states over the last 30 years shows some states growing sharply while others decline or stagnate, making the region relatively flat.

“It’s not because the jobs aren’t there,” said Jamie Boyd, Applications Engineer at Barefoot CNC. “People in North and South Carolina think of industry as shops that support marine and water sports. They aren’t used to thinking about manufacturing jobs as career options.”

There’s a big push to change that. Mastercam Channel Partner, Barefoot CNC, Morganton, NC, where Boyd works, is a big supporter of SkillsUSA in both North and South Carolina.  In North Carolina, brands like Mastercam and Phillips Corporation have put money, resources, and time into the program.

Active participation by corporate sponsors have also led to the adoption of 5-axis CNC programming competitions in the SkillsUSA programs in most southern states.

“We see what companies are asking for,” said Jason Parks, Applications Engineer at Barefoot CNC. “So, we make sure students’ skills reflect that. Five-axis programming is a very important skill to have.”

Along with grassroots participation on the state level, these industry leaders, Mastercam included, also sit on national planning and technical committees alongside academics and other trade experts. This ensures competition guidelines are aligned with what students will encounter when they enter the job market.

Derek Seeke, a Machining Instructor at Guilford Technical Community College in Jamestown, NC says industry support is instrumental for trade programs.

“It ties together the knowledge we teach with what they will experience in the industry,” said Seeke. “There’s more opportunity to see and work in the types of environments they will be in after they graduate.”

He also points out that this participation gives them access to much needed software and equipment.

“We teach students to go from an idea in their head to blueprint to machined part,” said Seeke. “We couldn’t do that without access to CAD/CAM software and machines.”

Another big driver of participation in SkillsUSA in the southern states has been a bigger level of commitment from schools and instructors, which ranges from adding competition parts and guidelines into the curriculum to having SkillsUSA-style competitions in class to determine which students will compete on the state level.

Last, but certainly not least, southern-based Mastercam Channel Partners act as organizers, judges, and advisors for the CNC programming competitions, providing much needed assistance. In Alabama, Brian Kadow from CAD/CAM Solutions, Snellville, GA, helped judge the Alabama competition.

“I was surprised by how large it was,” said Kadow. “More and more students participate in CNC programming and the other manufacturing competitions every year.”

He credits this growth with the outreach work that local trade schools in Alabama do on a regular basis.

“They (the schools) work directly with school districts and local businesses,” said Kadow. “It exposes students to manufacturing at a younger age and creates more interest in manufacturing as a career.”

CNC Programming SkillsUSA competitions in North Carolina were held at Philips Corporation’s Colfax, NC location. In all other states, including South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Florida, CNC Programming contests were held along with all other SkillsUSA competitions in each state’s respective convention centers.

For more information on Mastercam’s SkillsUSA program, please visit or to find out more about SkillsUSA, please visit