Holmen Skills USA students prepare for real-world trade skills long before college

Fastenal Winona leaders work with students and Skills USA to help groom next wave of local skilled trade workers

HOLMEN, Wis. (WKBT) — People won’t know whether they like something until they try it. A local student discovered his career path through a competition that teaches special manufacturing skills.

Skills USA is a national organization that tests students on their technical knowledge. One student found his career path by just trying something new.

Competition extends beyond the Friday night lights all the way to the classroom.

“It’s the real deal,” said Alexander Leifeld, a sophomore at Holmen High School.

Leifeld’s classroom plays the part of a real-life work environment.

“Actually, have a physical item in my hands that I can say, ‘I designed that. I programmed it and now here it is cut out,’” Leifeld said.

Leifeld competes in Skills USA – testing his ability in specific manufacturing trades.

“Everything from cosmetology to automotive service technology to cabinet making: sheet metal, welding,” said Dan Lilla, a tech teacher who is the Holmen’s Skills USA team adviser.

The community benefits from the products a computer numerical control machine creates.

“The coffee cup that you drank your coffee in, to the car that you drove here in today,” said Willie Lubahn, a trainer and recruiter for Fastenal manufacturing’s Winona campus.

The competition also requires them to build a resume and prepare like they’re walking in for a job interview.

“Giving them some confidence to be prepared for the world of work after high school is a great thing for each of these young guys,” Lilla said.

Lubahn said companies see the value in this education and they’re willing to pay for it.

“They want to come and work for us; I’ll pay for that two-year education,” Lubahn said.

Students like Leifeld learn how to take an idea and make it real.

“Patience. Attention to detail,” Lubahn said. “A lot of these things we’re holding to tolerances of that are less than a human hair.”

Four-year degrees aren’t for everyone, Lubahn said. He speaks from experience as a former teacher who found a love for manufacturing.

“I don’t know if I would have picked the same path if I’d known about this when I was a junior or a sophomore in high school,” Lubahn said.

Leifeld didn’t know this machine existed a short time ago. He discovered a passion he didn’t know he had.

“There’s a lot of freedom to it and a lot of opportunity after high school,” Lubahn said.

A reward born out of trying something new. Eight Holmen High School students will compete at a state competition in April. There is also another competition for CNC milling.

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