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Teens put industry skills to test
Brunswick High School junior Cody Hutcheson liked his chances Friday in the collision repair competition of the annual Skills USA contest at the Golden Isles Career Academy.

With safety glasses on, he stood behind the fender of a car that was perched atop two work stands, diligently sanding a damaged area he was repairing.

Hutcheson's optimism was evident but tempered.

"I think I have a good chance, but I don't want to get ahead of myself," he said.

No matter where he places in the competition, Hutcheson was just happy to there.

"It's fun," he said. "It's a good experience."

Hutcheson was one of hundreds of students from a 25-county Southeast Georgia region testing their skills against one another in everything from construction and masonry to welding and automotive body repair.

Roy McDowell, a collision repair instructor at the career academy and region advisor for Skills USA, said the competition helps connect students to people in the industries they are studying to enter.

"The competition tries to connect their education to the real world," McDowell said.

Jacob Flannagan, a competition judge who works with Tulsa Welding School in Jacksonville, once won the Skills USA national competition when he was in high school in Alabama.

He said the competition lets students know where they stand and provides a good opportunity for them to meet people who might hire them one day.

"It's great for networking," Flannagan said.

Another judge, Jimmy Walker, who was judging the collision repair competition in which Hutcheson was competing, said when he was in high school, Skills USA helped him find his career.

"It helped me choose what I wanted to do," Walker said.

The real world feel of the competition, with a time deadline and standards that match real jobs, is a great experience for students, Walker said.

Andrew Bagley of Pierce County High School said the welding project he was working on was exactly what he hopes to do as his job one day. He also liked the opportunity to meet other students with similar interests.

"I am just glad to be here," Bagley said.

First- and second-place winners at Friday's competition will move on to state competition, where they will have a chance to advance to the nationals.

* Reporter Michael Hall writes about public safety, the environment and other local topics. Contact him at, on Facebook or at 265-8320, ext. 320.

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