HELENA — April 7 marked the beginning of the 51st annual Skills USA Montana State Leadership and Skills Conference and the return of the in-person event in the "post-pandemic" world.
Students from all across Montana converged on Helena to showcase their skills ranging from public speaking to trades work like welding.
For Butte High School senior Hayden Rector who competed in welding on Friday afternoon, the program isn't just a way for him to showcase his skills, but also a way for him to grow as an individual.
"It helped me grow as a person and made me a better individual, made me want to help out people. And then like in these trades that you're able to compete in and talk in, you get to expand your horizons with your experience, and you get to meet new people," said Rector after completing a welding competition.
Previously, the state-wide conference was held at Montana State-Northern in Havre but recently moved to Helena for its centralized location.
Mary Heller, state director for Skills USA Montana, there's a bit more at stake at this year's conference than some medals and pride.
"Every event has a potential for either a scholarship to another facility like Helena College, you know, beyond high school," said Heller. "Or it could be a stipend where they pay for them to go to a national event. Or there's some companies here that may be offering apprenticeships, that's it's a wide variety of things that the students could have that the doors are open to them," said Heller.
Hellgate High School Senior Robert Gutman — who does automotive work in the Skills USA program — noted an event like the statewide conference is important because it underscores opportunities for students to serve their communities.
"It's important because skills are almost like a dying thing and automotive is such an important part of our infrastructure, especially because vehicles are getting more advanced and it's not just simply turning a wrench anymore. You have to really know your stuff now and it's really important for our generation to know that so our I guess our lifestyle can continue," said Gutman.
More information on Skills USA Montana or how to get involved can be found on the Skills USA Montana website.
(Editor's note: Previous versions of this story listed Gutman as a junior and Rector as a senior. Gutman is a senior and Rector is a junior. The current version of the story reflects this.)