Joseph Coderre had less than 10 minutes left out of the 30-minute competition to terminate the end of a cable, install a jack, and screw a faceplate on a wall. Dressed in a white polo shirt, black pants, and safety glasses, he scaled a blue stepladder to bring two horizontal cables from a simulated work area outlet back to the patch panel. As a judge sat nearby with a stopwatch, Coderre worked steadily to finish the installation.

Coderre, a fifth-year student at Tulsa Technology Center in Tulsa, Okla., was one of 23 students who competed in the Telecommunications Cabling contest at the SkillsUSA Championships June 23-25 in Kansas City, Mo. Both post-secondary and secondary students competed at the state level before advancing to the 40th annual national competition. The 2004 event featured 77 skilled hands-on and leadership contests and involved more than 4,200 students and 1,500 judges. Richard Bowers, technician/instructor for Communications Apprenticeship and Training in Brooklyn Heights, Ohio, has served as a judge for the competition since it first started three years ago.

“It's been a dream of mine to have a competition like this in our industry,” he says. “This is the best way to prepare the students for a career. There's no substitute for hands-on training.”

To compete in the real world, the students need to learn more than just how to install cabling since a lot of the commercial buildings are already wired, Bowers says. Today's technicians need to know how to connect hubs, switches, and routers. For that reason, the contest organizers decided to change the name of the competition from Structured Wiring to Telecommunications Cabling to broaden the scope of the contest to include voice, high-speed data link, coax and television, and sound systems. For the 2004 competition, the team of judges scored the contestants based on three different areas — professionalism, a written examination, and hands-on work. The students filled out a job application, participated in a mock job interview, and were judged on their communication skills and attitude. The judges also evaluated the contestants' ability to read network design documentation, pull and mount cable, choose wiring closets, complete patch panel installation and termination tasks, install jacks, and test cables. The top three finishers in the post-secondary and the secondary categories were awarded gold, silver, or bronze medals (Sidebar below) as well as industry-donated prizes.

The students started off the full day of competition at 8 a.m. by taking a written examination that covered such topics as cable pulling, firestopping, and grounding and bonding. Those who passed the exam were awarded a certificate from the electronic association.

The contestants then began the hands-on portion of the competition. Working under specified time limits, they completed cabling exercises at four different stations. The students built a patch cable, a crossover cable, and a coaxial cable at the cable construction station. At the troubleshooting table, they were assigned 20 tasks that involved visual identification and cable testing. The students also had to work with punch-down tools and 25-pair and four-pair cable at the cable termination table. Finally, they moved on to the cable installation station, which was set up to resemble a telecommunications room. This year's competition featured two ladder racks, but the organizers hope to increase it to six racks in 2005 to accommodate more students. The number of contestants almost doubled from 14 in 2003 to 23 in 2004, and Bob Dickerson, chairman of the education committee, expects the same amount of growth next year. The Telecommunications Cabling contest began three years ago as a limited demonstration contest at the SkillsUSA championships and is now eligible to become an official SkillsUSA competition.

“This contest is badly needed in the industry because the industry professionals tell me that 80% of all the problems with computer networks can be traced to cabling problems,” says Dickerson, a consultant for the State Board of Education in Raleigh, N.C. “If they don't install the cabling correctly, then the computer networks won't work properly.”

Editor's Note: SkillsUSA invites manufacturers and industry professionals to help with the 2005 contest. If you're interested in volunteering, e-mail Thomas Holdsworth at twh@skillsusa.org or visit www.skillsusa.org.






Sidebar: Telecom Cabling Medalists

SECONDARY POST-SECONDARY
Gold Gold
Christopher Coons, Round Valley High School, Springerville, Ariz. Jason Sprouse, Utah Valley State College, Orem, Utah
Silver Silver
Matthew Allen, Weaver Academy, Greensboro, N.C. Clayton Walls, East Central Technical College, Fitzgerald, Ga.
Bronze Bronze
Kyle Myers, Herndon Career Center, Raytown, Mo. Joseph Coderre, Tulsa Tech-Riverside, Tulsa, Okla.