Skilled at the Skills: Two G-E-T seniors to rep Wisconsin at SkillsUSA nationals

            Cole Kremer inspected the engine of a school bus outside Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau High School last Wednesday. The G-E-T senior will join classmate Brandon Bork at the SkillsUSA national championships in Georgia this June.      (Times photograph by Benjamin Pierce)

            Brandon Bork showed his current engineering project, a CNC industrial cutting machine, at Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau High School last Wednesday. Bork is building the machine, which costs about $25,000 to buy assembled, from scratch and is one of two G-E-T seniors heading to SkillsUSA nationals in June.    (Times photograph by Benjamin Pierce) 

Seated in the classroom above a vocational workspace at Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau High School last week, Brandon Bork and Cole Kremer pulled no punches while explaining how much SkillsUSA means to them and their peers.

Bork and Kremer will represent Wisconsin this summer after the G-E-T seniors won their respective competitions at the SkillsUSA state championships earlier this month to qualify for the national championships, set for the last week of June in Atlanta, Ga.

SkillsUSA is an educational extracurricular organization that gives students hands-on experience in numerous career paths including the trades, healthcare and safety while also teaching skills such as leadership, teamwork and communication, according to its website.

“It’s a huge honor to represent the state of Wisconsin. There’s so much that goes into this,” Kremer said last week. “So much time, and seeing all the work, all the years finally paying off, you’ve kind of mastered your trade and got to this point and now you finally get to see the final product of going to nationals.”

Kremer advances in diesel repair, an area that requires identification of engine materials, error diagnostics and more. Bork will partake in the technical drafting competition, which includes aspects in engineering, blueprints and manufacturing.

Kremer competed against 10 others at state on April 10 in Madison, while Bork won a field of 30 students. Both will be the only Wisconsin students competing in their competitions at nationals. 

“I think us taking first at state really gave us confidence that we are good at what we do,” Bork said. “It was a big accomplishment for both of us. Nationals is going to be a lot harder, but we have been working hard the past three, four years to eventually do something of this caliber.”

This is the first time since 2019 that G-E-T saw numerous qualifiers for nationals. The 2024 team also saw member Carson Ziegler place third in the prepared speech category at state.

Kremer will work with bigger engines in vehicles such as semi-trucks across the four days at the national competition.

Bork will receive a set of mechanical parts with dimensions and must design, rebuild and assemble the parts with his own prints. Students are not told what the parts are until they arrive.

Kremer and Bork currently serve as the G-E-T SkillsUSA program’s leaders, Bork as president and Kremer as vice president — though both told the Times they refer to each other as “co-president”.

Around 30 kids at G-E-T are members of SkillsUSA, including 15 paid members who compete in area competitions against schools from the Coulee Conference as well as Sparta, Adams-Friendship, Wauzeka-Steubon and others.

Lance Walker works as one of the school’s SkillsUSA advisors and said the state competition ran from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. and followed other rigorous competitions at regionals and districts.

“Essentially at state they’ve already won their Super Bowl. There are so many kids that don’t get honored there — there were probably 1,000-plus kids,” Walker said.

Bork and Kremer advancing to nationals is no fluke, Walker said.

“They’re such good kids and there is a reason that they’re representing Wisconsin. They’re the best.”

Both students are excited to meet other kids who are passionate about their skills as well as possible future employers at nationals.

Bork’s first event in SkillsUSA was woodworking, a path he admitted didn’t appeal to him. He plans to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering at the Colorado School of Mines after graduating this spring, an interest sparked in part due to his ability to test-drive possible careers in SkillsUSA.

Kremer said his favorite hobby is tinkering with and fixing vehicles, but he hopes to pursue a degree in construction management at the University of Minnesota-Mankato.

Before their time at G-E-T concludes, though, both students say there is work ahead at nationals. They hope more students don the red blazer associated with SkillsUSA, saying the organization has better prepared them for the future.

“I think Skills is becoming vital to our nation’s workforce because a lot of these jobs we’re not really exposed to in school. It brings back some of these jobs that people might think of as dirty or hard, and it makes it more accessible I think,” Bork said.

Bork’s “co-president” smiled after the former finished his thought and echoed the idea.

“It’s getting us more skilled in the trades and preparing us for the workforce,” Kremer said. “It’s getting the workforce ready for the challenges of tomorrow.”

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