Bryan Gonzalez of McMinn County High School is aiming for a career in the automotive industry, and Tuesday in Chattanooga he worked with some of latest repair and diagnostic equipment.
"It's a good way to build up my resume, and I can get a scholarship," said Gonzalez, one of about 1,200 students who took part in a statewide competition to gauge their expertise in a variety of trade and industrial education programs.
SkillsUSA, a nonprofit group joining with state educators to create a trained work force, hosted students in the contest. Winners are to go onto a national competition later this year.
The group, which filled large parts of the Convention Center, showed off skills in fields ranging from construction to cosmetology to robotics.
Timothy Lawrence, SkillsUSA's executive director, said the target is to fill "the jobs pipeline."
"When the economy comes back, there's going to be a shortage of construction and other skilled occupations," he said. "We need these young people desperately."
Sue Tucker, a consultant for trades and industry for the Tennessee Department of Education, said what students are learning prepares them for jobs.
Also, the vast majority of those at the contest will finish high school with many going beyond to continue their education, she said.
"They've got a focus and they know where they're going," Tucker said.
Tim Spires, who heads the Chattanooga Regional Manufacturers Association, said the competition exposes students to technical skills which lead to careers in manufacturing.
"While the majority is technical, there are other things which lead ... to entrepreneurship in business," he said.
Scott Trueblood of McMinn County High said he and five teammates took part in "the quiz bowl" which involves academic questions in current events and professional development.
"It helps you grow up," he said.
Aubrey Hall, also of McMinn, said he gained confidence from the competition. "These are the top performers in the state," he said.