ImageDrew Swafford, a Welding and Joining Technology diploma student at Georgia Northwestern Technical College (GNTC) recently won a gold medal in welding at the SkillsUSA Georgia State Leadership and Skills Conference in Atlanta. 

Swafford competed against students from other technical colleges in Georgia.  The competition allowed students to take the skills, knowledge, and experience that they have gained in their classrooms and apply them to a real life project.  The projects were based on industry standards and business partners designed and judged the competition.

Swafford, his family, and his Georgia Northwestern instructors collected money to pay for his trip to Atlanta for the competition. 

A 2011 graduate of Cedartown High School, Swafford was dual enrolled at Georgia Northwestern and Cedartown High since his sophomore year.   

“SkillsUSA is a big deal at Cedartown High School,” stated Swafford.  In addition to winning for GNTC this year, he competed and won the high school competition of SkillsUSA last year at the state level and finished 13th out of 49 students at the national level.

Even for a seasoned competitor of SkillsUSA, Swafford said the competition this year was intense. “It was hard to keep your concentration with all the people watching.  Between the judges, the advisors, and all the spectators walking around, that made me a little nervous.”

“SkillsUSA is a great experience for students. It is helpful to learn to work under that kind of pressure.  I really enjoyed the competition,” Swafford added.

Swafford said there were three reasons why he won the SkillsUSA Georgia competition.  Support from the college; his great instructors, Joe Burrage, Matt Hayden, and Jerry Robinson; and a lot of practice. 

“Drew did all the legwork to register for the competition this year,” said Joe Burrage, GNTC’s Welding and Joining program director and instructor.  “I think finishing 13th at nationals just made him mad.  He’ll go all the way this year.”

The SkillsUSA National Championships is held each year in Kansas City, Missouri.  Contestants who succeed at the local level can continue on to the state or even the national level.  Swafford is already preparing for the national competition in Kansas City in June. 

“Nationals will be much more intense.  It is an eight hour project, so it will be tough,” Swafford added with a smile, “but I love competition.”

Founded in 1965 as the Vocational Industrial Clubs of America, Inc. (VICA), SkillsUSA is a national nonprofit organization that represents a partnership of students, teachers, and industry leaders.  It serves high school and college students who are preparing for careers in trade, technical, and skilled service occupations, including health occupations. SkillsUSA’s mission is to empower its members to become world-class workers, leaders, and responsible American citizens. At the heart of this mission the core values: integrity, responsibility, citizenship, service, and respect.


Burrage Swafford Robinson – GNTC Program Director and Instructor of Welding and Joining, Joe Burrage; GNTC Welding Student and SkillsUSA Georgia Gold Medal Winner in Welding, Drew Swafford; GNTC Instructor of Welding and Joining, Jerry Robinson.