Every June thousands of students from high school and college vo-tech programs travel to Kansas City, Mo., to compete in the SkillsUSA championships. Most compete in a single trade such as cabinetmaking, sheet-metal work, or welding, but some participate in the multi-trade TeamWorks event.

In TeamWorks, four-person teams use their carpentry, electrical, plumbing, and masonry skills to construct small buildings (1) that contain many of the elements of actual homes. To qualify for the nationals, teams must win the competitions in their respective states. This year 46 teams advanced to the finals.

Construction took place over the course of two days. Each team received a set of plans for an 8-foot-by-9-foot laundry room and access to material that was staged nearby. To obtain material, they "ordered" it online (2) for delivery to their "job site" on the floor of Kemper Arena. Corporate sponsors provided the tools, and each competitor had the same Bosch, Kobalt, and Stanley equipment.

Since the project was designed to test a variety of skills, the buildings had a mix of elements. For example, the walls contained both wood and steel studs, and there were two kinds of sheathing – OSB and structural foam. Teams had to install a service panel (3) and multiple electrical circuits and complete the waste and supply plumbing for a washing machine and utility sink. Exterior finish elements included a window and trim, clapboard siding, and a section of brick veneer (4).

Volunteer judges – many of them contractors – roamed the floor during construction and awarded points based on how well each craft was performed. Only a quarter of the teams completed their projects in the allotted period of time. As in the real world, however, finishing first did not guarantee a win, because doing the work quickly was not as important as doing it right.

The winning teams for 2011 (one for each division – secondary and post-secondary) hailed from Berks Career and Technology Center in Oley, Pa., and Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro, N.C.