Team UAA: Aviation instructor tapped to judge world competition in Russia

by joey  |   

What is WorldSkills? It's like Top Chef for carpenters. Or Project Runway with welding. Or Great British Baking Show with... actually, never mind, baking works.

Clif Stockton, UAA aviation maintenance instructor, will represent Team USA at WorldSkills in Kazan, Russia, this August (Photo courtesy of SkillsUSA)

WorldSkills is the biannual "Olympics" of technical skills, bringing students from around the world to compete in 51 events, including diverse disciplines like landscaping, car painting and graphic design. And this August, UAA will be represented at WorldSkills 2019 in Kazan, Russia.

Clif Stockton, an aviation maintenance instructor at UAA, will judge the aircraft maintenance competition in Kazan. In addition, he's also serving as the coach for the American competitor, Alex Millikan of Trinity, North Carolina.

Clif and Alex both earned their trip to Kazan through their involvement with SkillsUSA, an academic/industry partnership that hosts local, state and national competitions in 108 technical categories. Though SkillsUSA has sent students to worlds since 1975, this is the first year Team USA will compete in aircraft maintenance; Clif is the inaugural coach.

Team USA, represented by Clif and Alex, will compete in aviation maintenance for the first time this August at WorldSkills. (Photo courtesy WorldSkills International)

Raised on a farm in Michigan, Clif joined the military in 1969 where, he said, "The Air Force decided I was going to be an aircraft mechanic. And I fell in love with it." This March marks an impressive 50 years in aviation maintenance.

Along the way, he discovered his interest in teaching, too. He helmed classes at both UAA and King Career Center (now King Tech High School) from the late 1980s through his retirement in 2011. His former courses included everything from engine overhaul to fabric finishing and aircraft assembly. Though he retired from teaching, he stayed as a mechanic's assistant in the UAA aviation division. "I'm still here," he laughed. "I forgot to leave."

Since retiring, he's judged aircraft maintenance competitions at the national SkillsUSA conference. For the past several years, he's helped design the national competition too.

"Clif has years of experience as a teacher, instructor, mechanic," said David Worden, program director for SkillsUSA championships. "He's what we would call an ideal person for the position."

Clif and Alex at SkillsUSA headquarters. (Photo courtesy SkillsUSA)

In June 2018, Clif designed and judged the national aviation maintenance competition for SkillsUSA, as always. While there, he also oversaw a run-off contest between the top two aviation students hand-picked by SkillsUSA. Alex Millikan, a 22-year-old aviation student, won the honor of representing Team USA in aviation maintenance at WorldSkills. Clif has been helping Alex prepare for Russia for the past year.

Shortly after Alex secured his spot on the roster, Clif flew down to visit Alex's college, his workplace, and even his parents. Clif assessed Alex's current strengths and areas of growth, and designed a training plan. They've been in constant contact through the winter, with Clif assigning projects from Alaska.

WorldSkills Kazan kicks off this August with an Olympic level of fanfare. There will be a parade of nations, entering an expo center built just for the event. Instead of a torch relay, there's a WorldSkills flag that's now being passed across Russia (it even made a trip to the International Space Station). The weeklong event is expected to draw 1,600 competitors from up to 80 countries, including 21 from Team USA.

Competitors at the WorldSkills closing ceremony in Calgary, 2009. (Photo courtesy of WorldSkills International)

Alex will compete in the four-day aviation maintenance competition. He'll face competitors from 16 countries while being tested on everything from helicopter rigging controls to full engine repair. Competitors are judged on their ability to complete their assigned tasks, as well as time management, safety and, of course, how well they complete their paperwork.

"We're looking for excellence in performance, positive can-do attitude, [and] a willingness to go the extra step to make sure the product is above and beyond adequate," Clif said of his role as a judge at worlds.

It's a high-pressure event, but that's true of the industry in general. "If aviation in America had a one percent failure rate for aircraft maintenance in the air carrier business, we would have mass casualties several times a year," Clif said. "You don't see that, which speaks well of our industry."

Since everyone is performing at a high rate, that proves how good you have to be to compete at WorldSkills. "We're looking for the best of the best," Clif added.

Clif is about to launch a globe-trekking summer. He'll attend a SkillsUSA conference in March in Minnesota, then the national competition in June in Kentucky. He'll visit Alex in North Carolina one last time in July, before they both head to Kazan in August.

After 50 years in aviation maintenance - including several decades educating in Anchorage - Clif is now bringing his well-honed skills to the world stage. But he hasn't lost his sense of humor.

"What do you think," he laughed. "Should I make it a career?"

WorldSkills 2019 will take place August 22-27 in Kazan, Russia. (Photo courtesy WorldSkills International)

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