Elgin, IL,
08:00 AM

It's Not How You Start

It's how you re-finish

As Jose Martinez-Joya weaved his way through the enormous crowd gathered at Kemper Arena, he could hardly believe the announcer called his name. He won first place in the Automotive Refinishing Technology category at the National Leadership and Skills Conference. Walking to the podium, Jose thought of the incredible journey that led him to compete in the SkillsUSA championships.

Character Issues

Like many young people, Jose was not sure what he wanted to do in life. Fortunately, for Jose, his family assumed he would make his living working in the auto collision shop owned by his father and grandfather in Elgin, IL. Working alongside his brother, Jose would spend his days sweeping the shop, changing the occasional tire and learning the family business.

“Back then I had a lot of ‘character issues’,” Jose recalls. “I wasn’t humble enough to handle a lot of responsibilities.”

Jose obliged for a while, but after feeling unfulfilled working in the shop, he decided to pursue other career options. Jose’s father was disappointed in his decision to leave. He hoped Jose and his brother Angel would one day take over the collision shop.

“I got into an argument with my father and I decided to branch out and do my own thing. It didn’t end on good terms,” said Jose. “I lived on my own for a while. I had to find different jobs in the service industry. I really struggled and it wasn’t easy being on my own. It got really, really tough.”

Then his father reached back out to Jose.

“My family was watching me go through that struggle,” said Jose. “I think my pride wouldn’t let me come back and talk to him. But he reached out to me and said that he knew I was going through a rough time. He wanted me to come back to the shop. He needed the help. He reached out and helped me start over. ‘Let’s start from scratch,’ he said.”

A New Passion

This time around, Jose was determined to add value to the family business. “It was a life changing moment,” Jose stated. “Seeing how my dad responded and welcomed me back, I wanted to do good for him and give back to the family.”

Shortly after returning, the family attended an auto repair expo, sparking Jose’s interest in a new trade.

“I’ve been around cars my whole life. Even though I was used to the under the hood stuff, I didn’t ever consider the outside of the car,” said Jose. “I really became fascinated in how you can take something that is completely wrecked, and almost like a piece of art, make it look like nothing ever happened.”

Jose enrolled full-time in the Auto Refinishing program at Waubonsee Community College in Aurora, IL. It was there Jose was introduced to SkillsUSA through his instructor and mentor, Andrew McDonald .

Continuing Education

SkillsUSA is a partnership of students, teachers and industry; working together to help participants excel in their training programs and ensure America has a skilled workforce. Andrew saw a special talent in Jose and encouraged him to compete in the SkillsUSA State competition in Illinois.

“It’s an opportunity of a lifetime,” Andrew explains. “You get to take your skills against others. You have opportunities to meet distributors and other auto repair companies. If he’s got enough to get himself in this, I have his back. I have to make sure when he gets there, he’s ready to go. There is a lot of me saying ‘read this, study this’. ”

Jose went on to win his regional contest, qualifying to compete in the National Competition in Kansas City, MO.

Jose felt a great deal of accomplishment after winning the local competition, but he never imagined he would soon be the best of the best. As he stepped up on the Olympic-style podium to receive his gold medal, he looked out amongst the crowd of 15,000 and raised his hands in celebration.

With lights flashing around him, Jose envisioned proudly displaying his gold medal next to his diploma from Waubonsee in the office of the new shop he would one day open with his brother, Angel.

“Angel is more involved in the mechanic part of the repair industry, but I’m more familiar with the painting and finishing,” Jose explains. “It would be great to combine these skills for a full service shop. And being able to run it with my brother, well, that would be a great thing.”

Jose knows this victorious moment may not have happened without the opportunities afforded him by his father, his own desire to make his mark in the industry and the guidance provided by his mentor, Andrew. Organizations like SkillsUSA are helping young people like Jose turn their dreams into reality.

Jose sums up his time with SkillsUSA: “If you feel satisfied by working hard at it, it’s a fun experience. It’s worth every second of it.”

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