JJC Graduate Wins Illinois SkillsUSA Welding Title

Joliet Junior College (JJC) welding graduate Jose Cortes topped the individual welding (college) podium at the 2024 SkillsUSA Illinois State Leadership and Skills Conference in Peoria, Illinois.

Jose Cortes
Jose Cortes

“Winning the state competition has been my biggest goal, and I am honored to be called a state champion,” Cortes said. “Walking up to the stage after they called my name gave me an overwhelming feeling of victory and achievement.”

Welders were eligible to compete at the state competition after qualifying through a welding exam taken in February. This was Cortes’ second time competing at SkillsUSA for JJC.

“I could not believe they called my name given the number of skilled students I was pitted against,” he said. “My expectations were not very high to begin with because I was just happy to be there for a second time and I did not expect to do as good as I did. All I knew was I had performed better than I did last year and that was good enough for me. So, when I saw my name on the winner screen, I felt like I could pass out from the excitement.”

The individual welding competition included hands-on welding, a mock interview in front of a panel of judges and a written exam.

Students in the competition had two hours to weld a pile of steel plates according to a blueprint. 

“During the competition, my mindset was focused on only putting together my project and welding it,” Cortes said. “To be honest, I acted like it was just another day of welding for me back in JJC. I knew in my head that I would do well if I only focused on myself and no one else.”

“Staying calm and being able to critically think under pressure is where Jose excels,” said Jim Cebulski, associate welding professor at JJC. “Everyone who is on the podium is good, but your bad day needs to be better than everyone else's good day and that is what he did.”

As the Illinois state champion, Cortes has advanced to the SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference in Atlanta at the end of June.

“Going forward, I must continue practicing my welding skills to stay relevant,” Cortes said. “More importantly I have to practice being in different new situations, because I am unaware of what they will have at the SkillsUSA Nationals Conference. Training in different situations and utilizing my welding skills ensures that I am ready for whatever they decide to throw my way.”

Fortunately for Cortes, JJC’s classes and the SkillsUSA competition share a basis.

“Everything at the contest is based off the industry standard American Welding Society standards and general welding knowledge,” Cebulski said. “All of our welding classes are aligned with the American Welding Society's entry level training SENSE model. This helps immensely for this competition.”

Not only have JJC’s classes helped Cortes succeed, but a classmate as well. Another JJC welding student, Pedro Corniel, competed at the individual state competition. Corniel finished in second, winning the silver medal.

Cortes completed his associate degree in welding technology after the fall 2023 semester and is one of nearly 700 graduates to be celebrated at JJC’s 108th May commencement Friday, May 17. 


For media inquiries, please contact communications and media manager, Katie Smith, at katherine.smith@jjc.edu or by phone at 815-280-2844. 

Learn more about welding at JJC