Jesse Taggett, 17, competes in the welding division of the SkillsUSA National Leadership & Skills Conference in Atlanta, Georgia. Taggett, a student at Caribou Technology Center, placed 3rd in the welding competition. Credit: Courtesy of Rick Taggett

WOODLAND, Maine — A Woodland teen is the first Aroostook County student to rank among the best young welders at the nation’s largest trades competition.

Jesse Taggett, 17, placed third in the SkillsUSA National Leadership & Skills Conference welding division last week.

The annual national conference held in Atlanta, Georgia, drew 6,500 high school and college students from across the country to compete in 108 different trade, business and health care categories. All of the students had won their state competitions in their areas of expertise. Taggett is  the youngest certified welder in Aroostook.

For Taggett, the experience was another milestone in a journey that began at his father’s welding shop when he was a child.

Taggett started welding at age 10 under the guidance of his father, Rick Taggett, who teaches the skill at Northern Maine Community College in Presque Isle. At 12, he passed his first structural welding certification test and recently earned his third level of certification, having taken the same test as his father’s college-level students.

Now an incoming senior at Caribou High School, Jesse Taggett has taken welding and large equipment repair courses at Caribou Technology Center. He also helps his father with welding jobs at his family’s home-based business in Woodland.

A welder stands in front of a display
17-year-old Jesse Taggett stands next to his finished welding projects at the SkillsUSA National Leadership & Skills Conference in Atlanta, Georgia. Taggett placed 3rd among 50 student welders from across the country. Credit: Courtesy of Rick Taggett

During SkillsUSA, Taggett competed with 49 other welding students, including one of his father’s, in four different challenges. His third-place finish came just two months after he ranked first in Maine’s SkillsUSA welding championships.

“If Dad hadn’t pushed me to work that hard, I wouldn’t be where I am right now,” Taggett said. “It was great to see him in that moment when we realized how high I had placed.”

After seeing Taggett put in weeks of preparation prior to competing, his father said that the moment he heard his son’s name called was rewarding on many levels.

“Being [at SkillsUSA] is almost as much a competition for the instructors as it is for the students. Having your students do well makes you feel like you’re doing something right,” Rick Taggett said. “But being there as Jesse’s dad made it extra rewarding to see him walk onstage.”

Seeing Taggett rank so high in competition shows the young welder’s dedication to mastering his craft, said Keith Dumond, welding instructor at Caribou Tech and another of the teen’s mentors.

Taggett is not only the first of Dumond’s students to compete nationally at SkillsUSA but also someone who has served as a mentor to students who are entering Caribou Tech.

“I hope his success inspires other students. If they see someone from Caribou, Maine, go all the way to nationals, maybe they’ll believe that anybody can,” Dumond said.