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The Talent Is There, You Just Need to Get Involved

Talent and leadership are alive and well in America’s youth! Last month, I attended the SkillsUSA National Championships in Louisville, Kentucky. First of all, WOW! 6,000 students competed in 100 competitions from baking to welding to graphic design to carpentry all under one roof. These students are the best of the best skilled young people that America has to offer, and they were competing for the gold medal in just about every industry sector.

After seeing the competitions firsthand, I have to ask: Were you there? Did you attend your state’s SkillsUSA competition? Do you know what SkillsUSA is?  As an industry, we cannot sit back and complain that we do not have enough skilled young people to fill our open positions if we are not willing to invest the time and energy into connecting with organizations that are doing it right. I am very lucky that my job allows me to travel around the country and meet the wonderful, hardworking people who make up the construction and maintenance industries. But at the same time, I am astounded at how many of them are unaware of SkillsUSA.

Formerly known as VICA (Vocational Industrial Clubs of America), SkillsUSA started in 1965, and today there are 52 state and territorial associations that serve more than 300,000 students and advisers annually. SkillsUSA schools teach students not only technical skills that are defined by industry but also professional development skills, including team negotiation, dealing with stress, self-motivation techniques, goal setting and financial planning, just to name a few. Students demonstrate these skills in the state and national competitions where they compete in written tests, interviews and performance tests. These young people are well prepared to join the workforce not only as contributing members but future leaders. To really send the ball home, each year there are 61,000 students in the SkillsUSA architecture and construction cluster and approximately 30,000 of them graduate annually. Think about those numbers the next time you are looking for talent. Whether you need to fill three or three hundred positions, SkillsUSA is a great place to start your search. Each state has a director who can help you find schools in your area. To make it easy for our industry, NCCER includes those directors with their contact information on the Construction Career Pathways’ connection map on their website. Everyone has a line or two they use when describing today’s youth and our education system, but words alone cannot fix the problems we are experiencing. We must step up and get involved. I had the privilege at SkillsUSA to listen to Doug Pruitt, chairman of Sundt Construction, speak about the importance of involvement. In his address he said, “Businesses all across America cannot wait around for someone to do this for them; you must get involved and play a major role in the education, training and development process if you want to reverse the trend of an ever-growing unskilled workforce in our country.”

I challenge you to take one hour out of your week, locate the SkillsUSA director in your state, and find the SkillsUSA schools in your area.  Ask the director what you can do to get involved or where to attend a local competition. Imagine if one hour could lead to two new recruits? What about ten new recruits? What about a pipeline of new recruits for the next five to ten years? This could be the best phone call you make all year. Enough talk, get involved!

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