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SkillsUSA: Real-World Experiences Build a Better Workforce

Tim Lawerence
By Tim Lawrence Executive Director, SkillsUSA

SkillsUSA wields a large shovel, but we have a big hole to fill. That hole is in the American economy and it is called the skills gap—the widening gap between the jobs available and the skilled workers ready to fill them. SkillsUSA improves the quality of our nation’s workforce by helping students develop personal, workplace and technical skills grounded in academics. Our mission is to empower our members to become world-class workers, leaders and responsible American citizens.

More than 600 companies partner with SkillsUSA on the national level, and thousands more work at the state and local levels. Many are involved with the SkillsUSA Championships, one of the nation’s largest competition programs for technical students.

What is unique about the SkillsUSA Championships is that it is the largest hands-on skill competition in the world. It also represents the largest single day of corporate volunteerism anywhere in America. Total industry contributions of donated time, equipment or materials is more than $36 million. SkillsUSA offers 103 national competitions.

Hands-on events include additive manufacturing, CNC machining, robotics, engineering technology, auto service, smart home technology, construction, welding, graphic design, photography, cosmetology, aesthetics, and the medical sciences. Encompassing roughly 20 football fields or 25 acres, the 1.1 million-sq ft contest floor is a highly visual event and is a great place to get excited about the future of America. More than 18,000 students, teachers, and education leaders attend our national event, held each June in Louisville, Ky. Each competitor is a state first-place winner.

SkillsUSA competitions provide students the opportunity to practice working against the clock and offer much-needed recognition in the form of tools and prizes. At the national event, more than 1,000 gold, silver, and bronze medallions are awarded, along with hundreds of scholarships.
In addition to supporting these state and national competitions, SkillsUSA partners provide millions of dollars directly for schools that strengthen local programs and the communities where students live, work and attend school. Because of the demands on school budgets to keep current with industry equipment, these partnerships are critical.

History and Vision

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Students at the SkillsUSA National Leadership & Skills Conference. (All images provided by SkillsUSA)

SkillsUSA was founded in 1965 as the Vocational Industrial Clubs of America by educators and industry who saw the need for soft skills training to complement learning a chosen vocation. Growth has been steady over the past 50 years and SkillsUSA is recognized by the U.S. Department of Labor as a successful model of employer-driven youth development training. Our vision for the future is to produce the most highly skilled workforce in the world and provide more students with the opportunity for career success.

With more than 360,000 members in 4,000 schools, SkillsUSA represents 130 skilled occupations. In 2018, 19,500 teachers served as SkillsUSA instructors. Combined with alumni membership, the total number reached is over 400,000 per year. SkillsUSA has served more than 13.5 million annual members since our founding in 1965, and we are graduating more than 100,000 career-ready students each year.

Organized as a federation, SkillsUSA has a staff of 35 headquartered near Leesburg, Va., and a state leader in all 50 states and two territories, plus the District of Columbia. As a volunteer-driven organization, the staff and state leaders manage thousands of volunteers from education and industry to run local programs in schools and communities. Each year, SkillsUSA serves more students, expands its reach and launches new programs.

For SkillsUSA, the center of all activity is the student. It is important to note that SkillsUSA is integrated into the technical curriculum of schools and is not an after-school club. We offer many ways for students to practice their personal, workplace and technical skills—the three main components of the SkillsUSA blueprint for career readiness—through self-directed learning and practice. The SkillsUSA Career Essentials suite is an online employability skills program that was created as a way to deliver graduates who are not only productive but promotable.

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The floor of the SkillsUSA National Leadership & Skills Conference.

SkillsUSA students are taught against national industry standards in both hard skills and soft skills, and that is our organizational difference. Our sole focus is to produce the kind of workers, leaders, and citizens that industry needs. Baby Boomers are retiring at a rate of 10,000 a day. Over the next decade, 4.6 million new manufacturing jobs will become available as a result of retirements and natural job growth. Of those jobs, 2.4 million may go unfilled because of a lack of qualified workers. Construction, engineering, maintenance, repair, and customer-service sectors are facing similar worker shortages and feeling the effects of the skills gap.

As our state competitions begin in February and lead to our SkillsUSA Championships in June, industry professionals across the nation are stepping up to evaluate our students’ skills in 10,000 competitions at the local, regional and state levels. These industry/education partnerships foster stronger classroom training programs and build better entry-level employees.

It is a win for both sides. No one else is reaching the skilled trades like SkillsUSA, and our mission to help close the skills gap and build a talented technical pipeline for America has never been more important. Our national event takes place June 24-28 in Louisville, Ky., and everyone is welcome to attend and see firsthand what’s working in America’s public career and technical education system. To learn more about SkillsUSA, visit www.skillsusa.org/about/.

AM Competition Targets New Materials, Employment Opportunities

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Students at the SkillsUSA Additive Manufacturing competition.

The Additive Manufacturing Competition was added to the SkillsUSA Championships in 2015. The event embraces a wide range of materials and derivative processes to build parts suitable for end-use service. The virtually unlimited design freedom enabled by additive manufacturing allows the creation of shapes and the integration of features and functions that previously required subassemblies.

Employment opportunities for creative individuals are growing as industry adopts additive manufacturing methods. Ready access to workstations and service providers makes the Internet a growing marketplace for public additive manufacturing gadgets. In 2018, there were 88 competitors in the national SkillsUSA AM event.

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