Educated and Skilled to Lead America! SkillsUSA: Champions at Work!

Two student competitors sit at a table programming computers while a third student configures a computerized milling machine.

Students test their skills in an advanced manufacturing competition at the SkillsUSA NLSC.

Thank you dedicated students, advisors, state directors, alumni, and business partners for showing the world that SkillsUSA members are true Champions at Work! SkillsUSA returned to Kansas City June 23-27, 2014, for its 50th annual National Leadership and Skills Conference (NLSC). I am honored to have witnessed the largest national conference it has ever held with the most participants in its history. It was the premiere showcase of career and technical education students. More than 15,000 students, teachers, education leaders, and representatives from more than 600 national corporations, trade associations, business and labor unions participated in the event. In addition, the 2014 NLSC marked the beginning of a year-long celebration as SkillsUSA turns 50 in May 2015! I have already marked my calendar to be in Leesburg, VA on May 8th for the birthday celebrations.

Attending the SkillsUSA NLSC allowed me to witness the SkillsUSA TECHSPO Trade Show and Career Fair. The TECHSPO technical exposition is known as the largest trade and technical education exposition in the U.S.

The lively Opening Ceremony and ceremonial SkillsUSA Championships Ribbon-cutting included keynote speaker, Chris Fischer, a well-known personality in television and conservancy circles and founder and CEO of Fischer Productions. He is a life-long adventurer, and during the past four years has led teams of scientists and anglers on unprecedented missions for great whites and other sharks, filmed and produced for the National Geographic Channel. “What is the largest room in the world?” – Ask any SkillsUSA member in attendance that evening for the answer.

Isabel Soto, former SkillsUSA National Officer, escorted me to watch more than more than 6,000 competitors in 99 hands-on skill and leadership contests. SkillsUSA-affiliated instructional programs represent 130 different occupational areas. This is Isabel’s 7th consecutive year attending the SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference. She participates each year to see the nation’s most skilled students rewarded for excellence, experience one of the single biggest days in corporate volunteerism, and witness the great level of cooperation between students, teachers, and industry at NLSC.

The SkillsUSA Championships is a national-level competition for public high school and college/postsecondary students enrolled in career and technical education programs. SkillsUSA organizes this event, and it is considered the single greatest day of industry volunteerism in America annually at an estimated cost of more than $35 million. Each SkillsUSA Championship contestant is a state-level gold medalist. It was breathtaking to see these competitors so focused and fully engaged in the difficult tasks at hand and exhibiting those academic and technical skills learned in their Career and Technical Education programs.

Tim Lawrence, SkillsUSA Executive Director, is right—SkillsUSA changes lives. I left the SkillsUSA NLSC, feeling inspired and confident in the future of our nation’s workforce.

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Robin Utz leads the College and Careers Transitions Branch in the Division of Academic and Technical Education in OCTAE.