SkillsUSA Links Leaders, Technical Training

Feb 12, 2017

There are lots of different organizations, clubs, and teams that students can join in high school. I have participated in many of them, including the volleyball team, academic decathlon team, and student council. However, arguably the most important organization I am a part of is SkillsUSA, a national organization that promotes leadership and holds technical competitions for middle school, high school, and college students.

To me, SkillsUSA is less of an organization or competition, and more of a family. I have been lucky to be a member for three years, and have served as a state officer for the past two. I can honestly say that the people I have met through SkillsUSA have become like a second family to me. When I show up at meetings I am greeted with hugs and smiles and comments on things that have happened since we last saw each other. SkillsUSA is an organization that is filled with wonderful people and amazing opportunities for students.

Technical education teaches students career skills and prepares them to go out into the workforce in only a few short years. SkillsUSA helps these students become even more prepared for the world of work by integrating leadership and professional skills. 

The organization holds annual competitions in each state, giving students from career and technical centers as well as colleges the chance to test their abilities against their peers. Winners at the secondary state level contests, held this year on March 2 and 3 at United Technologies Center and Eastern Maine Community College in Bangor, will go on to compete in June at the national level in Louisville, Kentucky.

Another important part of SkillsUSA is the opportunity to work with industry, as many competitions are sponsored by businesses, and industry representatives serve on both the state and national boards of directors. Having industry representatives involved in the organization, including judging at competitions, helps keep teachers informed of the professional standards that their students’ future employers will expect. Teachers can then present those standards to their students, who will have opportunities to network with professionals and other students starting out in the field.

This industry connection also gives students a chance to see what the workforce will demand of them after they graduate. All of this helps narrow the skills gap, an unfortunate circumstance that leaves 5.6 million jobs open that can’t be filled because most Americans don’t have the technical skills those jobs demand.

We live in a society that romanticizes having a four-year degree. Consequently, few students are learning technical skills because they believe them to be worthless. SkillsUSA is doing its part by promoting career and technical education and educating people on what the skills gap is, and how it can be solved.

Mike Rowe is known for his television program, Dirty Jobs, and is CEO of the mikeroweWORKS Foundation, an organization he started to advocate for technical education. He describes the skills gap bluntly. “I'm no economist, but the skills gap doesn't seem all that mysterious -- it seems like a reflection of what we value. Five and half million unfilled jobs is clearly a terrible drag on the economy and a sad commentary of what many people consider to be a ‘good job,’ but it also represents a tremendous opportunity for anyone willing to learn a trade and apply themselves.”

Probably my favorite part of SkillsUSA is being a state officer. Because of this I have had some amazing opportunities to grow as a person. I have had the opportunity to plan and attend state leadership conferences where students from across Maine have learned how to better communicate and lead their local chapters. I have conducted ceremonies and awarded winning competitors their medals. I have attended the SkillsUSA national conference and as a participant in delegate sessions, voted on policies and helped select national officers. I have learned how to be more comfortable in front of a crowd and speak in public.

As a member of SkillsUSA, I have learned to lead.

Riley Sluzenski is a student at St. Croix Regional Career and Technical Center. She is parliamentarian of SkillsUSA Maine.