With a tremendous amount of pressure on today’s youth to enter a four-year college or university, programs like SkillsUSA NH are focused on promoting the importance and relevancy of career and technical education.
According to those involved in SkillsUSA NH, the need for CTE has never been greater.
“There are so many opportunities in thetechnical, skilled, health and service sectors, but there aren’t enough people to fill the jobs that are available,” said Al Lawrence, treasurer for SkillsUSA NH. “This is a big problem that is only going to get worse.
”Part of SkillsUSA, a national nonprofit organization that serves teachers, high school and college students to ensure America has a skilled work force, SkillsUSA NH includes a number of business leaders from industry. According to Lawrence, who owns Artisan Electric in Dover, SkillsUSA NH is more than a tool for advocacy.
“SkillsUSA encourages and promotes vocational educational and excitement in a unique way through competitions,” he said. “It turns what might seem like drudgery and mundane stuff into sporting events.
Lawrence said these sporting events are not just for fun.
“They provide the kids with the opportunity to experience what it’s like to work under pressure,” he said. “It gives them the opportunity to display their skills and learn.”
Bob Mcintosh, president of the board for SkillsUSA NH, said these contests test physical and theoretical skills at a high level that are specific to an individual student’s career program. He said they also test for other “soft skills” needed for industry.
“There are contests for leadership skills, such as prepared speech, job skill demonstration and customer service skills,” he said.
Mcintosh said CTE is intimately concerned with helping students develop a variety of other job-related skills that industry employers have stressed as critically important, including teamwork, collaboration and professionalism.
“CTE provides students with a career pathway before they graduate high school and helps them to know that they really want to pursue that career,” he added.
For those who excel at SkillsUSA state level contests, big prizes are also at stake, which increase at the national level. According to former SkillsUSA NH participant, Nick Caverly, who now works at Artisan Electric, these competitions and the program itself open real doors to jobs.
“I had job offers before I even finished high school,” said Caverly, who graduated from Dover High School in 2015. “I would not have had those chances if it wasn’t for SkillsUSA.”
As a result of competing at the nationals as a junior and senior in high school, he said he was awarded roughly $8,000 worth of tools.
He said he was also offered a full scholarship to Lincoln Technical Institute in Massachusetts, which he declined due to his desire to accept a job immediately after high school.
“I started at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard the week after I graduated high school,” he said. “Before that, I worked at Daniels Electric in Gilford between my junior and senior year.”
In electing to advance his career with Artisan Electric, Caverly said he wanted to give back to Lawrence, whom he credited with “giving (him) a lot” during his high school career. For Lawrence, SkillsUSA NH has become an important employee sourcing tool for businesses, including Artisan Electric.
“I competed in these competitions when I was in high school in Lexington, Massachusetts, in the early ’80s,” Lawrence said. “It prepared me for a career, which is why I volunteer my time today. I’m one of many in the industry who volunteer their time. We believe in what it does.”
For Mcintosh, SkillsUSA NH underscores not just the importance of CTE to the future of New Hampshire’s work force, but its relevancy. He said CTE has changed drastically in recent years, too.
“It is high-level training that starts in high school, preparing students to enter jobs at higher than entry level as well as to enter college programs with a background to succeed at either,” he said. “Most programs are taught by experts in that field who have moved to teaching a craft they have practiced for many years. It brings a real-life element to class and simulates what it is like to work in that industry.”
Citing a massive skills gap in today’s work force and available jobs, SkillsUSA NH Director Josh Brunk said there are 642 members within the organization in the Granite State alone.
He said voluntary participation by industry business underscores the stark realities behind the need for SkillsUSA and other CTE-related initiatives.
“At the National SkillsUSA conference, more than $35 million was spent by business industry partners — they are completely invested in our students and believe in what they are doing,” he said.
Noting there are jobs all throughout industry – culinary arts, auto tech, building trades, nursing and other sectors, Brunk said SkillsUSA NH directly affects the economy of the state.
“Employers have jobs and SkillsUSA NH is training students to fill them,” he said. “You need training to enter the work force, but you don’t need a four-year college degree. Students can step outside of high school and make $15 to $20 an hour. Some businesses will even pay for students to continue their education– CTE does a lot more than many people think.”