With the overall economy booming and, in particular, the construction and trades industries, signs point to continued growth in the job market, which has many employers and business owners increasingly concerned.
“We don’t have enough skilled labor to fill the jobs we have available now,” said Al Lawrence, owner of Artisan Electric in Dover. “The future looks bright, but it leaves us scratching our heads – where are we going to find the next generation of workers?”
Recognizing this dilemma years ago, Lawrence joined SkillsUSA NH, which is part of SkillsUSA, whose programs include local, state and national competitions where students in career and technical education programs
demonstrate occupational and leadership skills. Helping establish industry standards for job skill training in the lab and classroom, SkillsUSA has been cited as a “successful model of employer-driven youth development training program” by the U.S. Department of Labor.
“SkillsUSA is part of a much-need paradigm shift in education and what we value in it,” said Lawrence, who also serves as a representative of the Electrical Contractors Business Association, which sponsors SkillsUSA NH events. “We believe SkillsUSA competitions and programs help provide students with practical experience in their discipline – whether it’s residential wiring, nursing, computer science or another field.”
This practical experience appeals to those in industry without any prior SkillsUSA affiliation too.
“I never heard about SkillsUSA, but when I heard about a local competition at Seacoast School of Technology (in Exeter), I knew we had to get involved,” said Dennis Lucia, field operations manager at Methuen Construction in Plaistow.
Methuen Construction was awarded the $72.8 million contract to upgrade the city of Portsmouth’s wastewater treatment plant.
Buying and donating the materials needed for the carpentry portion of the March 17 event, Lucia said he attended and was impressed at the skills displayed by students. He said he sees SkillsUSA as an important source for future skilled workers.
“The type of skills training that these CTE programs are providing is a huge leg up for that worker going forward and it’s an immense benefit for us,” he said.
For any potential new employees, Lucia acknowledged it would take them a couple of months “to really figure out” what is required by the job. Based on what he saw at Seacoast School of Technology, though, students with SkillsUSA possess other skills that provide immediate and tangible returns.
“You have leadership skills, which is huge, and you also have a safety perspective,” he said. “From just the safety side of things, that’s a huge advantage to have someone who understands what that means.”
Current students also see the value in programs like SkillsUSA and CTE in general.
For Derek Hines, “My teacher has taught us everything there is to know in the field – from reading blueprints right down to how the metal reacts when we weld things,” he said.
CTE has also affected fellow welding technologies student Josh Poth. “It has completely changed my career path and has guided me to become a welder,” he said.
Noting about 250 students competed at the various competitions March 17, Seacoast School of Technology Principal Margaret Callahan said each program is connected to a career and technical student organization.
“At our school, SkillsUSA is a co-curricular piece of culinary arts, building construction technologies, welding technologies, automotive technologies and pre-engineering,” she said. “At a CTE center with an electrical or cosmetology program, SkillsUSA would be part of those programs, too.”
To make SkillsUSA effective, Callahan said they require partnerships with, and substantial input and support from, industry leaders. Expressing gratitude at Methuen Construction’s unexpected support, she said Lawrence and Artisan Electric have been one of the most active supporters of SkillsUSA.
“Al is a great example of an industry partner who goes above and beyond to make these events happen,” she said. “He has a large team arrive the day before an event to set up and he brings all materials in large trucks, which they unload and set up. He probably arrives at 6 a.m. on the day of the event to be sure everything is ready and the judges start to arrive.”
For Lawrence, his involvement only scratches the surface of what is at stake for many in industry.
“A lot of people have this image of people in the trades wearing dirty shirts and stuff like that – that could not be further from the truth,” he said. “We take a lot of pride in providing our people with the latest technology – laser and electronic measuring equipment, for instance, and all our foreman have iPads and laptops in their trucks. The tools of the trades have advanced.”
Lawrence agreed and said technology is in fact one of the biggest drivers behind SkillsUSA and CTE.
“Whether you’re an electrician, welder or health-care worker, you are using technology to solve complex problems,” he said. “Whatever people are picturing in their minds regarding CTE, it’s probably not accurate.”