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The Unknown Hero of the Workforce

Posted 11/16/2023 by Emanuel Morales-Gomez

SkillsUSA Colorado’s State Officer team leading the way to a better future by representing their members in decisions, working together, and growing as leaders. photo by Jim Powell

SkillsUSA is changing the future workforce by giving students essential skills they need to close the skills gap.

According to Forbes magazine, “eighty-seven percent of organizations ‘know they have a skills gap or will have one within the next few years.’” A skills gap, as defined by SkillsUSA, occurs when “more highly-skilled jobs are available than skilled professionals ready to fill them.” As a career and technical student organization, SkillsUSA strives to prepare students for the workforce and close the skills gap by teaching unique and important skills for the future. Moreover, their mission is “to empower students to become skilled professionals, career-ready leaders and responsible community members.” 

When it was founded in 1965, SkillsUSA was known as the Vocational Industrial Clubs of America – or VICA for short. It was founded by “about 200 students, teachers and administrators, representing 14 states” at the Trade and Industrial Youth Conference in Nashville, Tennessee, and grew from there. After 58 years of rich history, SkillsUSA has become “America’s proud champion of the skilled trades,” having 115 competitions and over 400,000 members representing 53 states and territories. 

SkillsUSA “illustrates how students fulfill the mission of the organization” and gives students a “common language” to tell employers what skills they have developed or need to work on through the SkillsUSA framework. The components of the framework are technical, workplace, and personal skills, each of them having a set of essential elements that are needed to succeed in the workplace and in life. 

SkillsUSA accomplishes its mission through the classroom, community, and conferences. In the classroom, students are taught technical skills that are vital for their career. For example, in a culinary class, students learn the mechanics of the kitchen and in a photography class, students learn how to use a camera. In the community, students are taught workplace and personal skills through community service, fundraisers, advocacy, and internships. Students develop “soft” skills that are needed in order to succeed in the workplace and in life, such as being able to communicate effectively with coworkers and being able to work on a team. These traits are necessary for a more successful and efficient work environment. 

The conferences SkillsUSA holds are one of the biggest ways SkillsUSA allows students to demonstrate their skills and career readiness because students are put in hands-on workplace simulations against other students in the same field. Students start competing at their local chapter and then move on to their regional competitions. The competitions events are split into three categories: leadership, occupational, and skilled and technical. In leadership competitions, any SkillsUSA member can compete; however, in skilled and technical competitions, members have to be enrolled in that career and technical education (CTE) program. After placing at their regional competitions, students are sent to the State Leadership and Skills Conference (SLSC), where they not only compete, but also get to meet with business and industry professionals at Techspo. At the SLSC, there is an opening session, workshops, champions party, and awards ceremony; all celebrating the hard work and dedication students have shown throughout the year. 

I competed in Prepared Speech at SkillsUSA’s Colorado’s 2023 SLSC and was able to win silver. This experience was like no other – it provided a thrilling place to show off my skills and connect with other students. SLSC also allows students to be delegates for their chapters and vote of the State Officers and bylaws. However, the journey doesn’t end here. All the gold medalists are eligible to compete at the National Leadership and Skills Conference (NLSC) in Atlanta, Georgia, where they compete with the best of the best from around the nation. I went to the 2023 NLSC as a delegate and it was an amazing experience with the roaring atmosphere and the intoxicating excitement from everyone. In the opening session, you see the State Farm arena filled with lights and members, all enthusiastic about making it to Nationals. There is also pin trading at Nationals where each state and territory has their own pins to trade with competitors from other places, making this a competitive and interactive way for students to network and meet new people.

SkillsUSA also holds conferences that help students develop their leadership skills. Students are given the opportunity to go to the Washington Leadership Training Institute (WLTI) in Washington, DC, where they “advocate for the skilled trades while receiving advanced leadership training.” Members put those skills into practice by talking to their state representatives at Capitol Hill where they advocate for SkillsUSA and CTE funding. I went to the 2023 WLTI, which was a unique experience that I will remember for the rest of my life because I was able to learn how to advocate for issues that are important to me and develop my leadership skills. Furthermore, members are given the opportunity to “promote success” in their chapters through the Fall Leadership Conference (FLC) in Colorado, which is facilitated by the State Officers and a member of the National Staff. I facilitated two workshops at SkillsUSA Colorado’s 2023 FLC where I was able to relay important information to members and learn from them. 

SkillsUSA offers leadership positions students can take at the local, state, and national level here in Colorado. At the local level, students are elected by their chapter to become a chapter officer. At the state and national level, delegates representing their chapter or state/territory vote on who they believe will be the best fit to be an officer. There are six positions in Colorado for both the high school and post-secondary levels: President, Vice-President, Secretary, Treasurer, Reporter, and Parliamentarian. Officers represent their members when making decisions and make sure they are keeping their members interest at heart, so they develop their leadership skills and learn how to better serve their community. Senior Jesse Mishell and I are both TJ students who are part of the chapter officer and state officer team. Mishell is TJ’s chapter President and SkillsUSA Colorado’s High School Vice-President. I am TJ’s chapter Secretary and SkillsUSA Colorado’s High School Reporter, which has been an incredible position for guiding change and learning how to be a better leader.

At TJ specifically, SkillsUSA has made a huge impact on the community. Last year, they did a holiday food drive for families in need during the holidays and provided lunches for the homeless. They also have done huge fundraisers, such as selling Butter Braids and the World’s Finest Chocolate. This year they are planning to host a Maker’s Faire to showcase CTE and CCT programs. All these events are part of SkillsUSA TJ’s Program of Work (PoW), which is “the road map for planning and implementing an annual calendar of chapter activities” that help their communities and members grow. At the beginning of the school year, the SkillsUSA TJ officer team comes up with their PoW to organize what events they should do and when. Each of these events help them develop one of the essential elements of the SkillsUSA Framework. 

SkillsUSA has created a new yearning in me to strive to fix problems that the nation faces. I joined SkillsUSA last year and immediately jumped in the deep end by becoming SkillsUSA TJ’s Chapter Secretary. After a year of contributing ideas and helping with activities, I went to SkillsUSA Colorado’s 2023 SLSC, where I met many amazing people and got to experience something new. What I did not know then was that just around the corner, my life would change even more. There were only three positions filled in the High School State Officer team after SLSC, so the Advisory Board opened the applications again and I applied. I was accepted and became the High School State Reporter. After that, I went to Career and Technical Student Organization (CTSO) training, NLSC, Leverage, WLTI, and FLC. All of these events helped me develop my leadership skills and allowed me to grow professionally and personally. Through SkillsUSA, I have met an assortment of different people and got to experience a new environment while simultaneously growing as a person. 

Jonathan Howard is SkillsUSA TJ’s chapter advisor and TJ’s web design teacher. “Our world needs strong leaders that know how to organize, collaborate, and empathize with others,” said Howard, explaining something that SkillsUSA helps students to accomplish. Howard believes that SkillsUSA is a successful organization because it gives students “opportunities to expand their abilities beyond just what happens in the classroom. [Specifically,] abilities in leadership and technical skills.” He describes SkillsUSA as “empowering, energizing, and connected” because it brings “growth, excitement, and teamwork” to members through the leadership opportunities and competitions. “I’m excited to see how student leaders can develop leadership skills that help them grow both as students and as leaders in our organization,” explained Howard, who cannot wait to see what this year’s chapter officer team will accomplish. 

SkillsUSA offers something for everyone, whether that be competing in a field they are interested in or becoming a leader in the organization. It is an amazing opportunity that allows students to develop skills that they will use in their future careers and lives. To join SkillsUSA TJ, students need to be part of a CTE class. We meet the first Wednesday of every month for chapter meetings and every Wednesday for officer meetings in room 105. If you are not convinced yet, you should watch SKILLS JAM, an “episodic docuseries that follows several members as they prepare for and compete” at NLSC. Join SkillsUSA now to help close the skills gap and change the workforce for the better.