SkillsUSA and K12 Fill Critical Gap in Career Training

Learning critical skills can make high school graduates immediately desirable in today’s job market. Demonstrating the ability to apply those skills can make all the difference when it comes to landing a job.

That’s where SkillsUSA and its affiliation with K12’s career readiness programs comes in.

SkillsUSA is a national organization in which students, teachers, and industry leaders work together to ensure that America has a skilled workforce and that students are prepared for careers in technical, skilled, and service occupations. With more than 300,000 participants, SkillsUSA provides educational programs, events, and competitions that support career and technical education (CTE).

K12 began its formal affiliation with SkillsUSA with the Insight School of Colorado (ISCO), which formed a SkillsUSA chapter this fall. More K12 schools will be adopting the SkillsUSA program as part of their career readiness programs in 2016.

In addition to helping students build skills, SkillsUSA offers national competitions that are designed to showcase students’ abilities to collaborate, build, and problem-solve. More than 6,000 students compete in 100 occupational and leadership skill areas at the annual national-level SkillsUSA Championships.

“You see a high level of work ethic from those in the competitions. I’ve seen students get job offers right there on the competition floor,” says Rob Clarke, who doubles as regional sales manager for technology education provider Intelitek and national chairman for the annual SkillsUSA Automated Manufacturing Technology competition.

“SkillsUSA raises a student’s level in terms of maturation, career readiness, and general level of skills they achieve in school, whether they go to national competitions or not,” Clarke says. “We know that students who participate in the SkillsUSA process have a 96 percent graduation rate, well above the national average.”

The nationally recognized competitions and the way SkillsUSA connects students and teachers to business partners makes the organization an important part of K12’s career readiness program.

“I think we’re a really great match for K12 because we have a common focus on ensuring that all students are career-ready,” says Gayle Silvey, membership development liaison for SkillsUSA. “Nationally, we face two big issues. One is the skills gap (not enough skilled workers to fill the demand for jobs) and the other is the career readiness of students.”

In manufacturing alone, the numbers are startling. According to The Manufacturing Institute, of an estimated 3.5 million jobs that will need to be filled during the next decade, about 2 million will remain unfilled due to the skills gap.

“In states like Wisconsin and Idaho, manufacturers are desperately seeking employable apprentices for jobs that pay in the $50,000-80,000 a year range,” notes Patrick Keeney, director of college and career programs for High School Product Management at K12.

But access to those kinds of jobs means having the right credentials that only meaningful courses, training, and experience can provide. SkillsUSA’s curriculum, in concert with K12’s focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) and career education, is seeking to close that gap by putting those jobs within reach of high school graduates.

“Skills USA lessons can be threaded through the curriculum,” Keeney says. “For example, students might be in a math class in which they are learning decimals. That will coincide with an employability-related lesson in which the students learns how to calculate wages, providing relevance to their math topic.

“Most occupations increasingly require an understanding of STEM skills, and because of its orientation toward STEM, SkillsUSA becomes among the most attractive Career and Technical Student Organization (CTSO) to have in a school. It’s just one of the reasons K12 is so happy to be working with SkillsUSA.”

At its most basic level, Skills USA also teaches employability skills, including some of the “soft skills” that often slip through the cracks.

“Students learn how to write a resume, how to shake hands when they go on an interview, how to collaborate, and how to advocate for an idea,” Keeney says. “These are all examples of employability skills that employers expect students to bring to work.”

Thanks to SkillsUSA and K12 career training programs, more students are arriving to the job market with the right skills already in place.

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