What was your path to becoming the executive director of SkillsUSA?
Career and technical education is my passion as well as my heritage. After more than 17 years invested in this field, leading SkillsUSA feels like a very natural next step.
My parents and grandparents have a career and technical education (CTE) background. My mom was a CTE instructor for 40 years and a career and technical student organization (CTSO) advisor. My father was a machining student and practitioner before becoming postmaster of our small town, and my grandmother was a licensed cosmetologist. Their experiences informed my own career path. I taught at the postsecondary level and I served as state SkillsUSA director in Tennessee. Most recently I served the Tennessee Board of Regents as assistant vice chancellor for the Colleges of Applied Technology.
How can we help get more students interested in skills?
I often talk to students in my work, and when I ask them how they found their career passion, the answer is so simple: “I had a teacher who saw something in me. I had a teacher who motivated me. I had a teacher who encouraged me and pushed me.”
Experiencing CTE in middle or high school is a great way to explore a career. Students learn how to work in an employment setting and have work-based learning experiences in an industry setting. While many students may have an idea of what they want to pursue for a career, this really helps students define a career path.
What do you wish more students and parents knew about the trades?
Careers in trade, technical and skilled service occupations require critical thinking skills and a solid education. Career and technical education programs are normally offered at a lower cost and can be completed in less time than many traditional postsecondary education programs. Many offer opportunities to earn while you learn as well. These programs lead to career opportunities that can change the trajectory of not only the student, but their family and communities. Many of these jobs go unfilled every day, so not only can someone earn a good wage doing a job that they truly enjoy, but the opportunities are abundant, as many employers have a difficult time finding employees with the right skills for the job.
“Careers in trade, technical and skilled service occupations require critical thinking skills and a solid education.”
There are also ample opportunities to move up the ladder in trade, technical and skilled service fields. Apprenticeship training, additional certification courses and other professional development activities open the door to new responsibilities and career options. There are also exciting opportunities to open your own business.
“Many of these jobs go unfilled every day, so not only can someone earn a good wage doing a job that they truly enjoy, but the opportunities are abundant.”
Tell us a bit about SkillsUSA.
SkillsUSA is a partnership of students, teachers and industry working together to ensure America has a skilled workforce. We help each student excel. A nonprofit national education association, SkillsUSA serves middle-school, high-school and college/postsecondary students preparing for careers in trade, technical and skilled service (including health) occupations. SkillsUSA empowers its members to become world-class workers, leaders and responsible American citizens. SkillsUSA improves the quality of our nation’s future skilled workforce through the development of Framework skills that include personal, workplace and technical skills grounded in academics.
To learn more about SkillsUSA, visit https://www.skillsusa.org/.