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All Pathways Lead to Harvard

April 15th, 2013

On March 17-19, I participated in a national gathering in Cambridge, Mass: “Creating Pathways to Prosperity – a Direction Setting Conference at Harvard University.” More than 400 educators, researchers, business leaders, economists, and civil stakeholders convened at Harvard to consider the possibility of expanding career pathways in school systems across the country. The catalyst for the conference was the February 2013 report from the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) titled, Pathways to Prosperity: Meeting the Challenge of Preparing Young Americans for the 21st Century.

I was pleased to be invited to this conference by Harvard’s Bill Symonds (Bill also attended NLSC in 2012 and participated in our Champion of the Year dinner in Washington, D.C. last September). The kick-off speaker for the conference was SkillsUSA’s Champion of the Year and Snap-on Chairman and CEO Nick Pinchuk. A quote from Nick that I really loved: “The United States is in a global economic war and the best weapon we have is career and technical education.” SkillsUSA was also very well represented by board member, Kathy Mannes, who spoke on a panel that addressed what high quality postsecondary education should look like. Kathy spoke passionately about quality postsecondary programs including SkillsUSA as a method of delivering employability skills training. We also had great comments from several other business partners and colleagues from both education and government.

One of the highlights for me was the Young Leaders Forum, where five young adults spoke of their success. We had great student representation from Dineen Tetreault, former SkillsUSA state vice president from Massachusetts. Dineen has climbed the ladder of success, received a B.A. from Worcester University, managed a nursing facility, and she now heads her own marketing firm. She credited much of her success to SkillsUSA, her state director and her chapter mentors from Blackstone Valley Regional Technical High School. Dr. Mike Fitzpatrick, superintendent of Blackstone, also participated as a speaker on the topic of “Providing High Quality High School Programs.” He cited SkillsUSA as a key component of the Massachusetts education system and used several slides showing SkillsUSA activities (and lots of students in red blazers).

Many attendees made the case that the United States can no longer ignore the huge mismatch that exists between the skills students learn in school and the needs of the modern workforce. Several speakers noted that the college-for-all movement has led to widespread dropouts within high school and postsecondary education, college graduates lacking the skills required by employers, and a lack of workers with the high-tech skills essential to the economic development of the United States. Instead, evidence was presented that career pathways prepare all students to be career and college ready and can lead students to higher levels of success as adults. Relevant career pathways open up options for students that the traditional high school and college systems cannot or have not provided in the past.

During the conference, attendees shared their strategies, commitments and experiences for expanding the multiple pathways approach. Some see the need to prepare career-ready students as an economic issue, some see it as an issue of equity or social justice, and others view it as a national security issue. Regardless of the philosophical orientation, the participants in the many panels agreed that a more relevant, engaging and pragmatic approach is needed to prepare students for employment and careers.

Given that students are competing globally with graduates from other countries, it was emphasized that students must acquire the knowledge, skills and dispositions to help innovate and create new technologies and approaches. Without commitments from business and education to change local, state, and national policies and systems, there is doubt that the full economic potential of our country or wide-spread sustainable wages can be attained in the foreseeable future.

Many presentations supported career and technical education (CTE) as an essential foundational element of creating the pathways needed to truly transform education systems. To assist in moving the pathways movement forward, Harvard’s Dr. Ron Ferguson announced the creation of the Pathways to Prosperity Network. The network is a collaboration between the Pathways to Prosperity Project at HGSE, Jobs for the Future (JFF), and six states focused on ensuring that many more young people complete high school, attain a postsecondary credential with currency in the labor market and launch into a career while leaving open the prospect of further education.

My big take away from the gathering at Harvard was this statement by Dr. Ron Ferguson, “We’ve been discussing this issue for over 20 years. It’s now time to stop talking. It’s time to act – it’s time to start a national movement.” I fully agree that I’ve heard some of these same discussions for several years. The difference this time was that the Harvard Graduate School of Education was leading the conversation. This lends great credibility to the business we’re in, and I truly that this movement will help us build the value case for the work we do in SkillsUSA. Finally, Harvard will produce a report on what was learned at this gathering and, from that report, will launch a national Pathways campaign. They have also contracted with a Boston marketing firm to begin a national ad campaign around the pathways issue. To read more, go to:

Thanks to Dr. Patrick Ainsworth, retired CTE director from the California Department of Education, for his portion of this report.


February 14th, 2013
  • The Youth Development Foundation Committee met through a conference call on January 30 to discuss major funding priorities. The majority of committee members participated, and we were joined by two new members, Taryn McKenzie of Delmar, Cengage Learning and John Kett of Insurance Auto Auction International. The next YDF meeting is scheduled for April 16-17 here in Leesburg.
  • I had a great telephone conversation with SkillsUSA Champion of the Year and Snap-on CEO, Nick Pinchuk, on January 31. Nick says he’ll be making some high-level contacts for SkillsUSA, and he’s willing to travel on a couple of occasions this year to visit partners and high-value prospective sponsors. I also thanked him for his generous personal contribution to the Skills Build America campaign.
  • As you may recall, I served on the National Assessment of Career and Technical Education (NACTE) Independent Advisory Panel. I recently received word that the interim report from the NACTE was sent to Congress on February 8, way ahead of any serious talk of reauthorizing the Perkins Act. The more comprehensive final report is due to be released in the fall of 2013.


November 15th, 2012

In his recent essay in the National Association of State Directors of Career and Technical Education Consortium (NASDCTEc) Friends of CTE Blog Series, SkillsUSA Champion of the Year, Nick Pinchuk of Snap-on says “When some say the American worker is the problem, I say no . . . the American worker is the answer. We need to enable workers with both training and respect. Because of that, CTE and SkillsUSA have never been more important to assure a prosperous American future. ” To read the complete essay on the importance of CTE and America’s workforce and based on his remarks during the Champion of the Year events, please visit:

Jennifer McNelly, president of the Manufacturing Institute and new member of the Youth Development Foundation, was honored recently in the inaugural 100 Women Leaders in STEM, a showcase for the careers and initiatives of women leaders who are active role models for STEM professionals. Congratulations go to Jennifer.

On October 25, staff and I conducted a webinar on the Skill Connect Assessments for the Arizona Department of Education. Joining the one-hour presentation were the state superintendent of education, the assistant superintendent and others in Arizona working on career planning and assessments. The presentation went well, and they certainly appeared to be interested. In a related development, Daniele Stacey of National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) came by the national office on October 18 to meet with me to discuss how our Skill Connect Assessments could cooperate with the NCCER assessments. Daniele said NCCER also wants to increase visibility of SkillsUSA in its own curriculum materials.

In our continuing effort to get information from all of our stakeholders, we invited SkillsUSA Alumni and Friends Association Coordinating Council members Bryan Doxford of New York and Peyton Holland of North Carolina to meet with select staff on October 11. We discussed their vision for the organization and their ideas for areas of emphasis in SkillsUSA including social media networking, videos, a strong alumni association, digital marketing tools and training for all. The full Council just met at the national center, November 9-11.

And, on October 19, we held our annual staff outing with a lovely autumn lunch and wine tasting at a local winery. We honored years of service at the luncheon for five of our staff members: Ashley Ridgeway, five years; Sandy Moore and Roxanne Hodge with 10 years; Tom Kercheval for 15 years; and, Karen Beatty for 45 years of service. While I’m on the topic, I’ll also mention anniversaries of staff from September, October and November: Niki Clausen, 3 years; Byekwaso Gilbert, 12 years; Jane Short, 19 years; Kim Graham, 24 years; Tom Hall, 27 years; Shelly Coates, 32 years; and, Judy Garrison, 34 years. Each and everyone is an amazing resource for SkillsUSA. We have a great staff.


November 1st, 2012
  • On October 1-3, our Education, Training and Assessments department staff were engaged in intense training with Quantum Learning’s nationally respected trainer Mark Reardon. Our training staff learned the latest training and motivational techniques; and will be incorporating these into our training seminars and workshops for students and advisors. The training included focus on effective meetings, new teacher training and the most current training trends and techniques. Staff tells me they were excited about the training and even more excited about implementing what they learned with our stakeholders.
  • As a follow up to the Champion of the Year Dinner and great connections from YDF member Dave Camden of Toyota, we are working with Interstate Batteries to introduce a national fundraising campaign for our local chapters. In our discussions with local advisors and student leaders, fundraising is a critical component of local involvement in SkillsUSA. Chapters will have the opportunity to sell Interstate alkaline batteries and keep approximately 50 percent of all sales.
  • I’m also pleased to announce that earlier last month, Interstate Batteries announced a partnership with SkillsUSA. Starting this year, participating SkillsUSA student chapters will be able to sell a wide variety of Interstate Batteries products from AAA, AA, C, D and 9V batteries to flashlights and organizers with testers. And, for each Interstate Batteries product sold, SkillsUSA student chapters will receive 50 percent of the sale price.
  • Finally, staff reports that we are almost ready to travel to Brazil with 11 of our finest students to compete in WorldSkills Americas in November. Our final count of participants is complete, and we are in the last days of planning for the event.

In SkillsUSA There are Triple-Headers

October 15th, 2012

From September 15-19 in the Washington, D.C. area, SkillsUSA held three of its most important events of the year: 1) the Washington Leadership Training Institute (WLTI); 2) the fall board of directors meeting; and, 3) the Champion of the Year dinner. Each of these manifests the important work SkillsUSA is doing in the interests of our members, partners and ultimately the nation.

The WLTI is at the core to SkillsUSA’s mission to teach students and their instructors the skills they’ll need to be successful leaders and advocates. The emphasis isn’t just on making an impact in Washington — although we do that too — it’s on putting those skills to work back home. I was particularly pleased to hear that some of the state delegations are doing just that. In New York, for example, students are expected to go back to school boards and other groups to talk about their experiences when they return.

With 314 registered attendees, this was our largest WLTI ever. There were excellent presentations to the students and instructors by Congressional staff from both parties from the House and the Senate. There were discussions with senior staff from the Office of Vocational and Adult Education on the administration’s Blueprint for Reform and reauthorization of Perkins. And, Barry Wulf, a past national officer and now a Black Hawk helicopter pilot for the California National Guard was a commanding keynote speaker.

We’re still compiling the reports from the states on their delegation visits. We have record of 80 visits — down from 103 last year — but we still don’t have reports from all of the states. We heard from board members and from delegations about how much they enjoyed making the congressional office visits together and I received a letter from one of the board members about WLTI saying the “national staff is simply outstanding.” WLTI photos are available here:

The Champion of the Year became two events on September 18 with a news conference at the National Press Club in the morning and then the dinner at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. The news conference focused on America’s skills gap. Of course, Champion of the Year Nick Pinchuk, chairman and CEO of Snap-on was the featured speaker. Also speaking: Jane Oates, assistant secretary of Employment and Training, U.S. Department of Labor; Bryan Albrecht, president, Gateway Community College; Amelia Powers, western region parts manager, Caterpillar and a SkillsUSA alumna; Kaila O’Farrell, national Region I vice president of SkillsUSA; and, yours truly. Bloomberg News was there to cover it as were reporters from two magazines, the Association of Career and Technical Education, and a 5:30 video news release was written and edited together and put on the feed to Fox stations by 3:30 p.m. for the evening news and then transmitted again the following morning.

The dinner was an impressive affair. (One student said to me: “I didn’t think it would be this elegant.”) Mr. Pinchuk is an eloquent and passionate speaker when it comes to both the importance of the skilled workforce and SkillsUSA. He said in part: “We, as a nation, need to make skilled workforce training a national priority, and to make skilled careers, a national calling.” He concluded his remarks by recognizing the students in the audience saying, “Meet America’s future, the young men and women of SkillsUSA.” Special thanks go to Greg Rintala, Alicia Smales and Rick Secor of Snap-on for all of their work on these events. Check out the pictures and video:

A news release went out from this office to all of the search engines and many more business and trade magazines, broadcast networks and newspapers. To read the release, link to: Clips are still arriving.

WLTI, Board Meeting and Champion of the Year Dinner Festivities

October 1st, 2012

WLTI 2012

The Washington Leadership Training Institute, the board of directors’ meeting and the Champion of the Year dinner all went beautifully.

WLTI definitely hit a new registration high with 314 attending representing 27 states and Puerto Rico. It took six buses just to get the group around. We had some great presenters, including top staff from the U.S. Department of Education to talk about the administration’s Blueprint for reauthorizing career and technical education (CTE), congressional staff to talk about the outlook for Perkins, and experts on the Common Core State Standards Project and the Common Career Technical Core. And, we had exciting trainers and training for the students. It was a great five days.

Champion of the Year

The Champion of the Year dinner honoring Nick Pinchuk, Snap-on chairman and CEO was an outstanding event. We had over one hundred students join in the excitement. We also had super support from our own partners on the board and the Youth Development Foundation. There were also letters of congratulations from Assistant Secretary of Education and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor Jane Oates, Senators Herb Kohl, Ron Johnson, Mike Enzi and Mark Warner and from five U.S. Representatives. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker declared September 18 “Nick Pinchuk Day.”

As part of the Champion of the Year festivities, there was a press conference at the National Press Club at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, September 18th. Nick Pinchuk spoke on the national imperative to prepare a skilled workforce and the importance of career and technical education and organizations such as SkillsUSA to close the gap. We know the word is getting out there. A reporter from Bloomberg News called last week and said: “I’m working on a story on the skills gap. I know the gap exists, now I want to know how to fix it. That’s why I’m calling SkillsUSA.” I spoke with the reporter for nearly an hour.


September 15th, 2012
  • A big thank you to our state association directors who attended the Professional Development and Training Conference in Rapid City, S.D. Here are just a few more highlights from the conference. Tiffany Sanderson, team leader, Perkins Career and Technical Education in South Dakota – equivalent to the state CTE director – was a featured speaker during the opening dinner. The states held regional meetings before the business meeting and all ran very well. Mark Williams, SkillsUSA’s chief IT consultant, did an outstanding job of demonstrating the conference management system. At least half of the directors attending participated, and Mark did a separate training for new state directors. The Mount Rushmore nighttime lighting ceremony was wonderfully patriotic. Jen Polz, state association director from Minnesota is the new executive committee chair-elect and all of the executive committee did a phenomenal job of running the conference.
  • On August 23, I flew to Chicago to meet with the CEO and executive staff of IAA (Insurance Auto Auctions) and the CEO and president of ADESA (a leading provider of vehicle remarketing services). Board member, Russ Hoffbauer, made the introduction by inviting the president and vice president of IAA to the conference last June. Needless to say, they were impressed by what they saw. During our meeting, Kaila O’Farrell, national high school vice president, talked about the value of SkillsUSA to students and then Russ Hoffbauer talked about why State Farm is involved in SkillsUSA. I’d say they were both persuasive because both organizations signed up to be SkillsUSA official sponsors effective this year. Executives from each organization met with us in Leesburg on September 11. Thanks go to Russ Hoffbauer for his support.
  • We have 311 people registered to attend the Washington Leadership Training Institute (WLTI) and it starts tomorrow. They’ll be representing 27 states and Puerto Rico and 31 state associations. I believe this is the largest WLTI in history. All of the national officers will be attending.
  • Preparations for the Champion of the Year dinner are reaching a feverish pace. An announcement news release went out on September 6, and Snap-on has really stepped up efforts to get coverage during a news conference scheduled at the National Press Club. Staff is following up on the invitations to the administration and Congress. We’ve had good sponsorship responses from the Youth Development Foundation and members of the board, and we’re looking forward to having 100 students and teachers from WLTI join us for the dinner.
  • We’re getting ready to send 13 students and 12 technical delegates from the 2013 SkillsUSA WorldTeam to Brazil for the WorldSkills Americas in mid-November 2012. We sent two contestants to the 2010 WorldSkills Americas competition and found it was a great way to prepare the contestants for international competition and – even more important – to help prepare the technical experts. Thank you to the state associations who are stepping up to support these contestants in their quest for excellence on the world level.

That’s it for now. Until next time, thank you for all you do for the great students and teachers we serve.



September 1st, 2012
  • The Best of Brand Awards were presented during the state directors’ conference in Rapid City. Congratulations go to: SkillsUSA Georgia for capturing Best of Brand in the Website Category and Best of Innovation, Membership Recruitment Category; SkillsUSA Massachusetts for Best of Brand in the Multi-Media Category and Best of Innovation, Advocacy Category; and, SkillsUSA Wisconsin for its Best of Brand in the Print Category.
  • In early August, I had a great trip to Yakima, Wash., to do two presentations on the Skill Connect Assessments. The first was a panel discussion including other assessment providers. The second presentation was strictly on our assessments. Both presentations were packed with people. I also got to spend some great time visiting with Eleni Papadakis, the Washington state CTE director.
  • I received a nice letter from Assistant Secretary of Education Brenda Dann-Messier thanking SkillsUSA for inviting her to participate in the national conference. The part I liked best comes at the end of this paragraph (that I’ll paraphrase):  “The Administration’s blueprint for Perkins reauthorization calls for transformation of our career and technical education programs based on our key principles: effective alignment of CTE and labor market needs … strong collaboration [among education and employers] … meaningful accountability [for academic, technical and employability skills] … and increased emphasis on innovation. Through your national skills competitions, and the many state and local competitions and activities that SkillsUSA offers throughout the year, your organization is already demonstrating the key reform principles in action!”
  • In a quick update on national conference media coverage, we’ve documented over 100 stories about conference and/or winners in the greater Kansas City region from May into August. As a matter of fact, there’s a feature on a local medalist that ran several times beginning August 22, so it keeps on going. That figure is up over the 85 stories last year. The news releases on medalists and Skill Point recipients were emailed out almost immediately after conference, arriving before the July 4 holiday. A total of 5,581 releases were sent to daily and non-daily papers. And, trade press has been very good. Some of the trade press celebrates the fact that there are more contestants in the contests they cover. They see that as a sign of increasing interest in their fields.
  • Champion of the Year invitations were delivered directly to Member offices on Capitol Hill on August 20. In all, we invited 11 Senators and 12 Representatives, including Paul Ryan who just happens to represent the district in Wisconsin where Snap-on has its headquarters. We also invited representatives from the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Labor. A press conference is scheduled at the National Press Club during the morning of September 18.
  • During our staff meeting on August 8, it was reported that Skill Connect Assessment sales were up 28 percent over last year and that we are seeing much more pre- and post-testing using the assessments. Staff also reported publication sales were up three percent over last year as of the end of June and the marketing department is still crunching the numbers on a survey taken by 650 students at conference.
  • Board President, James King, was here for the staff meeting and he told the staff  “There’s interest in CTE because we teach marketable skills. The leadership component is what was missing and that’s what SkillsUSA does. I can’t think of any organization in America that does more for students than SkillsUSA.”


August 15th, 2012
  • Newly-elected board President, James King, paid a visit to the SkillsUSA National Leadership Center on August 8-9. He participated in our monthly staff meeting and NLSC debriefing. He also spent time with individual staff during his time with us. We very much enjoyed his visit.
  • Letters have been faxed to Members of Congress, governors and state CTE directors, along with medalist and Skill Point recipient news releases. They were sent out in record time this year, well in advance of the congressional recess. Staff reports we’ve received many requests from Members for home addresses so they can send letters of commendation.
  • Staff traveled to Snap-on headquarters in Kenosha last week to continue planning for the Champion of the Year Dinner where Snap-on CEO, Nick Pinchuk, will be honored on September 18. And, staff met with Bosch at their Chicago headquarters on August 9 to discuss our partnership moving into the future.

CBS Radio Interview

December 31st, 2011

On December 4, CBS Radio (KFWB News Talk 980-AM in Los Angeles) aired an hour-long interview with Jim Lentz of Toyota, Victoria Holbert, our high school national president and me on a program entitled “Unfinished Business.” The subject revolved around training, CTE and what Toyota is doing with SkillsUSA to prepare America’s skilled workforce. The invitation was a direct result of the Champion of the Year dinner attended by Renee Fraser, president and CEO of a communications firm that does a lot of work with Toyota.

Renee and her partner conducted the interview and commented that they were surprised they’d never heard of SkillsUSA. Jim Lentz, who had many wonderful things to say about Toyota’s support of SkillsUSA said something to the effect: “If you look at how SkillsUSA is spending its budget, 93 percent is going back to support their members at the local level not into marketing and PR. It’s up to corporations like Toyota to get SkillsUSA exposure. That’s one of the reasons we’re here talking now.” He also stressed that auto service technicians at Toyota are in good middle-class jobs and some technicians are making “in the six figures.” The link to the interview is on SkillsUSA’s website at:

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