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President Obama’s $100 million Initiative Will Award Grants to Programs Teaching Industry-Relevant Skills

December 13th, 2013

President Barack Obama recently unveiled a $100 million competition aimed at finding new ways to better prepare high-school students for the global high-tech economy.

The program, Youth CareerConnect, will award 25 to 40 grants next year for high schools to team up with higher-education institutions and employers, creating innovative programs that give students industry-relevant education and job skills. Grants would range from $2 million to $7 million. Applicants will be required to pony up matching funds of at least 25 percent.

The closing date for applications is January 27, 2014. For more information, go to:

State Directors of Career and Technical Education Convene in Baltimore, Md.

November 15th, 2013

I was privileged to spend three days in Baltimore at the Fall Meeting of the National Association of State Directors of Career and Technical Education Consortium (NASDCTEc). This meeting brings together the state agency CTE chiefs from across the nation to discuss strategy, standards and policy. In addition, government officials and business leaders join together to discuss CTE issues and trends. It was great to spend some time with board member Scott Stump (Colo.), and CTE directors and former board members Wayne Kutzer (N.D.) and Mike Raponi (Nev.). I was also very pleased to see Russ Weikle, one of our former SkillsUSA state directors in California, who is now the state’s CTE director. All in all, the meeting was an excellent opportunity to network with the state leaders who endorse SkillsUSA as an integral component of CTE instruction in schools and colleges across the USA.

The meeting kicked off with U.S. Department of Education Assistant Secretary, Brenda Dann Messier, with a federal update and an expression of gratitude for the work of the national leaders of CTE. Brenda’s comments were followed by a strong and supportive speech from Maryland’s Chief Academic Officer, Jack. R. Smith. During the conference, I was able to meet briefly with the Assistant Secretary and other U.S. Department of Education officials, including Robyn Utz, Chief of College and Career Transitions and Sharon Miller, Director of Academic and Technical Education.

The conference included several major reports on CTE. The first was from The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and their “A Skills Beyond School” review of postsecondary career and technical education in the United States. The report found many of the basic features of the U.S. approach to CTE as strong, but also reported that our decentralized system of education creates several challenges. There were other strengths and several recommendations cited in the OECD report. You can view the OECD the report here.

On Wednesday, the official release of “The State of Career and Technical Education: An Analysis of State CTE Standards” was presented to the directors. I was honored to be selected to serve on a panel that responded to the release. The panel included Douglas Major, ACTE’s President and Superintendent and CEO of Meridian Technology Center in Stillwater, Okla., Marie Berry, State CTE Director from New Jersey and Maura Banta, Director of Citizenship Initiatives in Education from IBM. My contribution to the discussion was mainly focused on the states’ alignment to the “Career Ready Practices” in the standards, and I cited Career and Technical Student Organizations (CTSOs) like SkillsUSA as the delivery method to formalize career-ready instruction. It was very well received and Jim Stone from the National Center for Research in Career and Technical Education stood as part of the Q&A portion and really did a great job reinforcing what I had said about the need for all states to be sure they are utilizing the CTSOs to add credibility to this component of CTE instruction. You can read a news article from the “Sacramento Bee” concerning the release of the report here. You can visit this site to download the report and the new “Common Career and Technical Core.”

Other topics covered at the meeting included: (1) Updates on the Perkins legislation, Workforce Investment Act, Higher Education Act and Elementary and Secondary Education Act and NASDCTEc’s advocacy efforts; (2) An analysis of the Office of Management and Budget’s proposed new guidelines on state financial reporting practices; (3) Common Core State Standards; and, (4) Career Ready Assessments. As always, it was a very positive experience to network and learn from our state CTE leaders and policymakers.

I was also privileged to be a part of another panel with my peers from DECA and TSA to present a report from the National Coordinating Council for Career and Technical Student Organizations (NCC-CTSO). As a joint effort, the NCC-CTSO has developed a new website and also developed Congressional District Profiles for every state and every Congressional District within each state. These profiles will be great advocacy tools for our students and teachers as they visit legislators in D.C. and in their home states. Each profile shows the aggregated membership of the student organization in each state and district. You can visit the new website and view the profiles here:


November 14th, 2013
  • The SkillsUSA Foundation, Inc. met October 16-17 at the National Leadership Center in Leesburg. In brief, the group discussed the name change from the Youth Development Foundation to the SkillsUSA Foundation, Inc.; discussed opportunities for their involvement to obtain support for the transition to Louisville; and, discussed collaborating efforts on a SkillsUSA/Skilled Trade Awareness Month to bring greater attention to both SkillsUSA and skilled trade issues. A big thank you goes to the Foundation members for their dedication and commitment to the SkillsUSA mission. We are grateful for their service. We also look forward to working with Kaye Morgan-Curtis from Newell Rubbermaid as a new Foundation member.
  • We finished counting the number of congressional visits made by during WLTI. This year, students and advisors visited with 37 Senators, 72 Representatives and 1 Resident Commissioner, for a total of 110; and, we received excellent feedback from the visits. We also heard some nice comments from the attendees this year too, some of which include … “It was a great and awesome experience, truly transforming; All activities were definitely an experience of growth and learning; Thank you, it was a great conference!; This was my first SkillsUSA conference and it had a dynamic effect on my students. Thank you for all you do; I am an alumni and it was wonderful to see the wonderful things SkillsUSA still does for students; and, I so appreciated the opportunity to meet staff and to be able to interact with others throughout the nation.” A big thank you to the board of director members who accompanied students on their Capitol Hill visits.
  • And, on October 18, 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 six of our staff members: Stephanie Bland, five years; Jim Kregiel, 10 years; Jane Short and Missy Wilson, 20 years; Kim Graham, 25 years; and, Judy Garrison, 35 years. Of course, each and everyone on our staff is an amazing resource for SkillsUSA. We have such a great staff.


October 31st, 2013
    • SkillsUSA was featured on the PBS program “American Graduate Day” and aired live nationwide on Saturday, September 28, from noon – 7 p.m. EDT. The program spotlighted 20 organizations – including SkillsUSA – that help keep students on the path to high school graduation and successful futures. Among the SkillsUSA features were SkillsUSA alumnus Chris Jimmerson and his teacher, Alice Boss, both of Ypsilanti, Mich. No surprise therefore that SkillsUSA Michigan has posted the clip. So if you missed it, see below:
    • Staff recently traveled to McDonough, Georgia to meet on upcoming new initiatives for the organization. Upcoming events include a college postsecondary task force meeting, planned for November 6-8, in Leesburg, Va. This meeting will focus on specific needs of college/postsecondary members both in recruiting and engaging students. Participants will include college/postsecondary members, national officers, advisors and state directors.
    • The Marketing and Membership Services team is establishing a strategic membership advisory committee. This new group will meet December 10-12 near Dulles Airport to focus on strategic membership initiatives that will produce large scale membership growth while ensuring sustainable membership business models. Participants will be primarily board and foundation members.
    • Staff conducted an advanced and a basic Chapter Management Institute training in Mt Sterling, Ohio, October 17-18 for 50, and another in Haines City, Florida on October 24 for 37.
    • We have finished counting the number of congressional visits made by during WLTI. This year, students and advisors visited with 37 Senators, 72 Representatives and 1 Resident Commissioner, for a total of 110, and we received excellent feedback from the visits. We also heard some nice comments from the WLTI attendees this year too: “It was a great and awesome experience, truly transforming; All activities were definitely an experience of growth and learning; Thank you, it was a great conference!; This was my first SkillsUSA conference and it had a dynamic effect on my students. Thank you for all you do; I am an alumni and it was wonderful to see the wonderful things SkillsUSA still does for students; and, I so appreciated the opportunity to meet staff and to be able to interact with others throughout the nation.”

Washington Leadership Training Institute

September 15th, 2013

Materials, speakers and panelists are ready to go for the largest WLTI ever at 373 students, advisors and state directors from 30 states compared to 314 last year. Johan Uvin, the deputy assistant secretary at the Office of Vocational and Adult Education (OVAE) at the U.S. Department of Education will be our featured luncheon speaker and Robin Utz, chief of the College and Career Transitions Branch and Sharon Miller, director of Academic and Technical Education from OVAE will be our featured morning speakers. We also have some great panels coming together for the advisors and the students thanks to our friends at the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE), the National Association State Directors of Career and Technical Education consortium (NASDCTEc), the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), the College Board, and Jobs for the Future. There are four new states attending and 14 of 15 national officers will be with us.


Presentation on Capitol Hill

August 15th, 2013

On July 23, I spoke at the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill to representatives from approximately 25 congressional offices as a panelist during a round table hosted by the CTE Caucus. The topic was the role each of the panelists’ organizations play in student guidance. I was joined by a guidance counselor from Fairfax County, Virginia representing the American School Counselors Association and the director of government affairs of Opportunity Nation, a collaboration of more than 250 national community organizations. I covered many aspects of the SkillsUSA program and how we help engage students (and teachers), keep students in school and help them make connections to further education and to the workforce. I told the listeners that these are not necessarily examples of what school guidance counselors do, but they certainly give guidance counselors handles to grab onto. Reaction was positive. At the beginning of my remarks, I asked how many of those present knew about SkillsUSA. Nearly every hand went up. Nice. To listen to my remarks, please go to:


August 14th, 2013
  • Jonathan Irizarry , past national secretary and I met with other career and technical student organizations (CTSOs) on July 25 during the National FFA Washington Leadership Institute (WLI). FFA pulls together all of its state presidents for training and Hill visits during its WLI. SkillsUSA was invited to participate in student and educator panels with other organizations to discuss opportunities and concerns of CTSOs. In all, four student organizations participated and representatives from the Association for Career and Technical Education. Among the top concerns of the adults were engaging students, alumni, membership growth and finding ways to honor instructors. I talked about engagement in our strategic plan and Vision 2020. Jonathan did very well talking about leadership training at WLTI, state certified trainers, and training at national conference. He also talked about a day-long symposium he’d put together in Puerto Rico where he used the WLTI experience as a model and brought in local businesses to do the training. Students were engaged and networking too.
  • The National Coordinating Council of the CTSOs (NCC-CTSO) met on July 30. Among the topics of conversation were high school redesign and higher education initiatives at the Office of Vocational and Adult Education; prospects for education legislation in Washington (parties are very far apart and likely there will have to be a continuing resolution to keep funding at current levels); and, creation of a NCC-CTSO website. The website project is being led by a SkillsUSA staffer. Also of interest, the CTSOs have compiled their membership numbers by state and by congressional district and produced state profile fliers to be used with their elected representatives. When we add up the members of all the organizations, it’s more than two million people. The fliers will be released later in the year.
  • Videos of the speeches and presentations made during the Creating Pathways to Prosperity Conference at the Harvard Graduate School of Education in March 2013 are now available online at: The video of remarks by Nick Pinchuk, chairman and CEO of Snap-on can be seen at: Remarks by a former Massachusetts student state officer from Blackstone Valley Vocational Regional High School speaking as part of a student panel appear at the 44:29 mark at:
  • Former Collision Repair Technology contest technical committee member, Bob Medved, interviewed Mike Rowe about the skills gap on Collision Hub during the national conference. A copy of the video appears on the mikeroweWORKS website at:

More Follow-up on National Conference

August 1st, 2013

Mike Rowe: Profoundly DisconnectedThe national staff will be holding a debriefing meeting on August 6 to make sure we capture all of the positive things we want to continue during next year’s conference and to identify those things we need to correct. There are some of both. Addressing them is how we keep improving

I recently heard from Youth Development Foundation member, Cameron Ferguson of Caterpillar — and the person most responsible for getting Mike Rowe to conference — that he’d been in touch with Mike Rowe. Mike said “It was a privilege to speak to those kids. Very satisfying.” He’s also committed to a campaign to confront negative stereotypes about career and technical education — that’s clear in his “Profoundly Disconnected” campaign — and he sees SkillsUSA and companies supporting us as being part of it.

Cameron said Mike also wrote that he was “amazed how few people outside the industry know about SkillsUSA.” He said that of the thousands of comments he’d received online, the majority were surprised and pleased to learn of SkillsUSA’s existence. They also asked for information on how their children can become involved.

To see a brief interview with Mike Rowe while he was in Kansas City, go to:

There’s another nice clip of Mike Rowe talking about the SkillsUSA slogan “Champions at Work” at the end of Tom Kercheval’s Week in Review video; but, be sure to watch the whole video. As always, Tom’s done a great job of capturing the atmosphere and excitement of the national conference. Go to:

News releases on the medalists and Skill Point Certificate recipients were sent to the newspapers right after conference, before July 4. News releases on medalists and Skill Point recipients were sent to 7,388 daily and non-daily papers. In addition, we sent releases about Skill Point recipients (there are more of them than medalists) to 2,591 more papers. The results are showing up in clippings.

We’re also emailing letters, copies of the news releases and contact information to Members of Congress, governors and state CTE directors so they’ll know about the success of their constituents and can send commendations. This year, we’re sending the information to the main offices back in the state. Those offices are closer to the constituents, and we’re certainly interested in making ties between the offices back home, state associations and chapters. We’ve received word from the office of Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas that he is interested in holding a reception for Kansas SkillsUSA winners . We hope and trust there will be more.



August 1st, 2013
  • Welcome to our new members of the board of directors: Dale Derrickson, Region 1; Jennifer Polz, state directors’ association chair; Laurie Hackett, Youth Development Foundation Committee chair; and, Mike deCastro of Air Products (fulfilling Joe Pientrantonio’s term). Congratulations to the officers: James King, president; Brent Kindred, vice president; and, Chris Arvin, secretary. And, thank you for your service and leadership to: Mike Cowles, state directors’ association chair; Gerry Tylka, Region 1; and, Dave Camden, Youth Development Foundation chair.
  • While it’s not news about the national organization, I believe it’s good to share examples of what excellent and far-reaching work our state associations do. Here’s a story about the recent “Paint the Town” community service activity involving 250 students and teachers from 40 schools in Ohio. The intern reporter might need an editor but, I believe, he captured the spirit of the event here.
  • On July 23rd, I spoke on Capitol Hill to a round table of representatives from nearly 30 congressional offices — members of the CTE Congressional Caucus — about SkillsUSA as a CTSO and ways we help students transition from high school to college and work. The student national officers have just been here for nine days of training. And, we’ve established dates for the board meetings. The fall meetings will be Web conferences on November 19 for standing committees and November 20 for the full board. The spring meeting will be March 12-13 at Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology, Nashville. The summer board meeting during conference will move back to Tuesday, June 24 and the Corporation meeting will be on Wednesday, June 25.

New Support for Student Organizations

March 1st, 2013

StudentWe discussed two promising advocacy projects during the February 15 meeting of the National Coordinating Council of Career and Technical Student Organizations at the Office of Vocational and Adult Education in Washington, D.C. One was in a presentation by the Alliance for Student Activities on the value of student activities. The Alliance is working with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) to tell schools and communities that participation in student activities makes a significant difference in student attainment. They say they have 100 pieces of research with longitudinal data showing that participation in student activities – including CTSOs – yield positive outcomes. The next phase of their research will be to demonstrate the value added to the community by keeping students in school and engaged. NASSP representatives joined the meeting, including its director of student programs. We hope to partner with the Alliance and use their data in making our own case.

We also reviewed a draft state profile publication connecting the dots for policymakers on the value of all nine student organizations. The publication includes the number of CTSO members and schools in their federal voting districts. Collectively, the CTSOs have more than a million members annually so it can get some attention. The booklets will also include facts and data about career and technical education and the student organizations in the state.

Also discussed was the criteria that must be met for organizations to be recognized as CTSOs and the creation of a unified website for all the CTSOs.

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