From March 11 through 13, I attended the SkillsUSA Georgia High School Division conference and Career Expo in Atlanta. It’s hard for me to believe, but this conference becomes more impressive every year. There were almost 6,500 attendees including over 4,600 students and 815 teachers. They had 260 companies involved in the Construction, Transportation and Public Safety Career Expo, and the entire convention center floor was filled with contests surrounded by areas of exhibits called “worlds” such as World of Energy, World of Manufacturing and so on. The state bused in students from area schools during the two days of the event, and, this year, the superintendent of schools attended. And, there were over 1,300 industry representatives involved in the contests, as exhibitors or as volunteers and guests. SkillsUSA Georgia does a great job with the SkillsUSA branding too with lots of faces of champions on their materials. Congratulations go to Corporate Member “Sonny” Cannon and to State Association Director Gayle Silvey. They and the Georgia team are doing an amazing job.
I’m attending the Georgia State Leadership and Skills Conference in Atlanta. Gayle and Sonny are running a great show down here. The opening ceremony was powerful and the state officers – and the two national officers from Georgia, Zia and Eve – were just plain excellent on stage. They have about 2,000 attending and over 5,000 participating in the Career Expo.
One of the really cool things they are doing is broadcasting live via the Internet. Check out the video stream today at mms://mediam1.gpb.org/np-skillsusa-live
On Feb. 2 and 3 I attended the Pennsylvania Region 2 conference at Bucks County Technical High School. It was an excellent event loaded with spirit and enthusiasm, great meals, sessions, competitions and an outstanding awards ceremony. One of the many highlights for me was judging the Extemporaneous Speech contest. The topic was “What would you like to tell President Obama?” One student said: “I’d tell him how SkillsUSA has changed my life.” Another said: “I’m happy to see a president elected who looks like me. It gives me a whole new perspective on my future.”
There was another magical moment. A few days before the conference, the local newspaper published an article about the upcoming conference. It included a quote from chapter advisor Gail Watts who said the biggest challenge in putting on the conference was fielding enough volunteer judges. Wonder of wonders, on Wednesday morning there they were. Hundreds of people from local businesses and the military showed up to volunteer. That outpouring of support was proof of how highly regarded the Bucks County Technical High School is in the community. It also showed the importance of SkillsUSA as a catalyst of support from both the private and public sectors for what career and technical education does for students.
I also had a great time meeting with our Pennsylvania state association director, Jeri Widdowson, and being upstaged by the Philadelphia Phillies mascot, the Philly Fanatic, during the opening session. It was a fantastic time north of Philly.
SkillsUSA Ohio brought 60 student regional officers and their state officers to the Washington area for a week’s worth of leadership training. Ten advisors were with them, half coming to the conference for the first time. State director Mike Cowles put together a tremendous agenda for training and visits to Washington including a trip to the Capitol to meet with their senators. As one of the advisors said as he climbed on the bus: “This trip will be a lifelong memory.”
One of the Ohio student officers said to me on Tuesday, January 19: “I’m just not used to this. Being here with all of these students from Ohio, and the teachers, and the SkillsUSA national staff. I feel as though I’ve stepped up into a whole new league. I hope I’m ready for it.” I assured her that I was sure she was ready for it. That’s why she was here. To me, that’s one of those SkillsUSA moments when students discover they can be surrounded by students who are just as engaged and energetic as they are. It’s fun to see.
- On Wednesday, December 9, several staff members rolled up their sleeves and put on their reading glasses to help review the hundreds of Lowe’s and State Farm grant applications for community and campus improvements and sustainability projects. Finalist selections were sent to Lowe’s and State Farm last Thursday. We’re looking forward to announcing the grants in January (State Farm) and February (Lowe’s).
- Thanks to board members Curtis Barnett, Moe Broom, John Gaal and Larry Rabalais who joined a conference call to work on NLSC hotel lottery issues on December 10. Also on December 10, we had an all day meeting with intelitek to discuss marketing strategy for the Skill Connect assessments. Board member Greg Rintala flew in to be a part of the meeting.
- As I mentioned previously, Jackie Parker of Newell Rubbermaid worked with our Inclusion and Diversity Committee at the end of November. Due to that work, the committee has created a new statement on inclusion and diversity for SkillsUSA: “In keeping with a tradition of respect for the individuality of our members and our role in work force development, SkillsUSA strives to ensure inclusive participation in all of our programs, partnerships and employment opportunities.”
- Staff attended the National Association of Workforce Development Professionals Conference in Chicago, December 7-9, to exhibit the Work Force Ready System. More than 600 people attended – an increase from last year – with representatives from 33 states and 2 territories. This was our first time at this conference for the people who run programs such as Job Corps. They report they had quality conversations with some strong potential leads.
- Staff attended the Georgia Fall Leadership Conference for Postsecondary in Atlanta in late November. It was reported that 600 people attended, half of them SkillsUSA members, and that Cassie Palmer did a great job managing the conference. Staff also said that because Commissioner Jackson was so impressed by our national conference in Kansas City this year she’s endorsed SkillsUSA in Georgia and is promoting SkillsUSA membership in the colleges.
- This coming March, SkillsUSA will be helping Skills Canada to conduct its first leadership institute to mirror what we do in leadership training at the national conference. This is coming about in part at the request of Lowe’s which is supporting Skills Canada and would like the association to move beyond only contests in its program.
- Staff reports that sales are up for the revised levels one and two of the Professional Development Program Online “and usage is way up.”
- And, all the updated computers are installed (so staff using PCs are happier about that), warmer weather and programmable thermostats are making a positive change in our heating bills (and staff is warm and happy about that), and on Friday we went to Mount Vernon for our annual SkillsUSA Holiday Celebration. It was cold, but we were all together and honored several staff members for their service, so staff is happy about that too.
The week of April 27 brought an end to my state spring conference tour, and I finished on two high notes in Wisconsin and Ohio. The Wisconsin conference opening ceremony was held in cooperation with HOSA (Health Occupation Students of America). Registration was up over last year, and there was a lot of business support. As a matter of fact, I believe every contest was run by industry. There were 2,000 members at an efficient and quickly run awards ceremony. Using the theme, “Membership Makes Us Strong,” Wisconsin’s membership is up 17 percent this year. Congratulations to Brent Kindred, Lauri Domer and Dale Drees for a great conference. It was also great to see Peggy Plowman of Michigan at the conference working on building the alumni association.
The Ohio conference is always a big event. The conference is now filling all of the major buildings at the Ohio State Fairgrounds in Columbus. State association director Mike Cowles hosted lots of VIPs this year from the Department of Education, the mayor’s office, the National Guard, and Lowe’s store managers from around the district. Mike has adopted the national model for VIPs by holding VIP tours during the morning of the championships followed by a luncheon. One of the “firsts” during this year’s conference was the election of the first college/postsecondary president in Ohio history. Congratulations to Mike and his team for an outstanding conference.
SkillsUSA state spring conferences are going strong with high attendance and lots of activity.
I attended a great Arizona State Leadership and Skills Conference where I was able to present to about 200 local CTE directors and administrators, teachers, partners and administrators and speak to all students and teachers at the awards ceremony. I also had lunch with the Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tom Horne. When Tom spoke at the luncheon, he praised SkillsUSA for our Work Force Ready System and also praised the national organization for our work with business and industry partners. Our SkillsUSA state management team in Arizona is one of the nation’s best.
Next, I was off to the New Mexico State Leadership and Skills Conference held at the Central New Mexico Community College. State association director Saundra Castillo did a great job. I’ll report my Wisconsin and Ohio experiences next time. A quick check of my calendar tells me that’ll be it for state conferences this spring. Of course, I’m not the only one visiting the states. Another staffer recently returned from the South Dakota state conference, Staff also attended Indiana’s state conference and Tennessee’s state conference.
- We held a National Coordinating Council of Career and Technical Student Organizations (NCC-CTSO) meeting in Washington on March 23 with transition staff at the U.S. Department of Education. It’s great to have the input. It was also good to hear that most of the other CTSOs are experiencing growth. As SkillsUSA has done, however, they are looking for ways to tighten their budgets. Also on the shared information front: those CTSOs that accept national conference pre-registration reported that their registrations are up slightly.
- The first eight Skill Connect Assessments were available for on March 16. After 2-3 business days on the market and a spring break in between, SkillsUSA sold more than 850 assessments and the orders continue to arrive. The most popular assessments thus far (not necessarily in order) are Employability, Welding, Cosmetology, Computer Maintenance Technology and Advertising Design.
- Staff held a National Leadership and Skills Conference (NLSC) countdown meeting last Monday. It looks as though everything is on track. SkillsUSA University has even more sessions than last year. It’s logging in at 83 seminars and workshops. Staff is working with the Kansas City Convention and Visitors Association (KCCVA) to arrange assignments in light of staff reductions at KCCVA.
- In state conference news, I attended the Maryland state conference in Baltimore County with Chuck Wallace March 21. It was Maryland’s largest conference ever. I was pleased to be the award ceremony speaker and to shake hands with all of the winners. On March 26 and 27, I spoke at the opening ceremony and the ribbon-cutting ceremony during the Texas College/Postsecondary conference in San Antonio. Stacy Scott ran a great conference at St. Phillips Community College in the Alamo Community College District. The conference was well attended, and there was good sponsor support including the Army, Air Products and Snap-on.
- In the news, staff reports that in comparing the first three months of news coverage from January 1, 2008 through March of 2009, our top three categories are state and local competitions, local coverage and trade sponsor related coverage. Local coverage (using our VOCUS system) is up 62 percent; state and local competition coverage is up 77 percent, and trade and sponsor related coverage is up 93 percent. A lot of coverage picked up in the last category is from the racing-related promotion.
- In news on advocacy, between March 27 and March 30, we asked our active advisors to contact their Members of Congress to ask them to sign a “Dear Colleague” letter supporting CTE funding. We know 95 people wrote to Congress, and that doesn’t count the number who called.
- Finally, I just want you all to know that I ran (and survived) a 10K race with my daughters in Richmond on March 28. There were 33,000 people in the race, and I was in the middle somewhere, so, I just had to keep moving.