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Parent, Police Chief and Ph.D.: From All Perspectives, the Gains fromSkillsUSA are Unparalleled

When Joseph E. Thomas Jr. saw his first SkillsUSA Championships in 2007, he felt compelled to write about it. The event not only impressed him as a parent (son Ryan competed in Robotics and Automation Technology) but as a Ph.D. in educational leadership. Thomas, who is police chief in Southfield, Mich., also teaches at universities, community colleges, and police and fire academies. As an ambassador to the U.S. Army Reserve, Thomas holds the rank of major general.

By Joseph E. Thomas Jr.

My family recently had our first opportunity to attend the SkillsUSA national competition. Upon arriving, we were astounded at the sheer magnitude of the event. In fact, the talented and highly skilled students so impressed my wife Cheryl and I that it renewed our faith in the future of the American workforce. The outstanding competition and the students in it led me to wonder how many parents were missing this opportunity. Why isn’t SkillsUSA receiving the same exposure as our sports programs, reality TV shows, or our young people involved in criminal incidents?

I have a continuing education background in law enforcement and firefighting that includes five degrees, including a doctorate in education. I am involved with the military, have attended the FBI, national fire and Secret Service academies, and am a professor at two universities and three community colleges. I have met a few people, read a few books, worked with people from all social, ethnic and economic backgrounds and been exposed to most standardized and other “best practices” for success. With all that said, I have to say that SkillsUSA is unique and one of the most comprehensive training programs I have ever seen. SkillsUSA serves as an assessment center for today’s youth and future workforce.

Need for higher level of skills
It appears that the United States is losing its competitive edge in the world’s marketplace. This trend appears evident in several areas. We no longer produce a television set; the American automotive industry has been reduced from the “big three” to the “big two;” and most of our law enforcement weapons and uniforms are made in foreign countries. The United States is almost totally dependent on other countries for oil and other fuel sources, and there is a growing dependency on countries such as Canada and India for our technical service centers.

To be competitive again, we must “retool” ourselves, beginning with our educational processes and skill sets. America’s youth not only needs to retool, but also needs to be instructed as to how to properly present themselves and their skills in the form of résumés and job applications. The SkillsUSA program not only helps young people to find a suitable career path for them, it also helps them to prepare for it.

What makes SkillsUSA unique
The SkillsUSA organization and competitions are the first steps in teaching best practices to the next American workforce. SkillsUSA instills the drive and allows them to experience the sacrifices it takes to be among the best in their field. SkillsUSA is unique in that its programs focus on the skills necessary to drive social and economic stability in this country — at a time when we need it most.

The SkillsUSA competition offers categories in almost every field, including technical, medical, culinary, building, automotive, human services, masonry, welding and many more. The many disciplines cover a broad range of industries and interests, providing one of the most comprehensive vocational programs I have ever seen. Even more impressive is that this program takes a skill set one step further by including résumé building, interview techniques, team building, business comprehension and a contest that instills the American Spirit itself!

“SkillsUSA is unique in that its programs focus on the skills necessary to drive social and economic stability in this country — at a time when we need it most.”

To compete, students must work with each other as teammates. They are exposed to a program that promotes and encourages participants to value and respect the achievements of others. In my estimation, I have found SkillsUSA to be the most comprehensive personal or vocational development program of any kind in the country. I think the skills, values and training that young people gain is unparalleled and necessary for not only their future, but our country’s future as well.

How we can help SkillsUSA
When presenting technical or complicated information, it is often easy to lose an audience’s attention. This is also true when communicating important information with our children. I think many of us take for granted much of the information we attempt to impart to others, especially our children. It is vitally important that we not only take the time to discuss important life decisions with our children, but that we also make sure they understand just how important these decisions should be.

I feel strongly that each of us should be an advocate for career exploration and training, not only for our own children, but for the sake of America’s future workforce as well. We must each promote SkillsUSA in our respective communities, local and national media, among our families, friends and co-workers, and in our public and private secondary and postsecondary schools.

We should each seek to find businesses willing to sponsor SkillsUSA in schools that have no funding or program to facilitate it. Everyone should proudly display SkillsUSA competition awards right next to sport, scouting and dance competition awards. We should host celebrations for our local award-winning SkillsUSA teams to commend these young people and their accomplishments.

SkillsUSA is an outstanding organization for numerous reasons, namely because it is working to shape America’s youth for the future. The program helps to build a solid foundation for the youth of this great nation. We need to build it up, talk it up, and make it a source of pride in our families, schools and communities. Our youth need to be publicly rewarded for their accomplishments, just as we do with our sporting teams and arts programs. Competing at this level can be intimidating and very stressful; nevertheless, it is rewarding no matter where a team or individual places in the competition. It takes a high level of commitment, drive and desire to compete in this outstanding program. Every one of the individuals competing at the national level of this program is already a champion.

The bottom line is that SkillsUSA builds in our youth the character that is the key to the future of our country. The United States needs young men and women such as these participants to retain its status as a world leader.

SkillsUSA helps to develop the mindset necessary to achieve a higher level of social and economic stability. It fosters respect for self and others. It instills a sense of pride in accomplishment through hard work and focused effort. It brings family and community together for the common good of the individual, the team and the country. This program does what we are trying very hard to do in this generation — to build the very character traits that will enable them to move forward and develop the American spirit on which this country was founded.

SkillsUSA is exactly what its name stands for: the skills for the United States of America! end of story

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SkillsUSA Champions | Winter 2008 | Volume 42, No. 2
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