Membership retention is one of the best ways to add value to your program. As a matter of fact, it is a necessity if you want to establish a strong classroom curriculum and SkillsUSA chapter. Think of your students as building blocks. The more blocks you have and the longer you have them, the better foundation for creating new opportunities. A cohesive program is a quality program, and that’s what all of us in career and technical education should strive to achieve.
Idea No. 1 – Achieving Your Program’s Potential
Membership Retention Ideas from Nathan Greven, culinary arts teacher at the College and Career Academy
Like much of what we do, success starts from Day One. We set the tone for our program the minute students enter our classroom. If they like our class, they will most likely join SkillsUSA. If they find value in our program and in SkillsUSA, they are going to stick with it. Membership retention is the best way to grow a program in both quantity and quality. There is no better publicity for your program than a positive endorsement by students. Similarly, there is no better way to improve your program than by having students return for a second, third or fourth year. Not only does this help students, it makes you a better teacher.
How do you retain members? Simple: Offer an interactive program with plenty of hands-on opportunities. Make your classroom a place of mutual respect, encouragement and learning. Make it a place where students want to be involved.
How to Reach Them
Communicate, connect and make it real:
- Treat your students like adults; this will get their attention
- Provide a lot of practical experience and multiple opportunities
- Set expectations and be consistent
- Make your class and SkillsUSA the reason they want to come to school
- Invite parents to open houses and other school-sponsored activities
Why It Works
All of us had teachers who taught us a lot more than the subject matter in class. Those classes are most likely the ones we still remember today. By offering a program that gives students an education incorporating theory with useful experience, they will want to come back for more. It will also help them to think ahead and embrace career exploration. Many students have no compass as to what they want to do with their lives. By providing them with direction, they will start thinking ahead. Even if they do not pursue the specific career path you are teaching, they will take the life lessons from your class and apply them elsewhere. Make your program bigger than the subject matter and membership retention will become automatic.
Steps to Success
Step 1: Be passionate about what you teach. Love your subject matter or the students will see right through you:
- From Day One, share your enthusiasm for the subject
- Let students know why you are there and why you love teaching
- Provide daily insight on the subject to build credibility
- Mix it up and keep it interesting; surprise your students once in a while
- Make the program your own — this is your baby!
Step 2: Be honest. Always be truthful about your program, SkillsUSA and the career path you teach. I tell my students from the onset that a culinary career is not glamorous; it’s a lot of work.
- If you don’t know something, tell them
- Find out what students want, and be honest about opportunities
- Be prepared for students not to like your program, and don’t try to make them like it
- Set expectations, and be honest about those expectations
- Give parents and administrators the truth about your program (For example, I let them know that my program is more than a cooking class; it’s a life skills class.)
Step 3: Be fair, firm and consistent with everyone. Let students know where you stand all the time:
- There is no cut-and-dry formula for handling issues; approach everything with an open mind
- Set the rules and follow through (I tell my students not to mistake my kindness for weakness.)
- Be a positive, adult influence with every student you encounter
- Give everyone, including parents, a role in the program’s success
- Never insult the intelligence of your students — if they are old enough to drive a car, they are old enough to manage themselves
Step 4: Give them real-world experience. My program is structured to provide theory, life skills and hands-on experience. With all of our projects, the students must do the research first, then present to the class. The cooking is last. This gives them a well-rounded education:
- Invite a variety of guest speakers to give students exposure to various careers
- Take field trips (I take my students to a nice restaurant so they can see everything from the host/hostess, to the wait staff, to the chefs in action.)
- Have them demonstrate skills for key audiences (My students prepare and serve multicourse meals for school faculty and staff, from start to finish.)
- Take time to focus on life skills such as interviewing techniques, résumé building and public speaking
- Invite parents to see students in action; allow them to show off their skills in front of their family
Idea No. 2 – Chapter Fun Night
Importance: It’s essential to remind members and nonmembers that being part of SkillsUSA is fun. Sometimes after members have worked hard on a big project such as community service, or they have diligently prepared for SkillsUSA Championships, they may feel tired or burned out. For nonmembers, a fun activity is incentive to try something new. It’s important they see firsthand that SkillsUSA is not just about gaining experience, it’s also about building community and making friends.
The fun night should be something fairly easy for chapter leaders to coordinate. It could involve activities such as a bowling night, scavenger hunt around campus, movie nights or carnival games. See the SkillsUSA publication Propel: A Collection of 35 Engaging Activities for Meetings, Workshops and Conferences.
Value to Your Program
Fun activities not only help build relationships and lift morale, but they present a valuable learning opportunity. Those members who plan and participate learn about:
- Group participation
- Interpersonal skills development
Fun activities are also a great way to promote your program. Word of mouth travels fast with students, and they are your best endorsement. Whether members or not, when students start talking about what fun they had at a SkillsUSA activity, there is no better way to grow your chapter.
Why It Works
The best part about a chapter fun night is its simplicity:
- Students enjoy interacting with peers in a relaxed setting
- It’s a great way to boost morale and create enthusiasm
- Fun nights create a low-pressure means of recruitment
- Activities can appeal to a variety of student interests
- It provides an indirect venue to promote SkillsUSA
- There’s nothing like using fun as a motivator!
Steps to Success
Step 1: Depending on the event, begin planning as early as two months out.
Step 2: Form a committee of interested chapter leaders:
- Share the fun-night idea
- Brainstorm activity ideas
- Choose the event
- Select committee chairs
- Develop a structure of subcommittees and subcommittee chairs
- Note: This depends on the work involved in coordinating the event
Step 3: Facilitate planning meetings:
- Secure the location
- Select a date and time
- Develop timelines and budgets
- Obtain any materials or equipment needed
- Design promotional materials
Step 4: Advertise and promote the event:
- Chapter website or Facebook
- School newspaper
- Fliers/posters around the school and classroom
Step 5: Host the event:
- Make sure students have transportation
- If needed, ensure parental consent forms are signed
- Follow school policies
Step 6: Evaluate the event, and record suggestions for next year.
Step 7: Celebrate success:
- Host a pizza lunch for coordinators
- Give extra credit
Idea No. 3 – Back-To-School Barbecue
Importance: Hosting a back-to-school parent or family barbecue is a simple yet effective way to build rapport and interest for the coming year with students and their families. It’s a fun activity that encourages community participation and inclusion of all members. It’s also a great way to build or re-establish relationships with parents and families at the beginning of school, forming a key support group. These types of events also promote retention of active members. By including families, the incentive to remain active in SkillsUSA is strengthened, because parents feel involved and therefore will give their students encouragement at home.
Value to Your Program
Maintaining a quality program is a constant work in progress. Events at key times of the year allow you to capitalize on opportunities to promote SkillsUSA. An event such as a back-to-school barbecue is a chance for advisors and chapter leaders to start the year off right by reconnecting with members and their families — and by setting the tone for the coming year.
Chapter leaders involved have a chance to develop:
- Organizational and planning skills
- Public relations skills
- Speaking skills
Students and families in attendance will gain a sense of community and belonging. This is also a good time for them to learn more about the chapter’s program of work for the year.
Why It Works
There are many reasons why this idea works:
- Meal functions attract people
- A casual, relaxed environment provides a great opportunity to promote SkillsUSA
- Involving families fosters “buy-in” from parents and spouses
- Members and parents learn about SkillsUSA and the benefits of membership together
- Potential supporters, chaperones, guest speakers, coaches and resources can be identified
- A quality event sends a positive message about the type of SkillsUSA program you have
Steps to Success
Step 1: Form a committee early in the fall semester:
- This should include chapter officers
- Students who volunteer could receive extra credit
Step 2: Facilitate and advise a planning session:
- Set the date, making sure it doesn’t coincide with other big school events
- Secure facilities and equipment (grills, microphones if needed)
- Determine budgetary needs (food, picnic ware, decorations)
- Discuss and select speakers
- Create promotional materials
- Advertise the event
- Create the program:
- Door prizes
- Industry speakers to address the value of workplace skill development
- Videos or PowerPoint slides about SkillsUSA or past activities
- Student testimonies
- Facilitate sessions for leaders to develop scripts and practice
Step 3: Promote the event:
Send out invitations via mail or email (evite)
Have chapter officers make follow-up calls if needed
Place event on school marquee and use chapter Web page (if applicable)
Step 4: Host the event:
- Ensure there are enough trash receptacles — keep it clean!
- Make sure food and drinks are organized and sufficient
- Make sure students keep the program running smoothly
- Extend hospitality and encourage interaction
- Thank guests for attending
Step 5: Debrief with event leaders after the event:
- Identify what went well and areas that need improvement
- Celebrate success at the next chapter meeting