You know the value of SkillsUSA and all it does for students, but how do you communicate that effectively to a variety of audiences? How do you promote the relevance and successes of your SkillsUSA chapter and students? How do you create a demand for your program?
In a day and age when schools are cutting budgets, it is imperative that your technical program and SkillsUSA chapter stay front and center as much as possible. Successful marketing can be the difference that not only potentially saves your program, but also helps it thrive and grow.
Idea 1: Marketing SkillsUSA and Technical Programs
Winning Strategies For Marketing Your Program
By Thomas Washburn, SkillsUSA Advisor at Centennial High School, GA
Importance: Think back to when you decided where to go to college. What helped you decide? Was it cost, location, academics, family tradition or a combination of factors? Whatever it was, that school appealed to you.
SkillsUSA and technical programs are no different. Students, parents, administrators and industry professionals all have choices regarding where to invest their time and resources. As a teacher and advisor, you want to ensure that these key shareholders consider SkillsUSA, as well as career and technical education. To that end, it’s important to expose them to the program in a way that fosters an understanding of its value and helps students reach their potential.
How do you reach target audiences, and how do you make your program stand out? There are three primary factors that will help you:
- Recognize that reputation and marketing go hand-in-hand. The stronger your program, the more marketing opportunities you will have. Build demand for your program.
- View your SkillsUSA and technical programs interchangeable. Involvement in SkillsUSA is the leadership extension of the skills curriculum you’re teaching. By promoting membership in SkillsUSA, you will further advance your marketing objectives.
- Approach your program like a business. Determine what makes it unique; put your students (your product) out in front; and whenever you have the chance to tell someone about your program, do it. The latter also includes building relationships. Just as relationships make or break a business, they can make or break your marketing efforts.
- Keep in mind that marketing is an ongoing activity and there are always opportunities. Also, understand that marketing is a need, not a want. If you want your program to grow and your students to succeed, it’s an absolute necessity. Marketing = Influence.
How to Reach Them
Learn about your community and use all of your resources to tell the story:
- Know the demographic you serve, and appeal to your audience
- Put your students out in front; they are the story
- Find out what interests your local news media
- Research and pursue potential industry partners
- Make it easy for administrators and other school leaders to learn about your program
- Use the Internet, school newsletters, local media resources, parent organizations and anything else at your disposal to spread the word
- Why It Works
Being involved with SkillsUSA, and career and technical education, provides timely and invaluable experience to the student population it serves. There is no better time than right now to provide students with knowledge and skill sets valued in the workplace. We are at the forefront of leadership and career development, which is essential in a challenging economic climate. When people hear our story and meet our students, they’re hooked.
Steps to Success
Step 1: Build relationships. Identify your target audiences and foster relationships with all of them (I have found that feeding people is always a great way to draw them in).
- Participate in curriculum nights or similar events to showcase your program to incoming students
- Create a mentor program for existing students to support incoming students
- Host a breakfast or luncheon, with some of your students attending, for your school administrators and counselors at least twice a year (The more you inform them, the sooner they will become allies)
- Create an advisory board with local businesses. Send a personalized letter with an RSVP card asking them to participate on the board, volunteer as a contest judge, or delegate this responsibility to someone else in their office. Host a catered dinner for those who respond
- Invite parents to various events and activities, and promote student accomplishments through a parent newsletter or other form of effective communication
- Invite guest speakers from the community on a regular basis (Not only does this create a network for your students, but it also exposes the speaker to your program)
Step 2: Make your classroom an adventure. Create demand for your class. Make it known from the beginning that your class is unique and exceptional. Not only will this benefit the class, but it will also present marketing opportunities. Some ideas:
- Set up field trips with industry professionals to expose students to various careers
- Create positive energy in the classroom by combining curriculum with life skills and leadership training, including study skills, interviewing techniques, writing thank-you notes, making proper introductions and creating an agenda. Build them up!
- Promote membership in SkillsUSA by offering extra credit or professional development points through participation in various activities
- Come up with unique classroom experiences based on career field (In my classes, we did a forensics experiment that tracked the decomposition of three pigs. We invited the science classes to join us.)
- Provide opportunities for travel (I take a group to Washington, D.C. every year to meet a Supreme Court justice. It is planned well in advance to raise funds.)
- Give students a vision, and keep them focused on their career path. Use championships, community service and other opportunities as a way for them to build their résumés
Step 3: Think outside the box. Be strategic with the promotion of your program. Personalize the message to ensure it has an impact:
- Get to know your local media by finding out what kind of stories they like to cover and sending different photos and stories to different newspapers (I have one paper that likes local accolades and one that likes unique stories, so that’s what I send them.)
- When promoting the value of your class and SkillsUSA to students, find facts relevant to them (Prepare a PowerPoint presentation on the value of education, showing how much a high school diploma is worth vs. a GED vs. a college diploma. Show them skills needed for their career interests.)
- When talking to school officials, share the academic success and statistics of your students (I have students at Ivy League schools and military academies. Many are very successful legal and law enforcement professionals in the community. Nearly 100 percent have graduated and gone to college.)
- Promote the diversity of your program to audiences, not just related to careers, but also to the student population and anything else that sets your program apart (My school has students from 56 countries, and my program reflects that diversity.)
- Use language that everyone understands, and never assume anything — create messages for different audiences to reach them effectively
- Keep in touch with alumni by sending them updates via email; many will come back to help you
Step 4: Use your students as your No. 1 marketing tool. Never promote yourself, always promote your students.
- Use the school or your SkillsUSA website to promote student successes on a regular basis. This can include special projects, officer elections, championships and more
- Set up a listserv consisting of guidance counselors from schools that feed into your program, then send them announcements of student successes on a regular basis
- Have students, sharply dressed in their red blazers and well prepared, ready to volunteer at various school and community functions
- If you have a student who’s “especially exceptional,” make the student the poster girl or boy for your program (I have a national officer who is one of my best marketing tools.)
- Set up meetings for some of your best students with industry professionals; have students create questions before the meeting and write thank-you notes as soon as the meeting is over (My students do this with Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, and he is always impressed.)
- Whenever there is a chance to tell the story in front of a large group of parents, administrators, the news media or industry professionals, have a capable student do it — this has much more impact
Idea 2: Business and Industry Appreciation Event
Recognizing the businesses and industries in your community is vital to establishing a strong working relationship with them. Hosting an appreciation event such as a breakfast, luncheon or dinner program allows SkillsUSA members to interact in a positive and professional way. SkillsUSA members will be able to connect with current and future employers outside the business setting, giving them the opportunity to network, converse and use business etiquette skills. If held at the school, it may also present the opportunity for guests to tour the classrooms, labs and shops that make up your total Skilled and Technical Science program.
Idea 3: SkillsUSA Week
SkillsUSA Week is the perfect time to shine the spotlight on your local chapter. By focusing your marketing energies during this specific week, you leverage the strength of simultaneous marketing efforts underway by the national organization and those within your state.
Idea 4: Parent Information Night
Hosting a parent information night is a great public relations activity to include in your SkillsUSA marketing activities. Parents are front-line program advocates and a great resource for volunteer and financial support. Parental and family involvement is also vitally important to the academic and career success of students.