Leesburg, Va., Oct. 26, 2023 — More than 500 SkillsUSA students, teachers and leaders from 29 states have learned to become effective leaders, gained an understanding of how the federal government works and advocated for SkillsUSA in visits with their elected senators and representatives. The SkillsUSA members gained new skills at the Washington Leadership Training Institute (WLTI) in Washington, D.C. Sept. 23-27. In addition to robust training and national networking, the participants had an immersion experience in Washington, D.C. and visited museums and monuments to soak up the inspiring history that helped shape the United States.
The conference kicked off on Saturday, Sept. 23 at the Hilton Alexandria Mark Center hotel in Virginia, headquarters for the annual event. The SkillsUSA National Officer Team welcomed the group and organized small student groups called “huddles” for training the next morning. The conference focused on the SkillsUSA Framework Essential Elements of Professionalism, Communication and Leadership. Sessions included “My Career Development,” CTE Influence and Impact,” “Framework Story Coaching,” “The CTE Model and Our Place in it” and “Preparing for Legislative Visits.”
After small group training on Sunday morning, students joined teachers and state leaders for a lunchtime Advocacy Panel that helped prepare everyone for visits on the hill. Three expert panelists gave insights on what students might expect and how to maximize the effectiveness of their congressional visits. Speaking to the students were Rebecca Howard, legislative director for Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.); SkillsUSA board member David (DJ) Jordan, who is the director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for Aerotek; and Jimmy Koch, the government relations manager for the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE). On Sunday night after a busy day, attendees enjoyed a twilight bus tour of the national monuments with narration by the national officers.
Students spent Monday morning paying their respects to victims of 9/11 at the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial with a wreath laying and reflection time, and then split into state delegations to tour the city and see the Smithsonian museums. That night back at the hotel, it was time for Statesman interviews, a requirement for earning the conference award.
Tuesday began with large group photo at the U.S. Capitol building, then state groups put their newfound knowledge to work and embarked on 81 visits with senators, congressional representatives and federal officials. In the meetings, students advocated for SkillsUSA and career and technical education, feeling an incredible sense of pride and fulfillment knowing that they’d made their voices heard on a topic they’re truly passionate about. SkillsUSA members visited 12 senators and 65 representatives plus Deputy Under Secretary Gloria Montaño Greene, U.S. Department of Agriculture; Deputy Assistant Secretary Luke Rhine and Chief of Staff DeAndre Jones, U.S. Department of Education; Senior Transportation Specialist Alexander Sinclair, U.S. Department of Transportation; Deputy Advisor Conor Freeley and Senior Advisor to the Labor Secretary Christina Chen, U.S. Department of Labor. The group wrapped up the day at Arlington National Cemetery, where SkillsUSA national officers took part in a solemn wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns.
As they earned their coveted National Statesman awards Tuesday night in the closing ceremony, students were proud to have demonstrated SkillsUSA knowledge and civic awareness. Paired with unique experiences and personal reflection, each member felt the conference gave them a broader perspective on the role of the individual citizen in government. At the closing, students were challenged to take their advocacy skills home and keep using them. Reflecting on the conference, student Troy Berrara from SkillsUSA Nevada said, “WLTI was truly such an eye-opening experience. Having the opportunity to engage with like-minded individuals who had similar goals to mine, and getting to network with members from all over the country was amazing. Through WLTI, I realized that the impact that SkillsUSA, as an organization can have, and the impact that we can make is immense. Not just at the national level, but all the way back to the chapter and local level. WLTI motivated me to continue working hard for what’s important and was a reminder of how impactful our organization truly is.”
Students like Troy learned in a few short days that their efforts can effect positive change in their schools, communities, states and nation. Their voices matter. Gaining that confidence and knowledge is the ongoing legacy of WLTI and why it is always such a powerful experience for attendees.
Visit the WLTI conference album to see all of the WLTI photos.
SkillsUSA is America’s proud champion of the skilled trades. It’s a student-led partnership of education and industry that’s building the skilled workforce our nation depends on with graduates who are career ready, day one. Representing nearly 380,000 career and technical education students and teachers, SkillsUSA chapters thrive in middle schools, high schools and college/postsecondary institutions nationwide. SkillsUSA’s mission empowers students to become skilled professionals, career-ready leaders and responsible community members. That mission is accomplished through the SkillsUSA Framework of Personal Skills, Workplace Skills and Technical Skills Grounded in Academics, which is integrated into the classroom curriculum. Through Framework instruction, students develop the character-shaping leadership skills — teamwork, communication, professionalism and more — that successful careers and lives demand. At the same time, students hone their high-level technical skills against current industry standards in more than 130 skilled trade areas, from 3-D Animation to Welding. The result? Focused, confident and highly skilled graduates who are ready to work, ready to lead and ready to make a difference in our schools, workplaces and communities. A vital solution to the skills gap, where more in-demand skilled trades positions are available than qualified professionals to fill them, SkillsUSA has served over 14 million difference-making members since 1965. To learn more, visit www.skillsusa.org.
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