The SkillsUSA legacy is rich with tradition, and while the organization was officially founded in 1965, the history of the skilled trades stretches back … almost indefinitely. In fact, skilled tradespeople have been passing down their abilities to “apprentices” since the earliest days of civilization.
We won’t go that far back, but we will start in 1917, when the first federal law in the United States relating to career and technical education was passed: The Smith-Hughes National Vocational Education Act. This law was the first to provide funding to the states for agriculture, homemaking and trade and industrial education. Forty-five years later, the Vocational Educational Act of 1963 specified that vocational student organizations were an essential part of vocational instruction. Today, these organizations are called career and technical student organizations, or CTSOs, and SkillsUSA is one of eight authorized by the U.S. Department of Education. This law was also important because it recognized CTSOs as an integral part of classroom instruction and legitimate recipients of federal and state grant money to support their work. And the rest is history. Our history.
Before we became SkillsUSA in 2004, we were known as the Vocational Industrial Clubs of America, or “VICA” (pronounced “vick-uh”). In fact, the organization was founded as VICA in May of 1965 at the Trade and Industrial Youth Conference in Nashville, Tenn. Attendance? About 200 students, teachers and administrators, representing 14 states. There, members chose the organization’s colors, emblem, motto, purposes and goals, and our first of only four executive directors so far was named: Larry Johnson. The organization would be headquartered in Washington, D.C.
1966: VICA membership reaches 29,534 in 1,074 chapters across 26 states. We hold our first Washington Leadership Training Institute (WLTI), providing students opportunities to develop their leadership skills, learn how our government works and advocate for the skilled trades to lawmakers in D.C.
1967: We hold our first competitive events, featuring 54 competitors in five leadership competitions.
1968: VICA members received in the White House by President Lyndon B. Johnson.
1969: Membership reaches 82,000, the organization’s “postsecondary division” is approved, and our first annual theme is announced: “Speak Up for America”.
1970: Our first Leadership Handbook is released.
1972: Our competitive events are now officially called “The United States Skill Olympics and feature 25 competitions.
1975: We celebrate our tenth anniversary with the induction of our one-millionth member. VICA’s “Team USA” competes for the first time at the International Youth Skill Olympics competition. The event is held in Madrid, Spain.
1976: Membership surpasses 250,000 in more than 10,000 chapters.
1979: Doors open to our new National Leadership Center in Leesburg, Va., made possible in part by contributions from VICA alumni and fundraising from active VICA chapters. We showcased hundreds of competitors in 24 national competitions in what was now called “The United States Skill Olympics.” It was a sign of the tremendous success to come.
1981: VICA hosted the International Youth Skill Olympics, featuring 274 competitors from 14 countries in 33 competitions.
1983: President Ronald Reagan is the keynote speaker at our national conference in Louisville, Ky. “You represent this nation’s future,” Reagan said to the thousands in attendance. “You will shape, fit, mold, construct and program a new century for America.”
1985: VICA member Dennis Falls of Arizona wins the United States’ first International Skill Olympics gold medal. Falls wins in the Graphic Design competition.
1988: Stephen Denby becomes VICA’s second executive director.
1991: VICA member Robert Pope earns gold in Amsterdam at the International Youth Skill Olympics, the first gold medal in Welding for the United States. Pope also scores the most points of any competitor in any competition in IYSO history.
1995: The name of our national competition program is officially changed to the “SkillsUSA Championships.” The “Professional Development Program” (PDP), designed to help teachers prepare their students to become career ready, is released nationwide.
1996: The PDP wins the Oracle Award by the International Association of Continuing Education and Training (IACET). It also garners the Vocational Instructional Materials Award of Excellence.
1999: VICA officially changes its name to SkillsUSA-VICA.
2001: Timothy Lawrence — a former VICA student, teacher and state director — becomes the organization’s third executive director.
2002: The first issue of “SkillsUSA Champions” magazine is released.
2004: The organization officially changes its name to “SkillsUSA.”
2008: SkillsUSA releases its first technical assessments to help students earn workforce credentials.
2010: SkillsUSA surpasses 300,000 members for the first time.
2014: The first official SkillsUSA middle school constitution is adopted, and the first middle school charter was presented to Riverside Middle School in Watertown, Wis.
2017: SkillsUSA membership surpasses the 400,000 mark for the first time in its history. The SkillsUSA Career Essentials suite of career-readiness curricula is introduced, replacing the former Professional Development Program.
2019: Chelle Travis, former association director of SkillsUSA Tennessee, becomes the fourth executive director in SkillsUSA history.
2020s (so far)
2020: SkillsUSA faces a global pandemic by creating a series of virtual programs and resources designed to keep members engaged and connected during a long period of lockdowns and virtual education.
2021: Through a truly heroic effort from our members and stakeholders, SkillsUSA develops a method of conducting and judging our SkillsUSA Championships virtually or in proctored locations across the nation. As a result, SkillsUSA holds its first and only virtual National Leadership & Skills Conference, including a live-streamed broadcast of the event’s Awards Ceremony.
2022: For the first time in three years, SkillsUSA holds a live and in-person National Leadership & Skills Conference and SkillsUSA Championships. The event is held in Atlanta for the first time since 1981.
2023: SkillsUSA membership numbers reach the largest in our history, with more than 380,000 student and teacher members and more than 440,000 total members (including alumni, honorary life members and more).
What will the rest of our story look like? Help us write it by joining or supporting us today!
SkillsUSA Symbols and Traditions
The shield represents patriotism.
The shield denotes our belief in democracy, liberty and the American way of life.
The gear represents the industrial society.
The gear, symbolic of the industrial society, denotes the interdependence and cooperation of the individual working with labor and management for the betterment of mankind.
The torch represents knowledge.
The flaming torch reflects the light of knowledge, which dispels the darkness of ignorance. In the light of the torch, progress will be made toward the vocational goals of the individual.
The orbital circles represent technology.
The circles represent the challenge of modern technology and the training needed to accept and master the challenge of new technical frontiers and the need for continuous education.
The hands represent the individual.
The hands portray a search for knowledge and our desire to acquire a skill. In the process of attaining knowledge and skill, we will develop a respect for the dignity of work and become productive and responsible citizens.
Note: The emblem should not be used to represent the organization in marketing or publicity materials. Please use official SkillsUSA logos in those instances.
The colors red, white, blue and gold represent the national SkillsUSA organization.
Red and white represent the individual states and chapters.
Blue represents the common union of the states and of the chapters.
Gold represents the individual, the most important element of the organization.
Upon my honor, I pledge:
To prepare myself by diligent study and ardent practice to become a worker whose services will be recognized as honorable by my employer and fellow workers.
To base my expectations of reward upon the solid foundation of service.
To honor and respect my vocation in such a way as to bring repute to myself.
And further, to spare no effort in upholding the ideals of SkillsUSA.
I believe in the dignity of work.
I hold that society has advanced to its present culture through the use of the worker’s hands and mind. I will maintain a feeling of humbleness for the knowledge and skills that I receive from professionals, and I will conduct myself with dignity in the work I do.
I believe in the American way of life.
I know our culture is the result of freedom of action and opportunities won by the founders of our American republic, and I will uphold their ideals.
I believe in education.
I will endeavor to make the best use of knowledge, skills and experience that I will learn in order that I may be a better worker in my chosen occupation and a better citizen in my community. To this end, I will continue my learning now and in the future.
I believe in fair play.
I will, through honesty and fair play, respect the rights of others. I will always conduct myself in the manner of the best professionals in my occupation and treat those with whom I work as I would like to be treated.
I believe satisfaction is achieved by good work.
I feel that compensation and personal satisfaction received for my work and services will be in proportion to my creative and productive ability.
I believe in high moral and spiritual standards.
I will endeavor to conduct myself in such a manner as to set an example for others by living a wholesome life and by fulfilling my responsibilities as a citizen of my community.