Business people and educators are prone to regard each other warily across a chasm of cultural dissonance. The culture of liberal education seeks to examine and transmit universal truths; the culture of business seeks profits. Decision making in business largely focuses on outcomes; decision making in education most highly prizes inclusiveness and fairness. Nevertheless, business and education need each other to provide resources and tools for teachers and employees. Nowhere is this more true than in career and technical education (CTE), which is straightforward about preparing students for employment.
Technologies change quickly in this globally competitive world, and CTE instruction must keep pace in classrooms and labs if students are to take advantage of the demand for skilled labor in today’s marketplace. Unfortunately, curriculum reform often bogs down because of local school board politics and school district bureaucracy.
Communication between business and education concerning expectations for entry-level skills and competencies must be quick and direct. Competitions for students that are designed, managed and judged by business, industry and labor supply this helpful and necessary communication.
On June 23 and 24 of this year, 4,200 students who have won gold medals in state-level competitions will test their employability and hands-on occupational skills in the Skills- USA Championships. As the highlight event of the annual weeklong National Leadership and Skills Conference, the 2004 SkillsUSA Championships will feature 77 contests on the equivalent of 10 football fields in downtown Kansas City, Missouri. Each of these contests will be planned and managed by volunteer technical committees drawn from the ranks of business and organized labor. These committees design a contest that reflects their industry’s expectations for both “hard” and “soft” skills of an entry-level worker. Other professionals recruited from these industries perform the judging.
The national SkillsUSA Championships culminate a process that starts in the winter with local and district contests. Winning students ascend to state-level contests and, finally, to the championships, with businesses and industries providing guidance and resources each step of the way. The instructors, seeking success and recognition for their students and programs, pay close attention to the standards set each year in the national contest and change curriculum to fit these standards.
Consequently, changes in a contest ricochet through SkillsUSA classrooms and labs in the academic year following the national contest. National technical committees have the power to affect what is taught in these classrooms and beyond. Some industries that lack formal certification processes for new workers look to the example of the Championships contest to evaluate applicants’ competencies. Where certification does exist, tech committees will add tests to the contest.
Among the contests planned for this summer’s national event, SkillsUSA students will compete in precision machining, CNC milling, CNC turning (demo), automated manufacturing technology and robotics and automation technology. Many of America’s most respected companies will provide technical committee members, judges, contest equipment and prizes for these and other contests in industries such as manufacturing, transportation technologies, allied health care, information technology, printing, building construction and consumer products servicing. Other contests will challenge students’ talents for job interviewing, public speaking, customer service, technical math, knowledge about current events and community service
Words like “awesome” and “inspirational” are perhaps tossed around too lightly in our culture, yet they tend to inhabit the reactions of both newcomers and veterans when stepping onto the Skills Floor at the championships. Perhaps it is the size of the event; perhaps it is the intensity and hopefulness of the competing students. Certainly the earnest dedication of volunteers to pass on their teachings to the next generation of technicians is inspiring. In fact, there may be no place that better illuminates the meaning of corporate citizenship.
With donations totaling more than $25 million, the championships will represent perhaps the most impressive single-day commitment of cross-industry volunteerism in the United States.
Thirteen thousand people will travel to this conference during the last week in June to take advantage of the converging synergies of a top national summit about killed workforce development. We invite you to be one of them. You just might meet a future employee or two. E-mail Karen Beatty at email@example.com to receive an invitation.
For more information on SkillsUSA, visit www.skillsusa.org.