Last week I was a guest judge at a state level SkillsUSA screen printing competition. I went in completely blind – until that moment I had been oblivious to the fact that SkillsUSA existed, let alone what it was. 

Last week I knew nothing about SkillsUSA.  Now I know a tiny bit. SkillsUSA is a high school program that provides structure and support for students interested in exploring industrial trades. It would be Mike Rowe if he were an extracurricular activity. 

SkillsUSA offers support, sets expectations, and provides industry interaction to high school aged kids who express an interest in a WIDE gamut of trades (HVAC, beautician, digital security, robotics – you name it they probably support it). 

Real-world skills. Real-world expectations. I was impressed – with the intent, the focus, the kids themselves. It’s friendly.  It’s competitive. It’s well-intentioned. And it’s well executed. 

The screen printing competition was like a job fair in reverse. The kids came and performed the work under specific criteria written and judged by a panel of industry people, of which I was one. 

Prizes and accolades are awarded; the winner moves on to the next level of competition. 

I walked around the convention center with a big dumb smile splitting my face. I liked what I was seeing. This competition gives these kids a significant advantage over their peers.

Looking back at our time in high school, many of my friends and I have wondered aloud if we would have been better off attending the local trade schools rather than chasing an overpriced diploma. SkillsUSA may have changed the course of our lives.

The trades need better PR aimed at kids. SkillsUSA is a viable form of that. I’m glad it’s there.