SkillsUSA Shines National Spotlight on Career and Technical Education

Sixty-four students, including 44 state high school winners and 20 state college winners, competed in the 2017 Cabinetmaking competition of the 53rd Annual SkillsUSA National Leadership Conference held June 19-23 in Louisville, KY.

The Cabinetmaking contest is organized by the Architectural Woodwork Institute (AWI) and supported by the Woodwork Career Alliance (WCA). The WCA was represented by students of two postsecondary institutions and six high schools in this year’s competition – all winners of their state competitions. Included were students from Eastern Maine Community College of Bangor ME, and Washburn Tech of Topeka, KS. WCA EDUcation high schools that sent students included Saint Johnsbury Academy of Saint Johnsbury, VT; Dale Jackson Center of Lewisville, TX; Oswego High School of Oswego, IL; West Montgomery High School of Mount Gilead, NC; Macfarland High School of Macfarland, WI; and Peyton High School of Peyton, CO.

In addition, Andrew Dearing a student at Utah Valley University in Orem, UT, and an AWI Education Scholarship recipient, was a top 10 finisher in the postsecondary competition

Cabinetmaking was just one of 98 trades contested during SkillsUSA. Even a small sampling of the staged competitions makes clear the wide range of skills displayed including 3D printing, carpentry, crime scene investigation, nail care, robotics and web design.

Among the more than 15,000 people competing or attending the event were Kristine Cox, president of the AWI, and Kent Gilchrist, past president of AWI and technical chairman of the SkillsUSA Cabinetmaking competition.

Through her affiliation with the Carolinas Chapter of AWI, Cox has been actively involved with SkillsUSA in her home state of North Carolina for nearly 10 years. Other AWI chapters that participate on their state or regional level include Great Lakes, Heart of America, Iowa/Nebraska, New Jersey, Ohio Valley, Texas and Wisconsin.

This year’s Cabinetmaking competitors were required to manufacture a nightstand from a supplied design and materials. Students not only had to be able to read the drawings, they had to develop cut lists; cut and fabricate all of the parts using a table saw, laminate trimmer, hand drill, hinge boring machine and various hand tools. The parts also had to be sanded, assembled and adjusted to tolerances specified by the judges.

“The projects that the kids do today are multiple times more complex than what they were five or more years ago,” Gilchrist said. “This year we introduced angled sides and angled dado joinery. This not only increased the complexity of assembly, but also the challenges of preparing the cut list and machining the parts. What’s really great is that we have seen school instructors really step up their games year after year to help prepare their students to meet these challenges.”

Why SkillsUSA Matters
SkillsUSA has grown to include 395,000 members, including students, advisors and industry partners. Putting on the annual national competitions represents about a $36 million industry investment, including about $250,000 for cabinetmaking. In addition to helping elevate the trades through the National Leadership Conference, SkillsUSA is a strong advocate of career and technical education on state and national levels.

“One thing for me, especially on the state level, it that I’ve learned not only to talk from the mountaintop to these kids that we have jobs but that we have good careers in this industry,” said Cox. “Getting involved in SkillsUSA gives us an opportunity to also get in front of parents, teachers and guidance counselors. Hopefully we’ll get the message out and all concerned will know that woodworking is a viable industry for a career and there is good money to be had. Until parents recognize that this is a viable career path, they are going to push their kinds into the path of a four-year college. But what’s good for some is not good for all.”

“I think it’s important for our industry to see that career and technical education is not a dying breed,” Gilchrist said. “It’s important not just from the perspective of cabinetmaking but for CTE as a whole. The SkillsUSA National Leadership Conference shows that there are so many students who are interested in the trades. That’s not to say that many of these kids won’t be going to college, but many may come back to the trades in a management position.”

“I talk up SkillsUSA whenever I can,” Cox added. “My father was deeply involved with Boy Scouts and just like an Eagle Scout there’s a certain expectation of demeanor and character that comes with a student being involved in SkillsUSA. If I have two candidates for a job in my shop and they are equal on everything but one of them has a SkillsUSA involvement, automatically that person goes to the top my list because I know that person not only has the hard skills and craftsmanship I’m looking for, but also has critical thinking and problem solving skills that gets taught through SkillsUSA.”

“I usually bring up SkillsUSA when I’m talking to someone who says that there is no skilled labor,” Gilchrist said. “Then I’ll ask, ‘Do you know about SkillsUSA?’ Like Kristine said, these kids have certain attributes for employment that transcend a specific skill. I encourage them to find and reach out to their state director and not to limit themselves to only looking at cabinetmaking programs. Some schools have architectural technology, carpentry or welding programs where kids learn skills that you can cross train into our industry. This is a good jumping off point to develop a relationship.”

Learn more at SkillsUSA.org.

Closing the Skills Gap: A Call to Action

Kent Gilchrist is not an evangelist; he’s a woodworker. Still he is passionate about woodworking education and training and fervent in his belief that all sectors of the industry must come together to meet the long-standing challenge of developing and growing a skilled work force.

Gilchrist, owner of Fremont Interiors of Indianapolis, has been active in woodworking education and workforce development with the Architectural Woodwork Institute (AWI) for more than two decades, including serving as president of the AWI Education Foundation. For the past 10 years he has also served as chairman of AWI’s SkillsUSA Committee and is technical chair of the national SkillsUSA Cabinetmaking competition. In addition to his role as a member of the Woodwork Career Alliance’s (WCA) Board of Directors, Gilchrist recently was appointed director of business and workforce development by the WCA. In this latter capacity, Gilchrist is charged with rallying industry participation in the Skilled Labor and Workforce Development Coalition, a new initiative backed by the WCA.

At the AWFS Fair in Las Vegas, Gilchrist will take to the main stage of the show floor to deliver a special presentation to woodworking executives, “Workforce Crisis – Job One,” 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. Wednesday, July 19. The free session will explore the root causes of the skilled labor shortage; where to find woodworking candidates; and how to educate, train and retain current employees.

Gilchrist also will discuss the Skilled Labor and Workforce Development Coalition and how industry associations, manufacturers and suppliers can get involved to become part of the solution. These topics will carry over in one-on-one conversations with woodworkers, suppliers and educators throughout the four-day show.

Connecting the Dots
“We all know that we have a skills gap problem. That conversation has been worn out,” Gilchrist said. “What I plan to talk about at the show is our need to discover why we have a problem and realize that it’s different from state by state and region by region. To combat the problem we need to research where the career and technical education schools are, where the employees are and what jobs are available to build a better database of information and build better lines of communication. We haven’t done a very good job of communicating when it comes to discussing the skilled labor shortage with one another. You can talk to two shop owners who have problems finding help but they might be two very different problems. One might need a skilled bench person and the other might be looking for a CNC operator. That makes a significant difference in where you can find that kind of worker.

“We need more members of our industry to be aware, utilize and support their local high school and postsecondary schools, as well as job training and apprenticeship programs,” Gilchrist continued. “We also need to continue to get the word out about the WCA’s Woodworking Skill Standards and how woodworking companies can integrate them into their training programs.”

Gilchrist added that it’s also important for industry to work together to promote woodworking as a viable career opportunity not only to students but their parents. “Our industry has long suffered from a negative image as being backward and dead end. We need to get the word out about the new technologies that we are using on our shop floors and how today’s woodworkers can advance their careers and grow their incomes by increasing their skills.”

Now is the time to work toward enacting positive change, Gilchrist said.

“We need to put the days of moaning about not being able find good help behind us and start addressing the problem head on,” Gilchrist said. “Unless people in this industry step up and get involved it’s not going to change.”

President’s Message: We’ve Got a Lot to Talk About at AWFS Fair

As the opening of AWFS Fair in Las Vegas draws upon us, please remember to stop by our booth 9648! Let us show you how WCA’s Woodworking Skill Standards can help improve your school woodworking or company training program.

I am proud to announce that during the 2016-2017 school year we issued 185 certificates or credentials. We now have more than 1,560 WCA Passport holders across the U.S. and Canada.

One final housekeeping note: There’s still time to sign up for one of our Accredited Skill Evaluator (ASE) training sessions being held at the show. Just email snelsonwca@gmail.com or call me at 402-610-6043 to reserve your spot now and pay at our booth during the show. These ASE training sessions are being offered at a discounted rate through special arrangement with AWFS. The ASE training registration includes a one-year subscription in WCA – a $250 value – all for the low fee of $100. The purchase of a WCA Passport is required. If you don’t already have a Passport, you may purchase one for $55 at our booth.

Hope to see you next week @ AWFS Fair 2017!

Scott Nelson
President
Woodwork Career Alliance of North America