Workforce Alliance Encourages Growth of SkillsUSA in Central Illinois Schools.

Workforce Alliance CI is well aware of the community’s need for high school and college graduates ready to become productive citizens, and has determined that the expansion of SkillsUSA in the region can support that goal.

Several area high schools already have established SkillsUSA chapters: Pekin, Limestone, Metamora, and Manual Academy. East Peoria and Woodruff Career and Technical Center have applied for charters. Illinois Central College has a chapter with 200+ students and 35 faculty advisors, and a history of several SkillsUSA national champions.

We need to improve high school retention and graduation rates. Many high school students are not fully engaged in their education and don’t make a connection between the academic curriculum and their life after school. Additionally, local companies overwhelming agree we have a huge gap in employable “soft skills” and technical expertise. Caterpillar and State Farm certainly understand this and are providing significant national corporate sponsorship for SkillsUSA.

That’s where SkillsUSA comes in. It’s a partnership of students, teachers and industry working together to ensure America has a skilled workforce. SkillsUSA provides educational programs, events, and competitions that support career and technical education (CTE) in the nation’s classrooms.

A SkillsUSA chapter in a high school develops leadership, provides networking and real life experiences with local industry, and helps students transition into college and the workforce.

The SkillsUSA experience can:

  • Bridge the gap between academic skills and technical competence with “Employable Skills”.
  • Engage students who may feel left out
  • Develop student leadership skills and confidence
  • Integrate with existing high school curriculums
  • Engage our business community in supporting local schools

Nationally, the SkillsUSA participant high school graduation rate is 90%, compared to about 78% for all high school students in Peoria County. That’s just one reason Beth Derry, Regional Superintendent for Education in Peoria County, is advocating expansion of SkillsUSA in the region.

“Graduation rates increase with SkillsUSA because it makes the connection between classroom learning and potential employment,“ Derry said. “Students can begin to develop a vision for their futures that won’t stop with just getting a job after high school. Life-long learning is established through an engaging curriculum.”

Expanding on that theme, Derry states “I’m not just the Regional Superintendent – I’m also mom to four children ages 12 to 17. Today’s education culture can be so heavily focused on rigorous, college-ready academics. SkillsUSA offers students the opportunity to explore what it takes to build a career and a life by growing the so-called ‘soft skills’ that all students need to be successful. I want that for my children and the all of the children in our area!”

SkillsUSA is the world’s largest membership organization of its type, with about 335,000 students impacted this year, and more than 11.2 million members since its founding in 1965. The organization provides annual national-level SkillsUSA Championships where nearly 6,000 students compete in 99 occupational and leadership skill areas.

If you’re interested in finding out how your school or company can get involved in SkillsUSA, please contact Ray Lees, Managing Director of the Workforce Alliance CI at rlees@focusforwardci.com or 309.369.2867.

For more information on the national SkillsUSA program, visit their website here.

Rick Cloyd

Peoria Public Schools District 150 School Board member

Beth Derry

Peoria County Regional Superintendent of Education

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