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SkillsUSA is helping students gain educations in technical fields, find work

Written By | Feb 14, 2022

SkillsUSA Splash Page, image courtesy SkillsUSA.

PEKIN, IL — Last week, SkillsUSA student leaders met with U.S. Department of Education Chief of Staff Jennifer Mishory to advocate for career and technical education (CTE). The leaders visited the U.S. Department of Education during SkillsUSA week. Their goal was to discuss how SkillsUSA programming aligns with federal education priorities.

Encouraging more participation in technical and labor skills, SkillsUSA is a nationwide club for students to develop their networking, branding, advocacy, and business acumen. SkillsUSA is one of those organizations where working people encourage younger generations to follow in their footsteps. “Vocational” is the designation for occupational training in high schools while “technical” is the occupational designation for colleges.


Harry A. Meinert and Philip Baird are two heroes of American vocational-technical education.

SkillsUSA was funded by Harry Meinert and Philip Baird, as a nonprofit partnership of students, instructors, and industry workers to ensure that America continues to grow and maintain a skilled workforce.

In 1936 Harry Meinert teaching Industrial arts, social studies, and physical education in Wisconsin. But his most enjoyed class was woodworking at the Montello, Wisconsin high school. He was an advocate for getting his students to participate in the community. Two of his student-inspired classroom projects gave Meinert the idea to start a student organization to promote education in the trades.

SkillsUSA Mission and Vision Statements

“SkillsUSA is a partnership of students, teachers, and industry working together to ensure America has a skilled workforce. We help each student excel. SkillsUSA’s mission is to empower its members to become world-class workers, leaders, and responsible American citizens. We improve the quality of our nation’s future skilled workforce through the development of SkillsUSA Framework skills that include personal, workplace, and technical skills grounded in academics.

Our vision is to produce the most highly skilled workforce in the world, providing every member the opportunity for career success. A nonprofit national education association, SkillsUSA serves middle-school, high-school and college/postsecondary students preparing for careers in trade, technical and skilled service (including health) occupations.”

A student club related to vocational interests.

At some point in time, Meinert would move south to Illinois where he would work for the State of Illinois as a state supervisor of teacher training. In that position, he became recognized nationally by the U.S. Department of Education in Washington, D.C.

In 1952 Meinert founded the Illinois Industrial Education Clubs IECC with the help of a friend he made in Illinois, Philip Baird. They adopted a “Red Blazer” as the IIEC uniform in 1954 for club meetings. In 1960, the American Vocational Association (AVA) held a meeting, where a committee formed to facilitate a solution. The AVA was a trade organization for vocational teachers and administrators. Today the AVA has become the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE).

The U.S. Office of Education and the National Association of State Supervisors of Trade and Industrial Education (NASSTIE) formed a technical committee which today is known as the Association for Skilled and Technical Sciences (ASTS). In 1962, AVA encouraged the U.S. Office of Education to hire an employee to form the national organization.

At the 1964 AVA annual convention, leaders of American businesses and industry, as well as organizational leaders of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Secondary School Principals, spoke in favor of the proposed student organization to promote skills training.

Don Pound of the NASSTIE appointed a committee of people who had worked with state vocational industrial clubs around the nation.

It included Harry Meinert, Ralph Neal, and J.C. Ruppert, as well as Chairman Philip Baird of Illinois, Jesse Carrell of Texas, Larry W. Johnson of North Carolina, and Gip Massey of Alabama.

At the 1964 AVA convention, Otto Pragan of the AFL-CIO, John Harmon of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Albert Willis of the National Association of Secondary School Principals spoke in favor of the proposed organization.

Kishwaukee College student attendees to the 2013 National SkillsUSA Leadership Convention and Skills Championships. Image courtesy Kishwaukee College & National SkillsUSA.

Before 1965, all attempts to create a national student skills organization failed.

Things began moving fast as patrons began to support the group.

The Vocational Industrial Clubs of America (VICA) was adopted at the 1965 Trade and Industrial Youth Conference.

Representatives of 14 states and approximately 200 students, advisors, and business and labor representatives gathered. The official red blazer, part of the organization’s uniform, was patterned after the blazer from Illinois’s IIEC organization formed under Meinert.

Some existing vocational education groups representatives agreed to finance the new effort, including the American Vocational Association (AVA) of teachers and administrators and the Future Farmers of America (FFA).

Support for the groups came from fourteen different states, such as Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, and  Texas.

Illinois provided the salary for Philip Baird as the first executive secretary of the newly founded VICA. Powerful leaders of American businesses and industry quickly supported the student technical club. Today the club has 434,141 members in groups spread over 50 states, plus Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, and D.C.

Some of the notable personalities to step up and acknowledge the good that is being done with this organization have been President Ronald Reagan, Lou Holtz, General Chuck Yeager, Janet Evans, Mary Lou Retton, Dick Vitale, Terry Bradshaw and Mike Rowe.

So many people look out over the crowd of some 20,000 people at the state and national SkillsUSA conventions and assume most of the adults there (teacher/advisors, administrators, and employers) are there on the clock with pay. In fact, most are not.

They are doing what they do to pay it forward to our youth to give them a foot up in the employment market.

Note: The author is a proud Red-Coat-wearing member of SkillsUSA.  


Read more from Mark Schwendau.

About the author:

Mark Schwendau is a conservative Christian patriot and retired technology professor (CAD-CAM and web development). He pr des himself on his critical thinking ability. Schwendau has had a long sideline of newspaper editorial writing where he used the byline, “bringing little known facts to people who want to see the truth. Mark is on alternative free speech social media platforms after lifetime bans from Facebook and Twitter and shadow bans from Instagram and Fox News commenting.

His website is www.IDrawIWrite.Tech

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Mark Schwendau

Mark Schwendau is a Christian conservative patriot and retired technology professor (CAD-CAM and web development) who prides himself on his critical thinking ability. Schwendau has had a long sideline of newspaper editorial writing where he used the byline, “- bringing little known facts to people who simply want to know the truth.” Mark is on alternative free speech social media platforms after lifetime bans from Facebook and Twitter and shadow bans from Instagram and Fox News commenting. His website is www.IDrawIWrite.Tech