Many of us are the product of an education that was partnered with real-world applicability. This kind of education has contributed to growth of Wisconsin’s economy for generations. Lately, maybe you wonder if education has drifted from this delivery of real-world applicability. Or you wonder what can be done to improve the alignment between what is learned in the classroom and what is needed in the workplace so that we close our nation’s skills gap…a skills gap deeply felt in the construction industry of Wisconsin and nationwide.

A question I read or hear about often in the construction industry is ‘Where can employers get qualified workers today?’ or ‘Are any young people getting into my industry?’ Sadly, these questions can be hard to answer.

However, for employers dealing with chronic skills shortages and the sometimes perceived stigma with the technical trades, there are underutilized opportunities to change this current dynamic. There is an opportunity that is integrated into classrooms where real-world learning happens, along with soft skills and leadership development.

Allow me to introduce myself. I’m Brent Kindred, Executive Director for SkillsUSA Wisconsin. SkillsUSA is a vital solution to the growing skills gap. We are a non-profit partnership of students, teachers and industry working to ensure Wisconsin has the skilled workforce it needs to stay competitive. With a commitment to fostering career readiness for our middle and high school students, SkillsUSA is active in more than 170 middle and high schools across Wisconsin and serves almost 3,000 members. SkillsUSA programs are integrated into technical courses through the framework of personal, workplace, and technical skills that are grounded in academics. SkillsUSA has well over 100 technical, trade and skill occupations, with the majority being STEM related. Many of these pathways include careers within the construction and building industry.

One notable facet of SkillsUSA’s work is to hone member’s technical skills through annual competitions. While the SkillsUSA Wisconsin State Leadership and SkillsUSA Conference does not have the name recognition of the Summer Olympics or the Super Bowl, the spectacle and competition level are just as intense. In these events, students put their training to the test in events ranging from carpentry and electrical construction wiring to welding and information technology. The aim is simple…provide an opportunity where young people are engaged and excited about the trades, have passion for the trades and the talent pipeline is easier to fill.

I’d love to talk with Wisconsin Builders Association members looking to fill their talent pipelines with hard-working, skilled young people across this state. You can reach me at brent.kindred@dpi.wi.gov or 608-695-7200.