There are sure to be recruiters out there who will read this column and sigh, “I can't believe she gave away our secret source for new skilled employees.” Well, I'm here to tell you that I had to do it. Trucking has been suffering from a serious worker shortage for years, and as the industry recovers from the recession the problem will only get worse. If you knew where to find thousands of trained young workers ready to begin careers in diesel mechanics, collision repair, electronics, HVAC, welding and dozens of other skilled occupations, you'd tell, too, wouldn't you?

So, here's where the action is: Come to Kansas City, MO, on June 20-25 to the SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference. Based upon the 2003 conference figures, you should find about 4,000 secondary and post-secondary students competing in dozens of trade, industrial and technical job skills contests that are designed to give them the opportunity to test their abilities against others who also advanced through local, district, regional and finally state-level competitions. There should also be some 12,000 or so other students, teachers and business partners present to cheer the competitors on, and plenty of savvy recruiters, of course.

It's a big, big occasion. In fact, the entire 2003 event, including contests, seminars, and the technical education trade show filled over nine football fields of floor space and lasted the better part of a week. Sponsors for SkillsUSA have and/or currently include the PACCAR Foundation, the Caterpillar Foundation, DaimlerChrysler Corp., the General Motors Foundation, Toyota Motor Sales USA, Inc., Deere & Co., and Emerson Electric Co.

Founded in 1965, SkillsUSA (originally called the Vocational Clubs of America or VICA) is a national nonprofit association of students, teachers and business partners in the trade, technical and skilled service professions. According to the association, it boasted a total membership of 264,026 in the prior academic year, including 249,540 secondary and post-secondary students, all preparing for careers in business and industry.

The association's mission statement speaks to the organization's holistic approach to developing workers: To help members become world-class workers and responsible American citizens. Seven skill areas make up the participants' “Program of Work,” including professional development (to help prepare each member for entry into the workforce and to provide a foundation for success in a career) community service, employment (designed to increase student awareness of quality job practices and attitudes and to increase the opportunity for employer contact and eventual employment) plus four other areas.

The total SkillsUSA curricula include not only specific job skills training, however. A Professional Development Program, Total Quality Curriculum and a Washington Leader Training Institute, which is designed to give SkillsUSA students the opportunity to meet Congressional leaders and learn more about the workings of government and the skills it demands, are also part of the package.

In a recent issue of the association's magazine, “Champions,” executive director Tim Lawrence encouraged students to adopt a personal statement for living to help them stay focused on their life goals. “You can use this statement or take a minute to write your own,” he noted. “I will strive to be a person who is motivated, educated, skilled, prepared, respected and involved at school, on the job and in my community.”

Interviewing trained job candidates with that kind of attitude would be a privilege and a pleasure for most recruiters and managers. I know it would be for me.

See you in Kansas City?